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VISAS

What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?
This illustration photograph shows rain drops on the European Union flag during the EU-Western Balkans summit at Brdo Congress Centre, near Ljubljana on October 6, 2021. - Western Balkan countries can expect reassurances but no concrete progress on their stalled bids for European Union membership when EU leaders meet today. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.

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BREXIT

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

A large number of British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU rules in 2020 may not have received a reminder from Danish authorities to update their residence status ahead of a Brexit deadline, meaning many missed the deadline and could face having to leave.

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

Are you a British national in Denmark facing a situation similar to the one described in this article? If so, you can contact us here — we’d like to hear from you.

British nationals who registered as resident in Denmark under EU rules in 2020 – the last year in which EU free movement was available to UK citizens – may not have been officially notified by Danish authorities’ alerts that they needed to apply for updated residence status by the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

That means that people who moved to Denmark from the UK in the year 2020 are more likely to have missed the deadline.

Those who had been living in Denmark before 2020 were much more likely to have received the official notification by Danish authorities.

The issue has potentially serious consequences: the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) is rejecting applications that were submitted late if the reason for late submission was that the applicant did not receive reminder letters in 2021.

As recently reported by The Local, Phil Russell, a 47-year-old financial services administrator who lives in the western part of Zealand, has received notice he must leave Denmark by early December after missing the deadline to apply for a post-Brexit residence permit.

SIRI sent reminders to UK nationals resident in Denmark to update their residence status under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement prior to a December 31st, 2021 deadline. But Russell did not receive the reminders and eventually discovered he had missed the deadline just four days into January 2022.

READ ALSO: Briton living in Denmark urges authorities to reverse his deportation order

Russell’s situation appears to be far from unique. The Local has spoken with several other UK nationals in Denmark who say they did not receive the information letters. All of the UK nationals moved to Denmark in 2019 or 2020 and all of them registered as resident in the country in 2020.

“I am also a British person in Denmark who did not receive any notifications or reminders regarding the need to apply for new paperwork by the deadline,” a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Local via email.

“I tried to stay oriented to post-Brexit issues but have, to date, received no information regarding what is required of me post-Brexit and have never seen any of the ‘extensive ad campaigns’ which were apparently designed to inform people like me. I only became aware that I did not have the correct paperwork when leaving to visit the UK in June,” they said.

“I have called for updates regarding my application and have been told it is still being processed,” they said.

“It does seem unreasonable that a government agency is seemingly putting the responsibility on the resident to know of any changes that need to be made to government records, especially when SIRI has not contacted those who they are now seemingly penalising for applying late,” they said.

“I had not ever moved to a different country before this and I’ve certainly never needed to negotiate the complicated nature of Brexit before. I do not know what is normal or not when it comes to residency documents, so if something is required, I would expect to be contacted directly,” said the person, who was granted residency in Denmark in September 2020 under EU rules.

“I have felt failed by SIRI since I found out I had not been contacted at all, let alone three times. Had I known that I needed to reapply, I would have done so straight away,” they said, adding that they experience “daily anxiety knowing there is the possibility of my application being rejected due to its late submission”.

“If there has been a technical error on SIRI’s part, that they should not penalise residents for this,” they said.

READ ALSO: How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

Two other people, who both registered as resident in Denmark in 2020 under EU rules, also said they had not received SIRI’s information letters.

“While I received my new permit, I also did not receive the letters about renewing,” Danny Maiorca, who moved to Denmark in September 2020 and registered as a resident the following month, told The Local via email.

Maiorca said the only reason he knew to apply for the updated residence permit was by regularly checking SIRI’s website in 2021.

After initially moving to Denmark in 2019, Alex Stuart registered as a resident under EU rules in 2020. He told The Local he also had not received all of SIRI’s information letters in 2021 and had submitted his post-Brexit residence application after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

“SIRI hasn’t said anything to me yet, just that they are reviewing my case. But now that I see what they are saying to others I expect my answer won’t be very different,” he said.

The Local has contacted SIRI on repeated occasions to ask whether its information letters failed to reach all persons from the UK who moved to Denmark in 2020. We also asked whether it made sense to revoke the residency status of persons who submitted late applications after not receiving the letters.

The agency has yet to provide an answer but said it intends to respond to our questions. We will update this article or publish a new one once we receive a response.

In an internal record from SIRI which has been seen by The Local, the agency concludes that its information letters were a “supplementary service and part of an information campaign.”

The letters were also available on the agency’s website.

Not receiving the letters was therefore not to be considered an extenuating circumstance in an appeal against a rejected, late application, the agency notes in the internal memo, dated March this year.

SIRI has previously confirmed that as of September 30th, it had received 290 applications for post-Brexit continued residency status after the December 31st, 2021 deadline. Some 17,811 applications were received before the deadline.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

In a written comment, the British Embassy in Copenhagen said it “is aware that a number of UK nationals residing in Denmark submitted applications for residency after the relevant deadline.”

“The Embassy has been working closely with the Danish authorities on implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and regularising the stay of those UK nationals who have chosen to make Denmark their home,” it said.

British Ambassador to Denmark Emma Hopkins has requested a meeting with the Danish authorities to discuss the application of the rules to UK nationals, the embassy added.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said that “anyone who applied before the deadline [December 31st, 2021, ed.] will have their rights protected, even if their application has yet to conclude. The Danish authorities will accept late applications if there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.”

The Facebook group British in Denmark, which seeks to provide advice and support for UK nationals who live in Denmark, said that of the group’s 1,400 members, only two who moved to Denmark in 2020 have confirmed they received the SIRI information letters.

While some subsequently applied to update their residence status after the deadline, others were able to meet the deadline because they found out about it through the group or via their personal network, a spokesperson from the group said.

“The problem is that if they arrived in 2020, a lot of people didn’t have that network,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s been left up to the specific countries to decide how they’re going to deal with the late applications. So it’s not written in the Withdrawal Agreement,” she noted.

“Each country can interpret it as long as you’re complying with the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” she said.

The citizens’ rights section of the Withdrawal Agreement states that “where the deadline for submitting the application… is not respected by the persons concerned, the competent authorities shall assess all the circumstances and reasons for not respecting the deadline and shall allow those persons to submit an application within a reasonable further period of time if there are reasonable grounds for the failure to respect the deadline”.

The text of the agreement states that anyone living in an EU member state before the end of the transition period has the right to remain.

“In the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement, everyone was sent a letter. But the people of 2020 didn’t get a letter,” the British in Denmark spokesperson said.

“We really want as many late applicants as possible to join our group. We’ve got people together to provide support for each other and the late applicants who are in there have found it really, really useful,” she added.

“There are devastating potential consequences for them to be facing this alone with their families,” she said.

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