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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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For members

RESIDENCY PERMITS

What are the key benefits of Norway’s family immigration permit? 

When moving to Norway, you may need a residence permit to live and work there legally. Norway’s family immigration permit has several advantages that may make it a more attractive proposition than other types of residence. 

What are the key benefits of Norway’s family immigration permit? 

The majority of those from outside the European Economic Area will need a residence permit to live in Norway legally. However, if you are an EEA national, it’s relatively straightforward due to being able to live and work in Norway freely. The only paperwork that will be required is registering with the police

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for more than one permit. For example, when moving to be with a partner or family member, you may qualify for both a work permit and a family immigration residence card. 

In many cases, the family immigration permit may be best as it comes with several benefits that other types of residence may not. 

What is the family immigration permit? 

Spouses, cohabitants, fiancées, children, parents and other family members of residents in Norway may be eligible to apply for family immigration or family reunification permits from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI). 

In other articles, we’ve covered the rules for family and partners in more depth. You can check those out below. 

READ MORE:  

Career freedom

When moving to Norway, many may find themselves in a position where they qualify for both a work permit and a family immigration permit, but they aren’t sure which one is best. 

When granted a family immigration permit, you have the right to live and work in Norway. And unlike a work permit, you may have more career freedom. This is because you will not need a job relevant to your qualifications. 

Additionally, those with temporary work permits need to reapply when moving into a job that’s a different position to the one you were granted a permit for, even if it’s with the same employer. Those with a family immigration permit aren’t required to reapply when switching jobs. 

This makes changing your job or career in Norway a lot more hassle-free than with a work permit.

Free language lessons

You may be entitled to free Norwegian language lessons when granted a family immigration permit in Norway. 

Those who are the family members of those with permanent residence, or the family member of a Norwegian or a citizen of another Nordic country (except those that have a residence permit as a family member on the grounds of the EEA freedom of movement regulations) can get up to 600 hours of language and social studies tuition based on their residence. 

Quicker road to citizenship 

Yes. As briefly outlined above, several factors can affect how long you must spend in Norway before becoming a citizen. 

For those that are a registered partner, cohabitant, or spouse of a Norwegian citizen, then the residence length is five out of the last ten years. 

One caveat is that your combined residence and marriage period will need to have been at least seven years. This means you will have to have already been married for at least a couple of years to be eligible for Norwegian citizenship after five years of residence. 

Those who aren’t married can include the time they have lived with their partner to the combined marriage and residence requirement. Furthermore, time spent living together or abroad can count towards the residence requirement.

READ ALSO: How long does it take to get Norwegian citizenship?

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