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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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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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