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EU 'Blue Card' For Techies Could Give U.S. A Black Eye

Is the United States locking the door and nailing it shut to foreign tech talent while Europe is getting ready to roll out the red carpet? Some people think so.
Is the United States locking the door and nailing it shut to foreign tech talent while Europe is getting ready to roll out the red carpet? Some people think so.The European Union's proposed "blue card" to provide tech pros and other highly-skilled workers from abroad with a fast track to jobs in Europe could be devastating to the U.S. if America continues with its current immigration polices, says Robert Hoffman, Oracle VP of government and public affairs and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition of tech companies pushing for green card and H-1B visa reforms.

"The European Union clearly recognizes the challenges of an aging population and that highly talented individuals are job generators," he says. If the EU makes it easier for technology talent to work in those countries, then that's where technology companies are likely to invest and expand, he says. "The competition for talent is truly global," he says.

Under the proposals, the renewable EU blue card will permit foreign talent to work and live in an EU nation for two years, and the application process would be completed within three months. That would allow employers in Europe a lot more flexibility to hire internationally than the H-1B visa and green card programs permit in the United States, he says.

That's because U.S. green cards -- or employment-based permanent residency -- can take up to 10 years to process. This year, the annual quota on temporary H-1B visas was reached in record time, forcing prospective tech employees to look elsewhere for jobs.

Hoffman says that for Oracle competitor, Germany-based SAP, the news of a potential EU blue card program probably couldn't get better. It would help the Oracle rival beef up its talent base more quickly, and as an American company, that forces Oracle to consider its options about growing its talent base elsewhere, too, he says.

About 80% of Oracle's R&D is currently done in the United States, and while the company wants to continue investing in its U.S. operations, "if the U.S. immigration policy continues on this path, what choice do we have" but to consider moving or expanding operations outside the U.S., he says.

But could Hoffman be jumping the gun? Not everyone is convinced the EU blue card plan will even materialize into a real program. "This is just a proposal and I suspect that it has little chance of advancement," says John Miano, founder of U.S. IT worker advocacy group the Programmer's Guild. "Thus, it is my opinion at this point that the lobbyists are just blowing smoke here," Miano says in an e-mail to InformationWeek.

"I doubt, with all the problems of ethnic assimilation in Europe, that such a proposal will be enacted," he says.

"In fact, I would not even be surprised if someone here got friends over there to 'propose' this simply to use it for this kind of publicity."

What do you think?