What are the current rules?
- Directive 2004/114/EC on students, which sets out mandatory rules for the admission of non-EU national students, with an option for Member States to apply the Directive for school pupils, volunteers and unremunerated trainees. If they fulfil the conditions, students are entitled to a residence permit, have certain rights with regard to employment or self-employment which allows them to cover a part of the cost of their studies as well as limited rights to intra-EU mobility in order to pursue their studies in different Member States.
- Directive 2005/71/EC on researchers, which provides for a fast-track procedure for the admission of non-EU national researchers who have signed a hosting agreement with a research organisation approved by the Member State. The hosting agreement confirms the existence of a valid research project, and that the researcher has the necessary scientific skills to complete the project as well as sufficient resources and health insurance. Researchers can teach and can go to another Member State for up to three months as part of their research project.
These EU rules allow non-EU nationals to acquire skills and knowledge and contribute to Europe´s competitiveness. They encourage mutual enrichment between different actors and better familiarity among cultures.
In 2011 the Commission presented implementation reports on these Directives, which identified a number of weaknesses.
In 2012 the Commission launched a series of different stakeholders´ consultations, including an on-line public consultation. The results of the consultation clearly demonstrated that non-EU national students, researchers and the other groups covered by the current Directives often do encounter difficulties when they want to move to the EU, such as:
- Conditions to enter and stay in the EU are not clear enough and vary between Member States: a number of identified problems were related to the divergent frameworks for issuing visas and/or residence permits. For instance, in the case of researchers, the fact that the residence permit may be given for a shorter period than the duration of the research project can lead to unnecessary complications (cost, time invested, insecurity etc.) related to the need to re-apply for a permit. In addition, often rules on conditions for admission are also not adequately communicated. Such lack of transparency makes it more difficult for students, researchers and other groups of non-EU nationals to come to the EU.
- Applicants often do not know when to expect a decision by Member States on their application for admission: the absence of time limits for assessing applications creates additional uncertainty regarding the outcome of their application which may determine whether they move to another country or not. This may also affect the research organisations and educational establishments concerned, and ultimately undermine the objectives of the Directive.
- Students have limited possibilities to fund their stay through work and there is often no possibility for students and researchers to identify working opportunities in the EU following graduation or the termination of their research project. Also, under current legislation researchers´ family members are not guaranteed access to the labour market.
- Moving from one Member State to another can be difficult or even impossible, which has a negative impact on the transfer of skills and knowledge between Member States. This affects for example Erasmus Mundus students enrolled in joint programmes who study in at least two different EU countries (compulsory mobility), but are facing difficulties obtaining the necessary visa.
- Rules are optional for school pupils, volunteers and unremunerated trainees, leading to wide variations between Member States in terms of coverage of groups. Remunerated trainees and au-pairs, who are not covered by any common rules at EU level despite facing similar challenges, would also benefit from increased protection.
It is crucial to bear in mind that the EU is facing important structural challenges. Despite the current economic downturn and the rising unemployment levels, many EU Member States still struggle to fill many skilled labour positions. There is evidence that this struggle is going to persist during the decade ahead for both economic and demographic reasons. As an example, according to the Commission´s Agenda for new skills and job, it is estimated that by 2015 shortages of ICT practitioners will be between 384 000 and 700 000 jobs, whereas in the health sector there will be a shortage of about 1 million professionals in the by 2020 – and up to 2 million if ancillary healthcare professions are taken into account.
One of the problems is that the EU is not able to attract the workforce it needs while other countries worldwide are doing much better when it comes to making it more appealing for these talents to join them at the earlier stage of universities studies and research projects. The U.S., Australia and Japan, for example, have better incentives to attract talents and to convince them to join their job market, in turn benefitting from the skills and knowledge they have acquired. It is therefore in the EU´s own interest to become more attractive for foreign students and researchers and to increase its appeal as a world centre for excellence. More exchange students and international scholars will lead to economic growth, spur innovation and lead to more jobs in the long run.