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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

EU flags at the European Commission Berlaymont building
EU flags at the European Commission Berlaymont building (Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash)

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired 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, 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 EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

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

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

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

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

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. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

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.

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

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

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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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Denmark could make change to permanent residency employment rule

New Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek says he wants to change one of the criteria for permanent residency in Denmark.

Denmark could make change to permanent residency employment rule

In an interview with newspaper Politiken on Thursday, Bek said that people on paid internships should enable nationals of non-EU countries to meet the overall criteria for permanent residency.

Bek told Politiken he wanted to “tidy up things that make no sense” in permanent residency rules.

He also told the newspaper he wanted Denmark’s immigration rules to be “tight, but not crazy”.

Specifically, the minister said paid internships and trainee programs should count toward the work requirement — applicants for permanent residency must have worked for at least three years and six months of the previous four years.

Before 2016, education could also be used to satisfy the work requirement. Bek is not keen to restore that particular policy, telling Politiken that working people should considered first.

“We believe that people become well integrated by being at a place of work. That could be having responsibility for senior citizens, a checkout at Netto or laying bricks. By being around colleagues every single day you will get a very good idea of what Danish society is generally about,” Bek said to Politiken.

No specific detail was given as to specific sectors which might be encompassed by a change in the rules. But students or interns who are paid for positions with companies could benefit, according to the report.

Bek named social care workers and construction site apprentices as possible examples of jobs that could be accounted for.

Danish permanent residence rules were changed in 2016 under the previous centre-right government.

Prior to the 2016 change, education counted as employment in a requirement stating a person must have been employed for three and a half of the last four years in order to meet permanent residency criteria.

After 2016, any time spent in education does not count towards the employment criteria.

Bek’s Social Democratic party, then in opposition, supported the change.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Denmark must treat international students equally on permanent residency

The new immigration minister denied he would roll back the 2016 changes in their entirety and said people working should be given priority over students.

He also stressed to Politiken that the government had no plans to ease immigration rules but had always held the same position with regard to internships and residency rules.

Permanent residence means that a person is allowed to stay in Denmark and does not need to apply for residence again. 

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens have the right to apply for permanent residency when they have lived in Denmark for at least five consecutive years. Once it is granted, the holder can live in Denmark without having to meet the original requirements of their temporary EU residency (i.e. being employed, self-employed, a student, or through having sufficient funds). 

Non-EU citizens can be granted permanent residence once they have had a temporary residence permit for eight uninterrupted years (in some cases four).

There are certain requirements for the previous temporary residence, however. These include current employment, and paid internships do not fulfil this employment requirement currently.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between getting Danish citizenship and becoming a permanent resident?

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