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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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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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