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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

Reader question: How can I bring my family to live with me in Switzerland?

Family reunification can be tricky in Switzerland, depending on where you and your family are from. Here is what you need to know.

Reader question: How can I bring my family to live with me in Switzerland?

If you live in Switzerland, you might want to bring your family from abroad to live with you. However, this will not be possible in every case, as the rules for family reunification vary broadly depending on where you and your family are from and how closely related you are.

Family reunification might not be a given right for those living in Switzerland on a permit. Instead, it may be a possibility left to the discretion of the authorities. Unlike those on a B permit (residence permit), people in Switzerland on a C permit (settlement permit), for example, don’t necessarily have a right to bring their family.

READ ALSO: Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Additionally, you can’t bring just any family members to Switzerland. Who you are allowed to bring, and under what circumstances, will depend on your nationality.

For Swiss citizens

If the person living in Switzerland is a Swiss citizen, they are allowed to bring their spouse or registered partner, any children and grandchildren under the age of 18 (or 21 or dependent if the child comes from an EU/EFTA country), your dependent parents and grandparents if they come from an EU/EFTA country.

For citizens of an EU/EFTA country

Citizens of the European Union or an EFTA country can bring a spouse or registered partner, any children or grandchildren under the age of 21 (or dependent), and any dependent parents or grandparents.

For citizens from a third country

Citizens from a third country such as the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, South Africa or Australia, for example, are only allowed to bring a spouse or registered partner and children under the age of 18.

How to bring them?

It’s important to mention that there are time limits to applying for family reunification. In general, people have five years to apply for family reunification, but only one year if the application is for children over 12 years old. The Swiss government says it is “so that they can integrate more rapidly into Swiss society”.

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

There are several other conditions that need to be met. For example, you need to prove the relationship to the person you want to bring, and you need to have a large enough accommodation to house the whole family.

Additionally, those who are self-employed or unemployed need to show proof of sufficient financial resources.

The family members need a valid identity card or passport, a visa (if necessary), and a certificate proving the relationship and proving they are dependents (if required). In addition, a spouse needs to show proof of A1 language or a certificate of enrolment in a language course of the area where they apply for the permit.

The application must be made with the immigration authority in your canton, who may ask for extra documents or further information.

READ ALSO: How long can I stay out of Switzerland and keep my residency rights?

If the application is accepted, the family members will receive a residence permit – the exact type depends on the person in Switzerland’s status. The family will be allowed to work in Switzerland unless they are parents or grandparents.

Children are required to attend free compulsory schooling at least until the age of 16 and all family members need to have a Swiss health insurance.

Each canton may have its own particular rules and minor differences in status and documents may lead to different outcomes depending on the case. Therefore, don’t forget to check with your cantonal immigration authority what applies to your particular case.

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