The »Blue Card« as Europe's answer to the Green Card

The »Blue Card« introduced based on the Blue Card Directive (Directive 2009/50/EC), was designed to create a European equivalent of the popular US »Green Card«. The core issue was to make working in the EU more attractive to highly skilled non-EU nationals. To do this, a legal framework was put in place to introduce a simple procedure for issuing a Blue Card as a special residence and work permit. In this regard, the criteria for obtaining a Blue Card were essentially limited to producing proof of a valid employment agreement or a binding job offer for a highly-skilled job and a gross monthly salary above a threshold to be defined at the national level. In Germany, this EU Directive was transposed into national law on August 1, 2012, which resulted, in particular, in the creation of Article 19a of the German Residence Act (AufenthG).

Blue Card in Germany

In Germany, foreigners who are not nationals of an EU Member State are eligible to apply for a Blue Card if they can demonstrate that they have:

  • a German university degree or a recognized foreign degree or a foreign degree comparable to a German degree and
  • an employment contract with a gross annual salary of at least EUR 50,800 (monthly salary of EUR 4,234); for so-called high-demand professions (natural scientists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors and IT specialists) the salary threshold is EUR 39,624 (monthly salary of EUR 3,302). 

If the above criteria are satisfied, the Federal Employment Agency will not be required to carry out the so-called »priority check«, in which it examines whether preferred applicants under EU law (i.e. German or EU citizens) are available for a particular job. The option to expand the Blue Card scheme to include non-academics with proven professional experience provided for under Article 19a AufenthG has not been implemented to date. Blue Card holders are also entitled to bring their family to Germany. These family members of Blue Card holders are allowed to work in Germany as well. In addition, Blue Card holders are eligible to receive a permanent residency permit after 33 months.

In 2015, a total of 14,468 Blue Cards were issued on this basis in Germany. In the first three quarters of 2016, Germany issued 13,166 Blue Cards. Based on the above, it can be concluded that in Germany, the Blue Card scheme has been well-received.

Limited uptake of the Blue Card scheme outside Germany

From the pan European perspective, it has to be noted, however, that the Blue Card is still mainly Blue Card Germany. For instance, around 85.5% of all Blue Cards issued in the EU in 2015 were issued in Germany, followed by France with 3.9% and Poland with 2.2%. The reason for this is that the Blue Card Directive does not prejudice the right of the Member States to issue residence permits other than the EU Blue Card for any purpose of employment. While Germany has decided to implement the Blue Card as a low-threshold additional instrument, other Member States have decided to subordinate the Blue Card to other instruments according to their respective national interests.

Reform efforts of the EU

To help to increase the uptake of the Blue Card across Europe and not only in Germany, the EU Commission has already submitted a proposal for a revision of the Blue Card Directive. It provides, in particular, that Member States will no longer be able to issue parallel national residence permits for highly skilled workers and establishes the Blue Card as the only residence and work permit in this particular field. This is designed to prevent the »cold boycott« of the Blue Card option by the Member States.

Expansion of the scheme to include non-academics and lower salary thresholds?

Under the EU Commission’s proposal, the substantive and personal scope of application of the Directive will be expanded. While previously, the Blue Card was limited to academics, people with at least five years of relevant professional experience will now be included, too. The EU also plans to reduce the minimum salary threshold to qualify for a Blue Card. According to the proposal, this should be between 100% and 140% of the average gross annual salary in the respective Member State. In so-called high-demand professions, where there is a special need for workers from non-EU Member States, the threshold will be reduced to 80% of the otherwise applicable minimum salary for issuing a Blue Card. New is also that third-country nationals, who have obtained their university degree within the last three years will be subject to the same lower salary thresholds as persons in high-demand professions. In addition, it is envisaged to make the EU Blue Card more attractive by granting EU Blue Card holders a long-term resident status in a Member State after a three-year stay.


It remains to be seen whether the proposed reforms of the Blue Card will prove to be successful going forward. Due to the considerable impact of the new proposal on the labor migration systems established in the individual Member States and the simultaneous expansion of the scope beyond academics, it is expected to be met with considerable resistance in individual Member States. In addition, the tendencies in some member states to close off the labor markets are contrary to the objectives of the reform proposal. As a result, the discussions in the European Council and the European Parliament have proven to be tough since the proposal was presented last summer. However, in the medium term, it can be assumed that the barriers to issuing a Blue Card cross Europe, and in particular, in Germany will tend to come down. The EU Blue Card is likely to gain in importance in Germany especially as a result of planned opening the Blue Card scheme to non-academics. Companies already struggling with a shortage of skilled workers will be following further developments with interest.

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