IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

What percentage of the European Union's population are non-EU residents and which countries have the highest numbers of residents from outside the EU? New figures reveal all.

IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?
European Union flags are seen outside the European Council's building in Brussels on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

In 2021, 23.7 million non-EU citizens were living in EU countries, making up 5.3 percent of the total EU population, according to the European statistical office Eurostat.

This number now includes about a million UK citizens, which is no longer an EU member. In comparison, some 13.7 million EU citizens live in an EU state other than their own.

In relation to the national population, citizens from countries that are not part of the EU represent the majority of non-nationals in most EU states.

Eurostat reports that “in absolute terms, the largest numbers of non-nationals living in the EU Member States were found in Germany (10.6 million people), Spain (5.4 million), France and Italy (both 5.2 million). Non-nationals in these four Member States collectively represented 70.3 percent of the total number of non-nationals living in all EU Member States.”  

Only in Luxembourg, Cyprus, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Slovakia the majority of non-nationals are other EU citizens. In Luxembourg, 47 percent of the population is made of non-nationals)

How many non-EU nationals live in the EU? Source: Eurostat

In relative terms, the EU member states with the highest share of non-EU residents were Estonia (14%), Latvia (13%), Malta (12%), Luxembourg (9%), Austria, Cyprus and Spain (8%), Germany, Greece, Slovenia and Sweden (7%), France, Ireland, Italy and Sweden (6%).

In Switzerland the proportion is 9 percent and in Norway 4 percent, but in both these non-EU states, the majority of foreign residents are EU citizens (16% and 7% of the total population respectively).

Based on data provided by Eurostat, the most common non-EU nationalities in the countries covered by The Local are:

Austria: Serbia (1.4%)

Denmark: Syria (0.6%)

France: Algeria and Morocco (0.9%)

Germany: Turkey (1.6%)

Italy: Albania and Morocco (0.7%)

Norway: Syria (0.6%)

Spain: Morocco (1.6%)

Sweden: Syria (0.9%)

Switzerland: Turkey and North Macedonia (0.8%)

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Sweden calls for language requirement for permanent residence permits

The ruling Social Democrats have said they want to introduce language tests for those applying for permanent residence permits in Sweden, as well as a test on knowledge of Swedish society. Migration Minister Anders Ygeman announced the measures in a press conference on Wednesday.

Sweden calls for language requirement for permanent residence permits

“We have far too many people in Sweden who lack the language skills and lack knowledge of Swedish society,” he told TT newswire at the press conference.

“If you want to live here, you need that.”

Those applying for permanent residency in Sweden have had to fulfil special requirements, such as being able to support themselves, since July 2021. Now, the government is proposing to tighten up these requirements further.

READ MORE: How to get Swedish citizenship or stay permanently in Sweden

Ygeman stated that the reason behind the proposal is not for fewer people to be granted residence permits, even though it may have that effect.

“Obviously if you set the bar this high, fewer people will be granted residence permits,” he said.

“But this is about people who want to live in Sweden knowing what is required of them.”

How the tests will be carried out is unclear, but the government wants the language and knowledge about Sweden to be combined as one test.

The proposed language level required is the equivalent of level C at SFI (Swedish for immigrants), which means a fairly high ability to speak, listen, read and write Swedish in “ordinary situations” in everyday life, study and work life.

Children or very old people who cannot be expected to learn what is needed are proposed to be exempted from the new rules.

In 2019, the government appointed an inquiry into similar requirements for becoming a Swedish citizen. The proposed details were announced in 2021 and are still under consultation. 

Maria Malmer Stenergard, a Moderate party spokesperson on migration issues, was not impressed by the measure: “The Social Democrats are once again doing what they are best at and appointing an inquiry when what is needed are concrete proposals… language is a crucial part of integration,” she said.