The blue card provides Balkan professionals and their families with a legal mechanism to reside and work in the EU, but it increases the already difficult effects of the region's brain drain.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 16/08/12
Young professionals are facing global competition to reside and work in the EU. [Reuters]
EU member states are beginning to implement the blue card system, a Unionwide working permit for skilled labourers that allows holders and their families to reside, work and travel within the Union. But the move is raising fears that the Balkan brain drain will intensify.
Eligible candidates must have a university degree, professional experience and find a job in an EU country.
While the EU suffers from 23 percent unemployment, member states still need skilled labour in certain sectors, such as healthcare and engineering.
Analysts believe the educated youth in the region, whose unemployment in Kosovo has reached 60 percent, will be enticed to utilise the blue card system.
"While many professionals have fled to countries like Canada, the blue card will be attractive and more people will seek jobs in the EU due to their dissatisfaction with the level of public services in Kosovo," Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute in Pristina, told SETimes.
Newly graduated doctors in particular have already been leaving Kosovo, Serbia and other regional countries to assume well-paid positions abroad, prompting concerns from officials.
"The brain drain greatly affects the success of the healthcare system's reform, which is in its final stages," Kosovo Health Minister Ferid Agani said.
Kosovo's government has not developed a policy to stem the brain drain, and is misusing funds intended for it, Bytyci said.
"A 'staff fund' that was previously established was used by the government to increase salaries and hire their own party members and sympathizers," Bytyci said.
Astrit Demiri, 26, a Pristina medical faculty graduate, told SETimes that virtually everyone who might have a job opportunity in the EU will leave Kosovo.
"I have dozens of friends, medical graduates, who have no job. They do not care if Kosovo becomes an EU member or how politicians increase their own salaries; they want a good job and some respect, which they definitely can not find here," Demiri told SETimes.
Demiri will assume a new position in Germany, which started implementing the blue card system this month, as an emergency physician.
"I had difficulties finding a job upon graduation and worked in several private clinics but this was not helpful for my career. Then a friend suggested I apply for this position in Germany," Demiri said.
The number of people who want to leave Kosovo has increased in the past year, according to Drita Shaqiri, head of the employment agency Drita & Co in Pristina.
"More and more people are coming to us to see if we can mediate a job abroad. Mostly they ask for Europe, Canada and the US, but Europe is more attractive, especially Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where people have many family members," Shaqiri said.
But Shaquiri said it will be difficult for regional professionals under the blue card system, given that competition is global.
"The Europeans want people from Asia ... they see huge potential in them, and do not know the professional environment in the Balkans. They still think these are guys from the wars who do not have enough education and professional experience," Shaqiri said.