Highly skilled workers from around the world should in future face fewer hurdles to seeking employment in the European Union, under proposals unveiled on Tuesday aimed at attracting more global talent.
The EU is competing for skilled labour with countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, all of whom currently issue more work permits than the bloc's member states, according to the European Commission.
"We shall be in need of millions of people in the future," said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. He pointed to existing shortages in sectors such as healthcare and information technology, as well as a projected decline in workforce due to Europe's ageing population.
The EU's executive therefore proposed on Tuesday to revise the bloc's Blue Card scheme, introduced in 2009 to attract highly educated migrants, arguing that the current programme is insufficient, unattractive and underused.
"If we ever want to compete with the US Green Card we need an EU Blue Card that deserves the same merit," Avramopoulos said, referring to Washington's migration scheme.
The revised scheme - applying to skilled workers in receipt of a job offer or contract - would boost the EU economy by between 1.4 billion and 6.2 billion euros (1.6 billion and 7 billion dollars), the commission estimated.
Key proposed changes include: creating a single EU-wide scheme; halving the minimum length of job contracts to 6 months; lowering the salary threshold; cutting the maximum processing time to 60 days; and improving the rights of Blue Card holders and their families.
The programme would also be extended to highly skilled workers who have been granted asylum in the EU.
However, member states will be able to decide how many people to admit from outside the bloc. The proposals will not apply to Britain, Denmark and Ireland, who have all opted out of the Blue Card scheme.
The changes will have to be approved by EU governments and lawmakers. Migration issues are contentious across Europe, which experienced an influx of 1 million migrants and asylum seekers last year. Many were fleeing war and conflict.