The European Commission has proposed changes to the rules on work and residence permits for non-EU nationals to make the EU more attractive and address skill shortages across the continent.
‘EU employers are facing shortages in as many as 28 professions,’ the Commission said in the document. The sectors where the problem is structural include tourism, hospitality, IT, health and logistics.
The central piece of the proposals is the revision of rules on long-term residence. At present, non-EU citizens who have lived in the EU for several years can apply for long-term residence status both in the country where they live and at the EU level.
This status grants them equal rights to the national workforce on issues such as employment and self-employment, education, social benefits and taxation. EU long-term residence also opens the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions.
However, securing these benefits is not easy. The status of long-term resident can be acquired if a person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for five years, has not been away for more than six consecutive months and 10 months in the entire period, has sufficient economic resources and health insurance.
Applicants can also be required to meet ‘integration conditions’, such as passing a language test, like in the Netherlands.
An evaluation of these measures for the European Commission has shown that few non-EU citizens have benefited so far. For instance, employers are still required to prove they could not find candidates in the local market and rules for long-term residents and their family members lack consistency, the evaluation found.
Long-term resident status can also be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year.
European home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said that of the 23 million non-EU nationals living in the EU, about 10 million are long-term residents. Of these, just three million have an EU long-term residence permit, compared to seven million holding a national one.
Lawyer Jeremy Bierbach from Franssen Advocaten, a law firm specialised in immigration, told Dutch News that in the Netherlands passing the integration test is the biggest hurdle, as many people do not learn Dutch.
But unlike other EU countries, the application procedure for the national and the EU long-term residence permit is ‘mostly merged’, he said.
The Commission now proposes to simplify these rules by, for example, allowing non-EU citizens to add up residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement.
Time spent in the EU as a student could also count, and the Commission is also considering granting automatic status to children born or adopted in the EU country where the parents have the EU long-term residence permit.
Bierbach said the plan to counting all periods of residence is a ‘very positive development’ and the possibility of accumulating periods across borders shows the emergence of a ‘true EU immigration law’.
The automatic acquisition of rights for children also represents a major improvement as ‘no immigration status is usually acquired at birth,’ he added.
Before becoming law, however, these proposals will have to be agreed by the European parliament and council, so they could still change.
As part of the package, the Commission has also proposed revising the directive on the ‘single permit’, which combines work and residence permits for non-EU nationals moving to the EU for work into a single application.
The new rules would also allow permit holders to change employer which would ‘reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation,’ the Commission says.
A pilot project starting with Ukrainians
Other initiatives announced last week aim to address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine.
By the summer, the Commission will set up an EU-wide online platform, the ‘EU talent pool’, to match the skills and qualifications of Ukrainians benefiting of temporary protection with potential employers across the EU.
This pilot project should then be extended to all non-EU nationals who intend to work in the EU.
The Commission will also negotiate ‘talent partnerships’ with EU member states and third countries, including mobility schemes for work and training. The first of these, with Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, should be signed by the end of the year.
In addition, the Commission plans to agree reciprocal ‘youth mobility schemes’ allowing young people from non-EU countries to work in the EU for a certain period and young Europeans to do the same outside the EU.
Other measures in consideration are EU-wide admission schemes for start-up founders and tech entrepreneurs, as well as for long-term care workers, an area in which many member states struggle to find personnel.
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