Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Misty Blue

I've not written much in the last few days because I am a right lazy sod have been researching the difficulties of securing EU working rights for UK nationals in a post-Brexit world. I also had some household chores to deal with and I drank one whisky too many on Saturday night.

In my last post I said that it is time to stop all the wailing and gnashing of teeth and to start preparations for a world in which I am no longer a citizen of the EU. Now, I am occasionally true to my word so today I'm going to write about the EU Blue Card. You've probably heard of the US Green Card and have likely even seen the terrible "comedy" film Green Card starring Gerard Depardieu, the thinking woman's overweight abusive alcoholic. Well, the EU Blue Card is a little like the US Green Card but let's remember this is the EU that we are dealing with so it is a little more complicated than you might imagine. By the end of the post we will learn that the EU Blue Card isn't quite the parallel of the US Green Card that we might desire.  We'll also learn if a loser like me is likely to get one or not (save yourself a tedious read - I probably would qualify). We'll also learn how to get one and what rights it grants.  I am learning all this too as I write this post so we're all in it together.

Let's start by stating that there is no guarantee that UK citizens will need to apply for the EU Blue Card.  
Perhaps that treasured EU freedom of movement of labour will persist for UK citizens in the bleak post-Brexit landscape. Personally, I don't think that will happen but my inexpert views are not all that pertinent here.  Let's also state there is no guarantee that UK citizens will be eligible for the EU Blue Card. As it stands, for example, the UK does not participate in the scheme. In this respect, it is in a club of just 3 countries: UK, Ireland and Denmark. For UK citizens this only removes Denmark from the equation because the Common Travel Area agreement already covers reciprocity between UK and Ireland.  If you are in a UK prison and not currently eligible to work in the UK then I'm afraid you came to the wrong blog for advice. My only advice would be to keep your nose clean, stay out of prison, and be a good example for the next generation.

Imagine you had an EU Blue Card in your sweaty mitts right now. What would yoube able to with it? Well, you would be able to live and work in the EU but not nearly as freely as if you were a citizen of the EU.  The first thing to note is that the card can only be issued if you have a job offer in a participating nation.  That's right, you are no longer a citizen of the EU so why would you have the automatic right to work and live there?  Blame whoever you want for this ignominy.  I'll look at the conditions that will lead to a successful application later in this post but for now let's look at the opportunities and limits presented by the card.  The first big shock is that  for the first two years after the card is issued you need to stay in the same job because the card is initally tied to a specific employment. Likewise, for the first 18 months you are not allowed to work in another EU nation.  This second limit is probably rather theoretical for most people because moving country is typically coincident with changing job.  There are freedoms to temporarily live and work in other EU nations so it would be possible for your employer to send you elsewhere on secondment, even within the first two years.  Changing jobs, however, is not possible unless you appeal to your host country for special dispensation.  I can imagine conditions where that might prevail but let's put them from our minds unless you are a reputational genius in your professional field.

Fred Dinenage acquired reputational genius status in his field

There are more shocks to come.  Prepare yourself, sit down, take a deep breath, drink some whisky or whatever calms you down.  Ready?  The card is time-limited to a maximum of 4 years.  That's right, you need to reapply when it expires.  I'd expect that if you are working this won't be a problem, especially if you haven't radically changed profession and are able to reapply on broadly the same terms.  If you don't have a job or have decided to retrain as a poorly paid pet hypnotist then don't be surprised if the authorities make your life a bit harder than you'd like.  Anybody with heart conditions please look away now because another shock is coming right up:  if you want to move country within the EU you need to have the card reissued by the authorities of that country. That's right, the Blue Card is issued by each country and is only valid in that country.  Moreover, the conditions that might lead to acceptance of your application are different in each country, too.  Some countries might need laboratory technicians but have no need for Java application developers.  Some countries might have a chronic shortage of dog hypnotists, while others take a more holistic approach to pet mental health.  There are no certainties with the Blue Card.

Did you hypnotise this dog? If so, please leave the EU.
The last big shock is that unemployment can lead to withdrawal of the EU Blue Card.  You will be given 3 months to find a new job and if you don't manage that then you are in no man's land.  If you are particularly resourceful I would imagine there are all sorts of ways that you could stay in your host country on different schemes particular to that nation.  The Blue Card, however, probably isn't one of them.  One thing that isn't clear in all of this is what exactly is meant by unemployed.  For example, I could quit my job tomorrow but not bother registering as unemployed.  In fact, I have done that in the past in the UK.  I had some money saved up, had just paid off the mortgage, fancied an extended break from the world of work,  and just couldn't be bothered dealing with the cruel bureaucracy of the UK umemployment service for the measly benefit they dole out.  Happy days but was that unemployed?  I have no idea.  I saw myself as a man of leisure.  My Mum said I was a work-shy dosser.

