Commission proposes improvements to the EU’s legal migration policy
On 27 April, the European Commission issued a package on reforming legal migration. The package included a Communication on attracting skills and talent to the EU, and proposals for the revision of the Single Permit Directive and the Long-Term Residents Directive. The Finnish Government expressed its views on the proposed Directives in statements issued to the Parliament on 8 July.
As part of the skills and talent package, the Commission issued a Communication on reforming legal migration. The Communication underscores the need for a more strategic approach to legal migration. The aim is to boost international labour mobility, improve the matching of labour supply and demand, and address labour and skill shortages.
The Communication follows from the comprehensive Communication issued by the Commission in September 2020 on the reform of the EU’s migration and asylum policy. At the time, the Commission emphasised the need to address the shortcomings of the EU’s legal migration policy and to attract the necessary skills and talent to the EU. The newly issued package responds to that need.
The Commission aims to strengthen legal certainty and protection for third-country workers
In addition to the Communication, the Commission issued two proposals for Directives, with the first concerning the revision of the Single Permit Directive. The primary goal of the Single Permit Directive in its current form is to establish a single application procedure or, in other words, a single permit for residence and work. The Directive also provides third-country nationals with equal rights compared to the citizens of the Member State that issues the single permit.
The Commission proposes that the Directive be revised to include a definition of employer. This would strengthen the position and protection of third-country workers. Under the proposal, the Directive would be expanded to cover third-country nationals who are beneficiaries of protection or have applied for protection in accordance with national law, international obligations or the practices of the Member State in question. This change would not have much impact on Finland, as such third-country nationals can already apply for a residence permit on the grounds of employment, in which case they are covered by the rights of employed persons.
Changing employers on a single permit will be made easier
Under the currently valid provisions of the Aliens Act, those who hold an employed person’s residence permit that is specific to a particular professional field can only change their employer during the validity of the permit if the new job is in the same professional field. The Commission proposes that workers be allowed to change their employer during the validity of their single permit, even if the new job is in a different field. Such changes in employment could be conditional on notifying the authorities and, consequently, the application of the labour market test. A change of employer could be subject to a 30-day waiting period, during which the authorities could prevent the change if that were necessary due to the application of the labour market test or shortcomings observed in the terms of employment.
When an employed third-country national becomes unemployed, withdrawal of the single permit would not be possible during the first three months of unemployment. The Commission’s proposal also notes that Member States should have effective measures in place to prevent the circumvention and abuse of the Directive.
Long-term residence status enables intra-EU mobility
Third-country nationals can already acquire EU long-term residence status if they have resided in a given Member State legally and continuously for at least five years. The Commission’s proposed Directive aims to make it easier to acquire that status. Under the proposal, the required five-year residence could be accumulated by residing for periods of time in different Member States. Temporary residence – as a student or a beneficiary of temporary protection, for example – would also count.
Long-term residence status is beneficial, as it is permanent and provides certain rights, such as the right to employment and self-employment, in the Member State that granted the status. While these rights can also be granted under national residence permits, the EU long-term residence status provides added value by facilitating intra-EU mobility. The right to reside in another Member State is not automatic, however. It is subject to a number of conditions, which the Commission is now proposing to streamline.
The proposed Directive would improve the mobility and employment opportunities of EU long-term residents and their family members, including in Member States other than the one they initially settled in. This could help improve the efficiency of the EU labour market and ease the shortage of skilled professionals. The proposed Directive would also make it easier for EU long-term residents to return to their home country for a limited period of time without losing their rights in the EU.
Skills and talent are also needed from outside the EU
The Government considers it important to develop the EU’s legal migration policy and related legislation while simultaneously ensuring the effective enforcement of the current legislation. Promoting legal migration is an essential component of balanced migration and asylum policy, and it responds to the need to attract skilled professionals to Member States also from third countries.
The Government supports the Commission’s aim of improving the single application procedure, also known as a single permit. The proposed revisions would strengthen the employed person’s position, streamline the procedures and increase applicants’ awareness of their rights, obligations and procedures.
The Government supports the Commission’s proposal that third-country nationals should be provided with equal rights compared to the citizens of the Member State that issues the single permit. This would improve equality and legal protection while reducing vulnerability to labour exploitation.
The Government is also in favour of the Commission’s goal of improving the rights of EU long-term residents and aligning them with the rights of EU citizens to increase equality. Improving the opportunities of EU long-term residents to migrate to, and work in, other Member States would enhance labour market efficiency throughout the EU.
The Government considers it important that Member States will continue to be able to issue national permanent residence permits in addition to the EU long-term residence permit. The key is for the permits to constitute an effective combined solution to promoting the integration of immigrants and increasing the attractiveness of Member States.
Jarmo Tiukkanen, Chief Specialist, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 295 047 355, [email protected] (Single Permit Directive)
Katri Niskanen, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 672, [email protected] (Long-term Residents Directive)