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Last week (23 October), the European Union (EU) unveiled a plan to admit an additional 20 million skilled African, Asian and Latin American workers to the EU over the next two decades through a 'blue card' scheme.

The EU blue card scheme, similar to the US green card, needs the approval of all 27 EU member states, after which each country will have two years to implement it.

The proposal calls for granting highly skilled workers — with a university degree and three years relevant work experience — a two-year, renewable blue card to work in a job that could not be filled by an EU citizen, with permanent residency given automatically after five consecutive years.

People with a background in medical, engineering and information technology fields are likely to be considered favourably.

EU blue card holders will be treated like EU nationals with regards to tax benefits, social assistance, payment of pensions, access to public housing and study grants. Their family members would also be permitted to join them.

Oumar Konare, the former president of the African Union, has indicated that 'selective immigration' policies could draw scientists and other skilled workers away from developing countries and hinder development (see Head of African Union attacks 'brain trade').

But Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the US-based Harvard University, told SciDev.Net that African leaders need to be more strategic about the continent's role in the global economy.

"Too much attention is currently placed on the risks of globalisation and too little on opportunities. Africa should be exploring how to benefit from opportunities granted to its workers in the global knowledge economy."

The African Union spends too little time working on how to strengthen the continent's many centres of technological opportunity, he said.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at the Egypt-based National Research Centre told SciDev.Net that the drain of scientists from developing countries will not be stopped by attacking developed countries policies.

Developing countries must make themselves more attractive to scientists by improving political and economic stability, and promote scientific capacity building at national and regional levels, he said.

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