Sunday, November 15, 2009

Starting with Wacky News!

One of the things that I've wanted to do with this blog for a while was to add more wacky news about Europe. There's a lot of funny weird, and just plain unbelievable things in the news which are not always printed in English. So, I'll be updating a lot more often than up to now.... with fun and weird news and some insights into current affairs (as well as the traditional changes and new stuff over at the website).

So, first off is this French gent, dressed as a hamster.

For Euro 99 per night (about $148) you can stay in a house designed by architect Frederic Tabary, called the Hamster Villa. You'll be able to keep busy with activities and other stuff inspired by a hamster residency development.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A short (long overdue) update

Haven't been updating the webslog recently, since there's been a ton of work on the website. However, I promise to update with some of the goodies that have been happening, including the new Blue Card and cross-border work for expats.

Here are a few newspapers which I like to read:
- The Prague Post
- Moscow Times
- Budapest Sun

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blue Card Passed

Just when I thought it was dead, the European Council up and passed legislation allowing for the EU "Blue Card". Designed to attract highly skilled people from outside Europe, it is meant to compete with the American "Green Card" and similar programs in Canada and Australia.

The Blue Card is designed to make it easier for those with skills which are in demand to live and work in Europe, as well as to move across national borders. The new legislation will set a standard series of rights for Card holders and give favourable conditions for family reunification and rights.

More here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No law is better than a bad law

Well, my previous post about somebody poking the Blue Card to see if it's dead or not certainly didn't bring this commentary out, but it's well worth reading. The basic jist of what the author is saying is that from a policy perspective, the Blue Card has become a second-rate combination of whishful thinking, protected interests and just plain silly bureaucracy.

The Blue Card originally started out as a simple idea that would give talented people who qualified access to the European Union.

The last set of options floated by the European Parliament have the net effect of undermining large sections of the original idea... to the point where most talented people won't bother which such silliness. Among the ammendments floated were these:

1- 5a) In an increasingly global labour market, the European Union should increase its attractiveness to workers, in particular highly qualified workers, from third countries. That objective can be more effectively achieved by granting privileges, e.g. particular derogations, and by making it possible to have easier access to relevant information.

Yes folks, they want to give you information. About what, I don't know. Try to get information about the Long Term Residency Directive, enacted three years ago, and unless you speak local languages and can follow legal logic, you'll get nowhere most of the time. Let's start with the basics.

2- The section on lower salary requirements for those under 30 were deleted.

Meaning that if you're under 30, don't bother to apply.

3- (15a) In the case of intra-EU mobility from one Member State to another after renewal of an EU Blue Card, cross-border commuting may be an option for the EU Blue Card holder. As the EU Blue Card combines a work and residence permit, it does not offer the option of commuting to another Member State for the purpose of work while residing in the Member State which issued the EU Blue Card.

So you can only work in one state, that's it. Despite the fact that the European Commission is trying to promote the bejeezus out of cross-border mobility.

4- (20) In implementing this Directive, the Member States should not actively seek to attract highly qualified workers in sectors that are already subject, or are expected to be subject, to a shortage of highly qualified workers in the third country. This applies to the health and education sectors in particular. Member States should establish cooperation agreements with third countries with a view to safeguarding both the Union's needs and the development of the third countries from which highly qualified immigrants come. The cooperation agreements should include ethical recruitment policies and principles and be strengthened by the development of mechanisms, guidelines and other tools to facilitate circular and temporary migration by which highly qualified immigrants may return to their countries of origin .

The European Parliament seems to be convinced that the only people who would want to move to the EU are those from the developing world. This kind of paternalistic "concern" is often an excuse to simply raise barriers and obstacles. If you're an educated and talented doctor from Nepal, you're going to do what you want to do, and no pointy-headed ethical safeguard is going to stop you.

5- i) "professional experience" means the actual and lawful pursuit of the profession concerned, attested by any document issued by the public authorities, e.g. certificate of employment, social insurance certificate or tax certificate;

It's hard to figure out if the MEPs were trying to come up with a standard or are inventing a standard for which evidence does not exist. My country
, the United States, does not issue certificates of employement to say that a web programmer has been "legally excercising their profession" for five years or more. In fact, in many of the European countries I've lived in, these documents don't exist, or certainly don't contain the information about what you've been doing. In the minds of politicians, though, if you can't come up with the evidence, then you can't apply.

6- 1. This Directive shall apply to third-country nationals who apply to be admitted to the territory of a Member State for the purpose of highly qualified employment as well as third-country nationals already legally resident under other schemes in a Member State who apply for an EU Blue Card .

So, after you've qualified for a highly skilled program in one country, say the Kennismigrant program in the Netherlands, you'll have to come up with a whole new set of paperwork to get the Blue Card. I can't see too many people bothering on this point. (Keep in mind that to apply for the Blue Card, you'll need a job offer.)

