Monday, April 29, 2013

Austrian Blue Card

St Wolfgang
St. Wolfgang, Austria
Photo by Richard Taylor
If I had to do my move to Europe all over again, I'd seriously consider Austria. I've been there several times, it's a lovely country, the people are very friendly, and despite the occasional gay neo-Nazis running around, it's awesome. Now, thanks to the Austrian Blue Card, you can go there, too.

The requirements of the Austrian Blue Card are fairly straightforward. You must have:
  1. completed a university course of three years minimum duration
  2. a binding employment offer with 150% of the average yearly gross salary for a full-time employee (in 2011: annual gross salary of at least 52 417.50 €, that is about 3 745 € gross per month)
  3. and no equally qualified unemployed person registered with the Austrian Public Employment Service was available to be recruited by the potential employer.
There are a few things worth pointing out here. The minimum "three years" degree might sound odd to Americans, but here in Europe, many countries offer a Bachelors degree after only three years of university education, unlike the four years you usually need in the US. The degrees themselves tend to be a bit more focused than the US Bachelors degrees, but they lack some of the breadth that US university students get in their first two years. The argument is that you get this "breadth" in your mandatory schooling, though I've heard anecdotal claims that some EU university graduates (particularly from the UK) aren't as well-rounded as some of their foreign counterparts.

The salary threshold is high, but the idea behind the Blue Card was to bring highly skilled workers to the European Union, so it makes sense and shouldn't be too much of a problem if you're really the worker that the EU seeks.

Point 3, however, is interesting. Though Austria had originally agreed to the EU Blue Card proposal (only the UK, Ireland, and Denmark rejected it), they didn't seem terribly keen on implementing it and eventually the EU issued a "Reasoned Opinion" against Austria (amongst others) for failing to implement the law they said they would implement. Had Austria failed to comply, eventually they would have been dragged to court (yes, countries go to court over here), but they eventually passed the law. However, unlike some other EU countries, they apparently imposed a labor market test requiring that Austrian companies first verify that they couldn't find a qualified unemployed person to take the job. Many people appreciate said protectionism while others decry the extra layer of bureaucracy.

And the benefits if you qualify?
  • proof of German language skills before coming to Austria is not required
  • the card is good for 24 months 
  • free labor market access in case of extension 
  • permanent leave to remain can be obtained more quickly and mobility in the EU is facilitated
  • quota-free family reunification
In short, a two-year work and residence visa, you don't need to speak German, you can bring your family, and if you get extended, access to the entire EU labor market (minus countries who don't support the Blue Card).

The EU started the Blue Card program to directly compete with the US Green Card. Given how broken US immigration law is, it appears to me that the EU has a solid long-term strategy here. Of course, I think it's being undercut by how they're handling the Euro crisis, but that's a short-term thing. If they can solve that issue (and I mean, really solve that issue), than the future belongs to Europe and China.

Read a bit more about Austria. They're doing well economically, you can get your university education there virtually for free (that's even available to non-EU students) and, like I said, it's a beautiful country.