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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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VISAS

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

Navigating the French visa process can be tricky, but the key thing is to make sure that you're applying for the correct visa type for your situation - here are the 5 key questions that will decide which visa is right for you.

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

If you’re planning on moving to France or spending long periods of time here and you’re not an EU citizen then you’re likely to need a visa – but understanding which type of visa to get can be complicated

From working visas to 6-month visas, visitor visas to talent passports, France offers a plethora of different visas, all of which give you different rights and involve a slightly different process.

But people applying for the first time often end up baffled by the choice on offer – so here’s how to decide which visa is right for you. 

How long do you want to spend in France?

This is the first question that you need to consider. If you intend to move to France and make it your home then this is fairly simple and you can move on to the next question.

If, however, you are a second-home owner or someone wanting to simply pay long visits to France (ie more than 90 days in every 180 in accordance with the 90-day rule), then it can be a little more complicated.

First, you need to decide whether you want to make France your main residence, or keep your residence in another country (say, the UK or US) and simply be a visitor when you come to France.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Making France your main residence – if this is the case, you can apply for a 12-month visa and won’t be limited in how long you can spend in France.

However, as a resident in France you will need to complete the annual tax declaration (even if all your income comes from outside France) and you may also need to register with the French healthcare system. If you are resident in France then you are no longer a resident of your home country, and this may affect things like your tax status and access to healthcare.

Your questions answered: Second-home owners and French residency

Keeping your main residence elsewhere – if you do not intend to live in France then you are limited to the six-month visitor visa. This limits the amount of time you can spend in France, but means that you are not affected by the responsibilities of French residents such as the annual tax declaration. You cannot register in the French health system and a visitor and you have no automatic right to enter France if the borders are closed (as they were during the pandemic).

Slightly confusingly, there are two types of visa that are popularly known as a ‘visitor visa’ – a 6-month one and a 12-month one – we explain the difference HERE.

What do you intend to do in France?

Assuming that you want to move full-time to France, the next question is what you intend to do here – maybe you’re moving for a job, you have plans to set up your own business or you want to retire here. How you intend to fill your days is important, because it affects the type of visa you will apply for.

Study – perhaps the simplest visa option is for those who intend to study in France as the student visa generally has the simplest application process. You must, however, already be accepted by a French educational establishment before you apply for the visa. All French universities are accepted for this, but not all French language schools are accredited for visa purposes, so if this is what you intend to do you need to check in advance if you will be able to get a visa.

How to get a French student visa

If you complete masters level degree studies in France, you get some extra advantages, including the right to stay for an extra year while you hunt for a job and a fast-track to French citizenship.

Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after their studies

Retire – retiring to France is a perennially popular option, and most people who do not intend to work in France come on the long-stay visitor visa. This has a fairly simple application process but requires financial proof that you can support yourself while in France and won’t become a burden on the French state. This can be either in the form of proof of regular income such as a pension or a lump sum in savings. The general guidelines figure is that you must have more than the French SMIC (minimum wage) which is currently at €1,300 per month or €15,600 per year. 

As part of the process, you will also have to give undertakings that you will not work in France – so this isn’t suitable for people who, for example, want to retire from their main job and move to France to open a gîte or B&B. If you intend to work remotely while in France – click HERE

Checklist: How to retire to France

Work – if you intend to work in France there are two routes – become a salaried employee or work for yourself, either as a freelancer or contractor or set up your own business. 

Salaried employee – this is the simplest route in visa terms because once you have a job offer your employer sponsors your visa and you don’t need to provide proof of your financial means or a business plan.

However getting a job can be harder because employers are often reluctant to take on the extra paperwork of sponsoring visas and the associated work permits that certain types of employees need – you may even see job adverts stating that the company will not sponsor visas. It’s not impossible, you just need to be an especially good candidate because employing you is more complicated for a company than employing someone who either already has a visa, or somebody who doesn’t need one (ie an EU citizen). 

Three things to know about work permits in France

Self-employed – being self-employed (auto-entrepreneur in French) covers everything from people working on a freelance or contractor basis to people setting up a small business like running a B&B or selling artisan products right up to people who want to set up a big business. Keep in mind, however, that France does not yet have a dedicated digital nomad visa

In order to get this type of visa you need to be able to show firstly that you can support yourself initially – that you have somewhere to stay (this can be as simple as a 3-month Airbnb booking) and some savings or income, and that you have a detailed business plan for the type of work that you intend to do. 

‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – getting a French work visa

Au pair – a popular option for young people is to come to France to work as an au pair while learning French, and there is a specific visa for this. You need to find a family before you apply and you also need to give undertakings that you will take formal French classes while you are here. Full details HERE

Seasonal worker – another popular option for young people is to move to France for a short period and take on seasonal work, such as working the ski season. This has its own process – full details here.

Do you have a French spouse?

If you are married to a French person or have a close relative who is French, you could benefit from a family visa. This has the advantage of allowing you to come to France without a job, but you are not permitted to work on a spouse visa so it’s not suitable for those who intend to seek work.

It’s important to point out that being married to a French person isn’t quite the ‘get out of jail free card’ that some people think – you still need to go through the visa process and also have to fulfil certain financial requirements, so depending on your situation the family visa might not be the significantly easier or better route. 

How to get a French spouse visa

Could you benefit from the Talent Passport?

This is a relatively new visa type that offers a four-year visa and the opportunity to bring family members. It is, however, only available to certain groups – essentially you need to be either working in a specific area like tech or you need to have an international reputation or expertise. Full details here.

Do you intend to apply for asylum?

If you are a refugee or intend to apply for asylum in France then there is a different route to follow – click here for details

What next?

Once you have decided which visa you need, then you are ready to start collecting documents and starting on the application process – you can find a complete guide to applying HERE.

And don’t forget that the paperwork continues even after your visa is granted – once you are in France there are some important admin tasks to complete in order to keep your legal status – full details HERE

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