7- 3. This Directive shall be without prejudice to any future agreement between the Community or between the Community and its Member States on the one hand and one or more third countries on the other, that lists the professions which will not fall under this Directive in order to ensure ethical recruitment, in sectors suffering from a lack of personnel , in sectors vital to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, in particular the health and education sectors, and in sectors vital to the ability of developing countries to deliver basic social services , by protecting human resources in the developing countries, signatories to these agreements.

This section means that unions will be able to lobby for entire sectors of the European work sector to be blocked off because of policy goals set up by the United Nations. Interestingly, several European Union member states have been cited by the UN for contravening human rights with highly restrictive family immigration laws, and the result has been a big fat nothing. I may be wrong, but it sounds like the logic is that if you're a Canadian teacher who would like to work in France, you can't, because Sierra Leone doesn't have enough teachers. (That's just plain silly.)

8- 2. In addition to the conditions stipulated in paragraph 1, the gross monthly wage specified in the work contract or binding job offer must not be inferior to a national level defined and published for the purpose by the Member States which shall be at least 1.7 times the gross monthly or annual average wages in the Member State concerned and shall not be inferior to the wages which apply or would apply to a comparable worker in the host country.

This jacks the wage that you would need to get into the 60k region for most of Western Europe. (By comparison, you need 37k for a talented visa in Belgium and 48k for the Netherlands.) Small businesss leaders said that this would effectively price them out of the market. Thank heavens that the European Commission has already shot down this ammendment.

9- Article 5a
Avoiding shortage of highly qualified workers in third countries
The Member States shall not actively seek to attract highly qualified workers in sectors that are already subject, or are expected to be subject, to a shortage of highly qualified workers in the third country. This applies to the health and education sectors in particular.

Here's that mushy-headed brain drain do-gooder thinking again. But this time you may not be able to even apply because someone somewhere makes a prediction that there could be shortages of people somewhere else. Again, a great motivator for a talented person in a profession that is in demand to go apply for a job in Canada, Australia, the US, Singapore or elsewhere.

10- The Parliament also wants to abolish the section which allows member states to allow those under 30 to have lower salary offers or who have a degree from a member state university.

2. Before taking the decision on an application for an EU Blue Card, Member States may examine the situation of their labour market and apply national and Community procedures regarding the requirements for filling a vacancy. Their discretionary decision shall take account of national and regional demand for labour.

This section allows member states to wall off sections of the economy or to require a work permit. It's bad enough that some member states do this with the permanent residency directive, but what's the point of applying for a permit which is supposed to allow you free entry into the labor market when it doesn't actually allow you free entry into the labor market? It's easier to go the normal route; with all of its bureaucracy, it's at least certian.

12- 2. After the first two years of legal residence in the Member State concerned as holder of an EU Blue Card, the person concerned shall enjoy equal treatment with nationals.

This section sounds nice, but it's a joke. You don't have equal status with nationals since you don't have the right to free circulation within the European Union. You're free up to the border, after that, you're a schmuck.

13- Member States may reject an application for an EU Blue Card in order to avoid a brain drain in sectors suffering from a lack of qualified personnel in the countries of origin.

This is a fake argument as well. A country's bureaucrats may well decide that your country has a lack of people in some category. Therefore, you're out. The information may be untrue, made up, or just an educated guess, but a pen-pusher can throw you out of the running before you've even started. Under this kind of argument, IT people will never be able to get a Blue Card since there are world-wide shortages in this area.

(h) "higher professional qualifications" means qualifications attested by evidence of at least five years of professional experience of a level comparable to higher education qualifications , including at least two years in a senior position;

The original clause was three years, and the Parliament wants to make it 5.

In all, it really seems like the message from the parliament is that Europe shouldn't compete, or even try. What it should have is an overly bureaucratic program, surrounded by lots of fanfare that few people will apply for and that will choke off competition between member states.

Two clauses which survived the pens of the parliament raise questions, such as this one did:

Holders of the EU Blue Card who have been granted EC long-term resident status
shall enjoy equal treatment with nationals as regards access to employment and selfemployed

So that means if you have the EU long term residency permit and have a Blue Card that you can (finally) chuck the labor restrictions? In fact, article 18 allows for a new EU Permanent Resident/EU Blue Card category.

Who knows. What was a good idea has become a huge muddle, and should probably be scrapped ahead of the elections in June. Maybe after that, they can pick up and start over.

In any case, the ambitious program announced with all kinds of hoop and holler in 2007 has thus far amounted to precisely ZERO.

It's a shame, but it still leaves lots of opporunities on the national level... and those are already enacted.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blue Card? What Blue Card?

There's an episode of the TV serial the Simpsons which sees Rod and Todd wondering about Krusty who's passed out in their front lawn.

Todd: Wow! A you think he's evil?
Rod: He smells evil
Todd: Should we tell daddy?
Rod: No, lets poke him a little while longer
Bart: Hey, get away from him you little freaks
Todd/Rod: Eeeeeeeeeeeee!

The European Blue Card was supposed to appear last November, but it now seems to have gone AWOL and there's no further information about.

I guess somebody needs to poke it with a stick to see if it's still alive.