New rules to attract non-EU students, researchers

The European Commission has proposed ways to make it “easier and more attractive” for non-European Union (EU) students and researchers to study and work in Europe. New laws should be in place in 2016 and enable states to compete more successfully in the global talent pool.

The aim is for more consistent and transparent rules across the EU. “New legislation will set clearer time limits for national authorities to decide on applications, provide for more opportunities to access the labour market during their stays and facilitate intra-European Union movement,” the commission said in a statement last week.

Member states will be required to process visa applications in no more than 60 days, all non-EU students will be permitted to work at least 20 hours a week, and mobility between states will be made much easier – for instance, for researchers on joint programmes.

Currently, the commission said, far too many non-EU students and researchers “face unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles” – while the region needed to attract talented students and researchers who could contribute to Europe’s growth and competitiveness.

The new rules have been proposed by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström and Education Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

Despite the economic downturn and rising unemployment, many European countries struggle to fill skilled positions, the commission said – and this situation is likely to continue for economic and demographic reasons.

“More exchange students and international scholars will lead to economic growth, spur innovation and lead to more jobs in the long run.”

The commission found that in 2011, 220,000 non-EU nationals entered 24 member states for study, exchange, training or voluntary service, and around 7,000 researchers arrived.

France attracted the highest number of students in continental Europe – nearly 65,000 – followed by Spain (35,000), Italy (30,300), Germany (27,600) and The Netherlands (10,700). France also drew most researchers (just over 2,000), followed by The Netherlands with some 1,600 and Sweden with just over 800 new non-EU researchers.

However: “Current rules for obtaining a student visa or a residence permit are often complex and unclear; procedures can be lengthy and vary considerably across member states, and moving from one member state to another can be very difficult or even impossible.

“This hampers the possibility to provide EU countries with a greater pool of talent and reduces the appeal of the EU as a world centre for excellence.”

Experience had shown that member states were unable to fully resolve difficulties faced by people wanting to study or conduct research in the EU, the statement said. Two current directives on students and researchers will be replaced by a single new directive, which among other things will provide:
  • • Procedural guarantees, especially a 60-day time limit for state authorities to decide on a visa or residence permit application, “which will make the application process more straightforward and transparent”.
  • • Simpler and more flexible rules to increase the ability of researchers and students to move within the EU, which is important for those enrolled in joint programmes. Family members will also be granted some mobility rights.
  • • Students will be allowed to work for 20 or more hours a week, to support themselves and contribute economically. Researchers and students will be able to stay for 12 months under certain conditions after finishing, to identify job opportunities or set up a business. This will not be an automatic right to work, as work permits are a national responsibility.
  • • Overall protection of additional groups such as au pairs, school pupils and remunerated trainees, who are not covered by the existing EU legislation.
The new directive must be discussed and agreed by the European Parliament and European Council. The commission hopes that the new rules will take effect in 2016.