Residency permits For Members

What is the EU's plan to make freedom of movement easier for non-EU residents?

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
What is the EU's plan to make freedom of movement easier for non-EU residents?
European Parliament members want to decrease the time needed for non-EU inhabitants residing in EU member states to attain long-term residency status. Photo by ALEXANDRE LALLEMAND on Unsplash

Members of the European Parliament are trying to reduce the time required for non-UE citizens living in EU countries to get long-term resident status and move more easily across the bloc. But will it happen?


The European Parliament said this week the period of legal residence to obtain such status should be cut from five to three years. This sounds a positive move for non-EU residents , but EU governments will have to agree to the move. What are the chances this will happen?

What is EU long-term residence?

Under a little-known EU law, third-country nationals can in theory acquire EU-wide long-term resident status if they have lived 'legally' in an EU country for at least five years.

They also must not have been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period (the rules are different for Brits covered by Withdrawal agreement), and can prove to have "stable and regular economic resources" and health insurance.

Applicants can also be required to meet "integration conditions", such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge.

The purpose of these measures was to “facilitate the integration” of non-EU citizens who have been living in the EU for a long time, ensuring equal treatment and some free movement rights.

However in practice, this law has not worked as planned.

READ ALSO: Could it get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another EU country?

One of the problems is that most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one. And many applicants are unaware of the EU residency permit.

Some countries also require employers to prove they could not find candidates in the local market before granting a permit to a non-EU citizen, regardless of their status.


So what's happened so far?

Last year the European Commission proposed to review and simplify these rules. The European Parliament and EU Council (which is formed by EU governments) have to give their views before the final legislative text can be approved.

This week MEPs said they want to shorten to three years, instead of five, the period non-EU nationals are required to be legally resident in a member state in order to acquire EU long-term status.

They also agreed it should be possible to combine periods of legal residence in different EU member states, instead of resetting the clock at each move.

In addition, time spent for studying or vocational training, seasonal work, temporary protection (the scheme that applies to Ukrainian refugees) should be calculated too. At present, these periods do not count towards EU long-term residence.

'Freedom of movement is an illusion for non-EU nationals'

Once long-term residence is obtained in an EU country, it should be automatically recognised at EU level too, MEPs said, asking to remove restrictions such as labour market checks or integration requirements for people who move to another EU state.

If countries require someone to speak the national language to grant the status, they should provide free courses.

Dependent children of people who already have such a permit should be granted the same status automatically, regardless of where they were born, MEPs also argued.


On the other hand, people who hold a residence permit in an EU country only on the basis of an investment scheme should not be eligible for EU long-term residence, the parliament said.

“We currently have 27 labour markets, there is no freedom of movement. That's an illusion for third-country nationals who are on such status right now,” said Damian Boeselager, the German MEP leading on this file at the European Parliament.

“If you, to say it very harshly, want to find another job after maybe losing yours in Paris, or if you just want to develop further, you are confined to France. Otherwise, you will have to go through the complete new procedure again in another member state…”

What are the objections?

Boeselager and members of parliament who support this position argue that Europe is ageing quickly and skill shortages damage the economy, so Europe should become more attractive to non-EU workers. One way to do this is removing obstacles and making their life easier once they are in the bloc, MEPs said.

“If you look at the numbers, we're supposed to lose over 50 million people from our workforce in Europe over the next 30 years, which just shows that we are currently in a situation where we need to rethink our talent, migration and attractiveness,” Boeselager said at a press conference.

“Even under Trump the US was more attractive for international talent than Europe... So we need somehow to get better. We need to attract international talent to the European Union. And this is also what we are trying to do with the long-term residence directive,” he continued.

But not everyone agrees and the approval of the European Parliament position has already caused controversy.

The group of the European Conservatives and Reformists (which includes, among others, Italian party Brother of Italy, Spain’s Vox, the Sweden Democrats and Poland’s Law and Justice), as well as the Identity and Democracy groups (which includes Italy’s Lega, France’s Rassemblement National, Germany’s AfD, Denmark’s Danks Folkeparti and Austria’s FPO) object to the plan.

Conservative and far-right parties argue that migration issues should be decided at national level, the focus should be on border controls and priority for the job market should be given to own citizens. The groups also wanted more time to discuss the proposals.

The Parliament adopted its opinion anyway (with 391 votes in favour, 140 against and 25 abstentions). But the opinion of the parties opposed to the scheme will re-emerge in the discussion among EU governments.


What happens next?

Now that MEPs have their position, it is for EU governments to agree their own and then negotiate with the Parliament to come up with the final text of this law.

One of the things EU governments could do is to slow down the process or do nothing, not allowing the file to progress. New legislation should be completed by February 2024, before the European Parliament elections in May next year.

Boeselager hopes these measures can be adopted by Christmas. “We can’t go to the next elections without having these directives approved,” said Spanish MEP Javier Moreno Sanchez, who is leading the discussion on the revision of the single work and residence permit for non-EU citizens. Sanchez said he is optimistic that the Spanish government, which will take over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2023, will push ahead with this file.

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

This article was produced by Europe Street News


Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2023/05/05 12:58
Will this apply to EEA countries like Norway?
Peter M Shevlin 2023/04/22 13:23
Please make it plain that the terms for permanent residence are different for UK passport holders under the withdrawal agreement as far as absences are concerned.
Elizabeth Eastwood 2023/04/22 13:19
How does someone who already has "lived 'legally' in France for at least five years" apply for this EU long-term resident status? Is there a link to the application that you could share?

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