I've focused so far on the downsides.  I'm going to carry on in that direction for a while because the full horror isn't revealed.  The key point here is that the Blue Card, the single document that approves residence and working rights, is tied to your employment.  That makes me a little nervous. Let me explain. Some years ago I had a job offer in Canada but for all sorts of reasons I turned it down.  Some of the reasons I turned it down were the same reasons that stopped me even once considering a job in the US.  There was a time in my career when I worked on a really, really successful project.  I had a small role on the project but it was enough for US employers to track down my home phone number and badger me to apply for a job at their company.  Well, under absolutely no circumstances.  Not after the Canada experience.  What happened there?  Well, my right to work was tied to my employer.  As a consequence, moving jobs was non-trivial, thereby giving the employer the upper hand in any salary negotiations down the line.  It could be even worse.  Imagine an employer that forced their employees to work horrible hours, perhaps an employer in, say, the games industry. What would it be like if such an employer took a dim view of staff that worked less than 14-hour days and wanted to sleep on Saturdays? Well, it would be shit because the power is not in the hands of the employee.  Normally, you would just walk away and get another job.  Just for clarity, that is not so easy if your rights to live and work are tied to your current employer.  Now, I'm not saying that employers typically treat foreign staff more cruelly.  I am saying, however, that employers that do treat their staff poorly are more likely to retain those who don't have automatic rights to walk away and get another job.  That Canadian employer was rumoured to, erm, expect a lot from their staff.  Who knows if the rumours were true (there are rumours flying around everywhere in the tech industry) but the visa conditions made it an offer that was easy to reject.

If I've not put you off then you might still want to apply for one of these EU Blue Cards.  The EU is actually a pretty good place to work because, unlike North America, it takes workers' rights quite seriously.  Let's not be too hasty in rejecting the old Blue Card because Bernd in Bochum (great guy, look him up next time you're in Bochum) says life is great up there.  Well, the only real hurdle is to get a job in the the EU.  Simply apply for a job and make it clear to your potential employer that you believe you are eligible for the EU Blue Card. If you are the right candidate for the job then your employer will need to do some form-filling. You will also do some form-filling. The caveat here is that the job offer must have a salary in excess of the national average by at least a factor of 1.2 for sought-after professionals or 1.5 for everyone else. Who are these sought-after professionals? Well, if you are a STEM graduate then you are very much in luck because the EU really, really want people exactly like you. I am a STEM graduate so I was heartened when I learned this. If you're not a STEM graduate then please be aware how difficult it is to get a girlfriend/boyfriend if you are carrying the unattractive burden of a STEM mindset. Life is certainly full of swings and roundabouts.

So far, we've learned that you need be able to secure a job with a salary of either 1.2 (STEM graduates) or 1.5 (everyone else) times national average. I'm no expert in graduate salaries these days but I would expect that a junior dot.net developer, for example, would earn at least 1.2 times national average in any European country. That is roughly 37000 Euros in Germany.  Please correct me if I am wrong here. As I understand it, everything after that is basically just form-filling and a small administation fee of 100 Euros or so. It might, of course, be more complicated than that because there is no guarantee that a Blue Card will be issued. Remember that it is down to each individual country to issue the card.  The Blue Card website is very clear that applications from STEM professions are treated favourably but that is not a guarantee of success.  Moreover, it says nothing at all about how applications from non-STEM professions will be treated. Let's say that you are a hot-shot furniture restorer who can command a huge salary due to your experience with 19th century Prussian chairs. I'm not convinced that you are the kind of employee the EU has in mind. Don't despair, though, because in addition to your sexual desirability you might still be eligible if you apply as an entrepeneur with a plan to start a business. I know nothing about starting a business so I'll leave that hanging there.

What have we learned?
  1. The EU Blue Card scheme is not as good as being a citizen of the EU.  
  2. You are quids in if you are a STEM graduate and can command a salary slightly above average salary.
  3. You have a lot of convincing to do if you can command a salary well-above average but are not a STEM graduate and not working in a STEM profession.
  4. The Blue Card is time-limited to a maximum of 4 years.
  5. Changing career or country might endanger your Blue Card.
  6. I would probably get one (degree, PhD, 15 yrs in the tech sector)
  7. STEM graduates can't get girlfriends/boyfriends due to their unattractive STEM mindset.
  8. Nothing will ever be as ace as being a citizen of the EU. 

I think that is more than enough for now.

Over and out,


PS There is a lot more to explore with the EU Blue Card.  I'll come back to this later.  My next post might be about getting hold of EU citizenship.  Then again, it might not.

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