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Could Europe's New 'Blue Card' Cause Global Tech Talent To Shun U.S.?

The European Union hopes that its proposed blue-card program will provide a more attractive alternative to the U.S. green-card program, which critics say is plagued by backlogs, cumbersome processes, and insufficient quotas.

While the United States continues to argue about whether to raise the H-1B visa cap and reform green-card processes to allow more foreign tech workers into the country, the European Union wants to make it much easier for highly skilled workers from abroad to land jobs in the EU's 27 member countries.

The EU, which is predicting a severe workforce crisis over the next several decades as its Baby Boomer generation retires, aims to attract 20 million workers from the outside in the years to come.

The EU hopes that a new proposed "blue card" will help fill that void, providing a more attractive alternative to the U.S. green-card program, which critics say is plagued by backlogs, cumbersome processes, and insufficient quotas.

The blue card would provide educated immigrants, including tech professionals, with a two-year, renewable permit to work and reside in an EU member nation. Because the EU aims for a worker's blue-card application process to take less than three months, the visa would provide a fast track for foreign-born individuals to land jobs in EU member countries.

By contrast, the U.S. green-card process can take anywhere from five to 10 years for an individual to gain permanent residency. And the 85,000 annual quota on H-1B visas for temporary foreign tech workers has been running out quickly for the last few years, forcing many prospective workers to take jobs elsewhere.

In addition to being an alternative to the U.S. green card, the blue-card program will also provide an option to foreign-born individuals who might have considered taking jobs in Canada or Australia, two other favorite destinations for the highly-skilled international workforce.

The EU's unveiling of the blue-card program this week comes at the same time that the U.S. Senate approved a spending bill amendment that could raise employers' H-1B visa fees to $5,000 per worker from $1,500. The additional fees will be used to fund new scholarship programs for U.S. students pursuing technology, math, and science-related degrees.

Compete America, a coalition of technology companies that has been lobbying Congress for several years to raise the H-1B visa cap and make green-card reforms, blasted the fee hikes and expressed worry about the blue card's potential impact on the U.S. tech workforce. "Europe has sent a message. They're aggressively pursuing the professional talent they need to compete on the global stage," said Robert Hoffman, VP for government and public affairs at Oracle and co-chair of Compete America, in a statement.

"The Senate has unfortunately also sent a message, and it doesn't bode well for the U.S. economy," Hoffman said.

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