EU envoys have agreed on a fast-track Blue Card scheme to attract high-skilled migrant workers from developing countries.

The Blue Card aims to make the EU more competitive in a battle with the US and other ageing Western societies for coveted technology workers and hospital staff from the developing world.

High-skilled foreign workers make up 1.7% of migrant workers in the EU, compared with 9.9% of migrants to Australia, 7.3% to Canada and 3.2% to the US.

Analysts say the scheme will not be enough to lure top-end staff and compete with the US Green Card because it offers access to only one EU state at a time, not free mobility within the European single market.

After 18 months of working with a Blue Card in one EU state, an immigrant would be allowed to move with his family to work in another EU state, but he or she would still have to apply for a new card there within a month of arrival.

This provision was required by countries such as Germany, determined to maintain national sovereignty over their labour market.

Ireland is not participating in the scheme.