For members


Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union, including Britons who moved both before and after Brexit, are eligible for a special residence status that could allow them to move to another EU country. Getting the permit is not straightforward but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country
The European Union flag flutters in the breeze with the landmark Television Tower (Fernsehturm) in the background, in Berlin's Mitte district on April 19, 2021. (Photo by David GANNON / AFP)

Residence rules for non-EU nationals are still largely decided by national governments.

In 2001 the European Commission made an attempt to set common conditions for all ‘third country nationals’ moving to the EU for work. But EU governments rejected the proposals.

The result was a series of EU laws addressing separately the status of highly skilled employees who are paid more than average and their families, scientific researchers and students, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees (employees transferred within a company). There are also common rules for non-EU family members of EU citizens.

But otherwise national rules apply. The majority of non-EU citizens who apply for residency in a European Union country are only allowed to live and work in the country they apply

But under EU law, non-EU citizens who live in the EU on a long-term basis can get the right to move for work to other EU countries if they manage to obtain EU “long-term resident” status.

This is effectively the same right that EU citizens have but is not the same as freedom of movement that comes with being an EU citizen.

The directive might not that well known to Britons, who due to Brexit have had to secure their residency rights in the country where they lived, but might be better known to nationals of other third countries.

READ ALSO: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

This EU status is possible if the person:

  • has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years,
  • has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period
  • can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources to support themselves and their family,” without relying on social assistance, and health insurance.
  • Some countries may also require to prove a “level of integration”.

The residence permit obtained in this way is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the long-term residence status can be lost if the holder is away from the EU for more than one year. 

The purpose of these measures was to “facilitate the integration” of non-EU citizens who are settled in the EU ensuring equal treatment and some free movement rights. 

But is this status easy for non- EU nationals to get in reality?

Around 3.1 million third country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one.

But only few long-term non-EU residents have exercised the right to move to other EU countries,

One of the problems, the report says, is that most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one.

The procedures to apply are complex and national administrations often lack the knowledge or do not communicate with each other. Some countries still require employers to prove they could not find candidates in the local market before granting a long term residence permit to a non-EU citizen, regardless of their status.

Could it get easier?

Now the European Commission plans to revise these rules and make moving and working in another EU country easier for non-EU citizens. The proposal is expected at the end of April but that doesn’t mean it will get easier in reality.

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

Now the European Commission plans to revise these rules and make moving and working in another EU country easier for non-EU citizens. The proposal is expected at the end of April but that doesn’t mean it will get easier in reality.

It will likely take months if not years to agree new rules with EU governments. And then there’s the question of putting them into practice.

What about for Brexit Brits?

British citizens who live in the EU may be asking ‘couldn’t we apply for this before Brexit and can we apply now’?

Some may well have applied before Brexit, but the reality was they still needed to secure their rights after their country left the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement. For many that has meant applying for a compulsory post-Brexit residency card.

Britons covered by the Brexit agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit. In fact, they may be in a worse situation than non-EU citizens with a long-term residence permit, Jane Golding, former co-chair of the British in Europe coalition said.

“We have had the example of a British student who grew up in Poland. She wanted to study in the Netherlands and in principle would have had to pay international fees as a withdrawal agreement beneficiary. Her Ukrainian boyfriend, who has been in Poland for more than five years and has acquired long-term residence as a third country national, has mobility rights and the right to home fees,” she told Europe Street News.

But the European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for long-term residence too, in addition to their post-Brexit status, thus re-gaining the right to move to another EU country. Although again it shouldn’t be equated with freedom of movement and applying for the status will likely be an arduous task.

This law and its revision will also concern British citizens who will move to the EU in the future.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.


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For members


Spain’s return authorisation: When and how should I get it?

The 'autorización de regreso' is something you'll need when you want to leave Spain (and get back in) and haven't got your residency card. Here's what it is, when and where to get it, and how.

Spain’s return authorisation: When and how should I get it?

What is a return authorisation?

In Spain, a ‘return authorisation’ (autorización de regreso in Spanish) is a temporary document issued by the police that allows you to leave and, crucially, to return to Spain when you don’t yet have your residency card. For non-EU residents, including most Britons after Brexit, this is the TIE.

It is worth noting that a return authorisation is a document that only allows you to enter Spain and not other EU countries, so this is worth keeping in mind when booking flights with stopovers.

READ ALSO: Can I travel to Spain if my passport has expired?

When should I get one?

Simply put, when you haven’t got your residency card for whatever reason.

Maybe you’ve applied and don’t have the card yet, or you’re renewing your card and still waiting for a replacement, during the time you have to travel. There could be quite a few reasons why you don’t have your residency card with you when travelling, but we’ll outline the three most common here:

Renewing residency

If your residency card is approaching its expiration date, you must request a renewal to continue living legally in Spain. That means there’ll be a short amount of time that you don’t have a residency card.

This can last as long as a month, so if you want to leave Spain during this period you’ll need to apply for the return authorisation so you can prove at the border that you are legally resident in Spain. 

Getting a new TIE

If you misplace your TIE, or have it stolen, or it is damaged and becomes illegible, you’ll also need to apply for a return authorisation if you want to leave the country and come back again.

You may also have the older, small green residency certificates (which the Spanish government recommends Britons exchange for a TIE but isn’t strictly necessary or enforced). They are much more prone to water damage than the hard plastic TIE card.

If this happens to you, applying for a new TIE or residency card can take some time, up to six weeks often.

Similarly to the residency renewal process, this will leave you without anything to prove you legally reside in Spain, so a return authorisation will be necessary to leave the country and re-enter.

READ ALSO: How to travel to Spain if your residency document has expired

Initial residency application

Of course, you might not have a residency permit because you don’t yet have residency in Spain. When you first arrive in Spain and complete all the initial paperwork and administrative tasks (going down to the police station to give your fingerprints, getting your NIE, and so on) it can take around a month to be issued with your residency card.

So if you’re in the process of applying for residency but haven’t yet received a decision (or card) you’ll also need an autorización de regreso if you need to unexpectedly leave the country. 

How and where do I apply?

In order to get a return authorisation, you’ll need to make an appointment at your nearest police station or immigration office (known as the ‘extranjería‘).

You can use this search tool to find your nearest police station here.

And you can make an appointment here.

Which documents do I need?

Once you’ve made your appointment, you’ll need to take a few documents with you. 

  • Your passport (and a photocopy).
  • Documentary proof that you have either applied for, are renewing, or are in the process of receiving a duplicate TIE card.
  • Proof of payment (form 790-052 at the extranjería or form 790-012, if you’re doing it at the police station).
  • Form EX-13, which you can find here, clearly marking your personal situation in the ‘Datos relativos a la solicitud’ under Section 4. 
  • If you are renewing your residency card, bring along the expired one.