Reform of work and residence permits

During the final trilogue on the recast of the Single Permit Directive in January, it was an agreement reached

What is the directive about?

Around 3 to 3.5 million third-country nationals enter the EU every yearmainly for professional reasons. They work in EU countries, pay taxes and, through their mobility, help companies to find urgently needed workers. The Combined Permit Directive allows these people a simplified application process and ensures that an applicant only needs one permit to both work and reside in the EU. It gives many non-EU citizens working in the EU the right to be treated like EU citizens in many respects. This applies in particular with regard to fair working conditions, social security, recognition of qualifications and tax benefits. 

History of the Single Permit Directive

The directive has been in force since 2011; the aim of the revision was to simplify the procedure for obtaining a combined work and residence permit and to make it easier for member states to recruit qualified workers from third countries. This is intended to counteract the shortage of skilled workers in the EU. In addition, labor migration is a legal alternative that can enable people seeking protection to avoid dangerous irregular escape routes. To ensure that they are protected after their arrival, the updated regulations also provide for increased protection against exploitation and unequal treatment in the Member States. Workers from third countries will receive a uniform package of rights with regard to their working conditions, social security and the recognition of their qualifications as a result of the revision. In return, they must comply with the respective regulations, otherwise their combined work and residence permit may be withdrawn.

What was important to us Greens

In the negotiations, it was important to us Greens to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and give more people access to a combined work and residence permit. In addition, we wanted better protection against exploitation when taking up work in the Member States, e.g. through an obligation to provide information and the introduction of a right to change employer as well as a strengthened right to equal treatment. I will explain some of our main concerns below.

Fewer bureaucratic hurdles

We were able to partially achieve these goals, as the agreed text contains some improvements compared to the previous regulations. For example, a maximum period of 90 days has been set for deciding on applications for a single permit, compared to the current four months. Procedures for particularly complex cases can be extended by 30 days. However, we would have very much liked these deadlines to include the potentially long-term processing times for people who need a visa. We also wanted accelerated procedures for applicants who already have a permit in another Member State or have participated in EU Talent Partnerships; Member States are now only encouraged to accelerate such applications through the recital.

Change of:employer:in

The option to change employer(s), profession and area of work was also particularly important to us. During the negotiations, we were able to ensure that a simple notification from the new employer is sufficient for such a change. However, the national authorities still have 45 days to reject the change. Member states can also stipulate a period of up to six months during which a change is not possible. An exception is made for serious breaches of the employment contract, including particularly exploitative working conditions, by the employer. Unfortunately, the provisions do not go as far as we would have liked.

Protection even in the event of unemployment

People who lose their job will now have up to three months – or six if the person has held their work permit for more than two years – to find another job before their permit is revoked. This is two – or four – months longer than was previously the case. If an employee has been exposed to particularly exploitative working conditions, the member states will extend the permitted duration of unemployment by three months, while the combined permit remains valid. In the event of unemployment for more than three months, Member States may require the holder of the single permit to prove that he or she has sufficient resources to support himself or herself without recourse to social assistance. Member States are also obliged by a new article to monitor and sanction violations of workers' rights, especially in sectors where there is a fundamentally high risk of violations of workers' rights.

What now?

The new provisions are a step in the right direction, but we must continue to work to remove obstacles to labor migration and create opportunities for protection. This includes, for example, our wish that the restrictions on the right to equal treatment in housing only apply to public housing – and not to private housing. This time, we were only able to achieve an exception for private housing and, in view of the EU's increasingly restrictive migration policy, which is based on isolation and externalization, it is also essential to promote legal migration routes such as labour migration.