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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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For members

RESIDENCY PERMITS

What are my rights while I wait for my Swiss residence permit to be extended?

As a foreign national in Switzerland, your permit is a very important document, as it allows you to stay and work here. But what happens when it expires?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swiss residence permit to be extended?

Whether or not you have any rights in Switzerland when your permit expires depends on the kind of permit you have — it may have to be renewed each year or only after five years of residency.

For instance, B and C permits are renewed automatically (unless there is a reason why they can’t be — because you have left the country or are no longer eligible for one).

If they are renewed automatically, then you don’t have to do anything — just wait for it to arrive.

In the meantime, your rights are protected — you can continue to work and live in Switzerland as before.

Things are a little bit more complicated if you hold a short-term permit, like L.

This permit is given to eligible people who move to Switzerland to work temporarily in a specific job or company. It is valid for up to one one year, and can be renewed for another 24 months under certain circumstances, such as if your employer requests it.

Unlike B or C permit, L is not extended automatically; rather, you have to apply to have it renewed (see below).

It is important to keep in mind that this particular permit is tied to a specific job, so if you change work, the permit, and your right of residency, will lapse.

As far as G permit, given to cross-border workers, it is in force for periods from one to five years, depending on your Swiss employment contract. They too are usually not renewed automatically.

READ MORE: How to get a permit as a cross-border worker in Switzerland

What are your rights if your permit expires?

If you are not getting an extension or a new permit, then you have to leave Switzerland

If you are not informed by the canton ahead of time that your permit would not be extended, then you are in the clear. You have the right to remain and work in Switzerland.

For you to be able to stay in the country legally, your permit either must be renewed automatically (B and C), or it is up to you to take steps to do so.

In either case, you should be aware of the deadlines and procedures for extension, but the process is fairly simple.

Typically, you will receive a letter from local authorities approximately six weeks before the deadline reminding you to renew. There will also be an application form that you will need to fill out.

It must be submitted to your commune of residence no earlier than three months and no later than two weeks prior to the expiration date.

You will need to present your residence permit and passport, which must remain valid for at least three months after the date of permit’s expiration.

The cost of renewal varies from one commune to another and is determined by the kind of permit you have.

What about refugee permits?

Permit N is granted to asylum seekers whose application is being processed. During this time, they are entitled to live (and under certain conditions, also work) in Switzerland, for as long as their status is not revoked by the government.

In regard to S permits granted to Ukrainians who fled their country, they have the right to live and work in Switzerland for as long as their status is valid: according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), this period is one year, though it can be extended for five years.

There is no need for these people to apply for extension each year: it will be done automatically, but only if the Swiss government will maintain their status.

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

 

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