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EU Worker Visa Plans Rebuffed

Plan to set up a European 'Blue Card' workers visa program, styled after the U.S. 'Green Card' permit, has raised doubts in several nations.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — Germany and other countries poured cold water Thursday on proposals meant to lure educated migrants to the European Union while cracking down on illegal workers.
Doubts over granting European Union officials more say in immigration policy resurfaced at a combined meeting of justice, interior and employment ministers, who face increasing pressure to respond to migration and labor trends.
The union has a growing shortage of skilled and educated labor but faces increased flows of often uneducated migrants from Africa and Asia.
While all 27 EU governments have accepted the need to cooperate more closely on immigration, agreeing on specific plans is painfully slow.
Germany's employment minister, Olaf Scholz, said plans drafted by the European Commission to set up a common workers visa program to attract educated labor were not needed.
''We have 3.5 million unemployed and that means that companies can find workers within Germany,'' Scholz said. He said specific shortages should be addressed on a sector-by-sector basis on national level, without Brussels having a say.
Scholz suggested EU nations also look to new eastern European members of the union for professionals to fill gaps.
Citizens from new EU members are currently barred from working freely in some western EU countries, under transition clauses in their membership agreements. Those rules were set up because older members feared they would be hit by a wave of cheap labor.
The plan to set up a European ''Blue Card'' workers visa program, styled after the U.S. ''Green Card'' permit, has raised doubts in several nations.
Austria, the Netherlands and Britain also voiced concerns over whether the EU should handle such a program, officials said.
Spain expressed fears the program would cause a ''brain drain'' from Africa. Greece and Malta called for more protection from illegal migrants on the EU's southern borders.
The EU plan calls for governments to institute a ''one-stop-shop'' visa application, offering qualified job seekers a simpler way to get jobs within the EU, doing away with 27 different, often complex, national procedures.
Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and interior affairs commissioner, who drafted the plan, argued an EU-wide system is needed to ensure Europe can compete with trade rivals like the United States, Canada or Australia, all of which use special work permits to attract professionals.
''I continue to be convinced that common rules to regulate people entering the EU are necessary,'' Frattini said. ''I don't believe Germany is against this principle.''
Germany also criticized Frattini's plans for an EU system of fines and other penalties for employers who hire illegal workers.
Frattini said, however, that such rules are needed to prevent the entry of illegal migrants who are often exploited and mistreated. European nations are struggling to cope with the arrival of up to half a million illegals a year, many brought in by human trafficking rings.
The EU nations have been haggling over how to draft a common asylum and immigration policy since 1999 and have set a 2010 deadline by which to approve common rules. A review of progress made to date is to be made by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels next week.
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