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EUROPEAN UNION

Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union, including Britons who moved both before and after Brexit, are eligible for a special residence status that could allow them to move to another EU country. Getting the permit is not straightforward but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country
The European Union flag flutters in the breeze with the landmark Television Tower (Fernsehturm) in the background, in Berlin's Mitte district on April 19, 2021. (Photo by David GANNON / AFP)

Residence rules for non-EU nationals are still largely decided by national governments.

In 2001 the European Commission made an attempt to set common conditions for all ‘third country nationals’ moving to the EU for work. But EU governments rejected the proposals.

The result was a series of EU laws addressing separately the status of highly skilled employees who are paid more than average and their families, scientific researchers and students, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees (employees transferred within a company). There are also common rules for non-EU family members of EU citizens.

But otherwise national rules apply. The majority of non-EU citizens who apply for residency in a European Union country are only allowed to live and work in the country they apply

But under EU law, non-EU citizens who live in the EU on a long-term basis can get the right to move for work to other EU countries if they manage to obtain EU “long-term resident” status.

This is effectively the same right that EU citizens have but is not the same as freedom of movement that comes with being an EU citizen.

The directive might not that well known to Britons, who due to Brexit have had to secure their residency rights in the country where they lived, but might be better known to nationals of other third countries.

READ ALSO: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

This EU status is possible if the person:

  • has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years,
  • has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period
  • can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources to support themselves and their family,” without relying on social assistance, and health insurance.
  • Some countries may also require to prove a “level of integration”.

The residence permit obtained in this way is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the long-term residence status can be lost if the holder is away from the EU for more than one year. 

The purpose of these measures was to “facilitate the integration” of non-EU citizens who are settled in the EU ensuring equal treatment and some free movement rights. 

But is this status easy for non- EU nationals to get in reality?

Around 3.1 million third country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one.

But only few long-term non-EU residents have exercised the right to move to other EU countries,

One of the problems, the report says, is that most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one.

The procedures to apply are complex and national administrations often lack the knowledge or do not communicate with each other. Some countries still require employers to prove they could not find candidates in the local market before granting a long term residence permit to a non-EU citizen, regardless of their status.

Could it get easier?

Now the European Commission plans to revise these rules and make moving and working in another EU country easier for non-EU citizens. The proposal is expected at the end of April but that doesn’t mean it will get easier in reality.

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

Now the European Commission plans to revise these rules and make moving and working in another EU country easier for non-EU citizens. The proposal is expected at the end of April but that doesn’t mean it will get easier in reality.

It will likely take months if not years to agree new rules with EU governments. And then there’s the question of putting them into practice.

What about for Brexit Brits?

British citizens who live in the EU may be asking ‘couldn’t we apply for this before Brexit and can we apply now’?

Some may well have applied before Brexit, but the reality was they still needed to secure their rights after their country left the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement. For many that has meant applying for a compulsory post-Brexit residency card.

Britons covered by the Brexit agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit. In fact, they may be in a worse situation than non-EU citizens with a long-term residence permit, Jane Golding, former co-chair of the British in Europe coalition said.

“We have had the example of a British student who grew up in Poland. She wanted to study in the Netherlands and in principle would have had to pay international fees as a withdrawal agreement beneficiary. Her Ukrainian boyfriend, who has been in Poland for more than five years and has acquired long-term residence as a third country national, has mobility rights and the right to home fees,” she told Europe Street News.

But the European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for long-term residence too, in addition to their post-Brexit status, thus re-gaining the right to move to another EU country. Although again it shouldn’t be equated with freedom of movement and applying for the status will likely be an arduous task.

This law and its revision will also concern British citizens who will move to the EU in the future.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

 

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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