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EUROPEAN UNION

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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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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