Parliament backs single permit for foreign workers

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Workers from outside the European Union will be able to apply more easily to live and work in member states following European Parliament’s approval yesterday (13 December) of a single permit directive.

The rules – already agreed by member states’ governments – offer foreign workers the right to similar working conditions, pensions, social security and access to public services as EU citizens.

First proposed by the Commission in 2007, migrant workers will have a single application procedure for residency and work permits once member states transpose the single permit directive into national law, which they are required to do within two years.

One-stop shop for foreign workers

Member states will still retain the right to decide who can enter their territories, and to restrict the rights of specific foreign workers on an ad-hoc basis.

“I am very pleased that this directive has finally been adopted, as it will certainly simplify the life of migrants applying to reside and work in the EU," said Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs. "The directive will ensure a one-stop-shop system, thereby accelerating administrative procedures both for the future employer and the migrant.” 

"This is an important step in facilitating legal migration," she said, "as well as in ensuring rights for migrants who are legally working and contributing to the cultural richness of our societies and the strength of our economy.”

During the parliamentary debate in Strasbourg, groups from across the political spectrum welcomed the directive – though some wanted the rules to go further.

Not far enough

French MEP Véronique Mathieu, rapporteur for the European People's Party,  said the directive would enable Europe to deal with the shortage of labour, and facilitate checks and balances over migration. “It is much better to have legal migration and remove any kind of incentive to illegal or clandestine measures,” she told Parliament.

But Gerrman MEP Cornelia Ernst (European United Left/Nordic Greens)  noted that the work on the new provision augured well at the beginning but ended lamentably. "This is by no means the gateway to a truly simplified scheme for third-country nationals wishing to work in an open EU,” she said.

A second-reading legislative agreement between the European Parliament and Council on the single permit will be deemed adopted following yesterday’s session of the European Parliament, as no amendments were tabled.

The single permit will apply to 24 countries, with the UK, Denmark and Ireland having negotiated opt-outs from the legislation.

“The current text is not perfect but it is an attempt to provide honest people who want to come and work within the EU with an easier mechanism to do so,” said Romanian MEP Renate Weber of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe’s (ALDE), the coordinator and spokesperson on this subject on the Justice and Home Affairs committee.

“The quid pro quo of the 2008 Return Directive on sending back ineligible asylum applicants was to introduce legislation dealing with legal migration, making it more coherent and humane. This is a priority task for the European Commission as well as for ALDE. The complete migration package should be adopted by the end of 2012. The single permit file is the first of these measures.”

“We are pleased that the adopted legislation includes a clear commitment to equal treatment in the workplace, as well as the right to freedom of association. Third country nationals, who are legitimately in the EU, will also have the right to basic social services and social security, albeit with certain limitations,” said Belgian Green MEP Jean Lambert.

“The Greens were in favour of granting far greater rights to those covered under the rules but unfortunately there was no majority for this. So while the creation of the single permit is an important step forward, it cannot be the end of the road,” Lambert said.

The new rules will apply to non-EU nationals who wish to live and work in a member state, or who already legally reside or work there.

There are exclusions for long-term residents, refugees and posted workers (who are already subject to other EU rules), seasonal workers or intra-company transferees (who will be covered by other EU directives). Au pairs and seafarers sailing under the flag of a member state are also not included.

As a general rule, non-EU workers will have access to social security on the same terms as EU nationals. Member states may apply restrictions to workers with contracts lasting fewer than six months.

MEPs added provisions for non-EU workers to receive their pensions when returning to their home country and for vocational training and education to be provided to non-EU workers who have a job or are registered as unemployed.

Since the law had already been approved by member states, Parliament's vote is the end of the legislative procedure. Once the directive is published in the EU Official Journal, member states will have two years to transpose it into their national laws.

  • 13 Dec. 2013: Member states obliged to transpose the single permit directive into national law by this date

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