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03 december 2015

The new Directive on immigration of students and researchers: a small step or a big leap forward?

Steve Peers
For a number of years, the EU has aimed to attract highly-skilled non-EU migrants to its territory. However, the existing legislation on this issue – the researchers’ Directive, adopted in 2005, and the students’ Directive, adopted in 2004 – have only had a modest impact on attracting more students and researchers to the EU, according to the Commission’s reports (see here and here) on the two Directives, issued in 2011.

Consequently, the Commission proposed an overhaul of this legislation in 2013. The European Parliament (EP) and the Council recently agreed on the text of this proposal (for the text of the provisional version of the future Directive, see here; the final version will be ‘tidied up’ a little legally). As you would expect, the EP and the Council compromised between their respective positions (for those positions, see here and here), which I discussed in an earlier blog post.

I’ll examine first the background and content of the new Directive, then look at how effective it is likely to be in its objective on increasing the numbers of researchers and students coming from third States.
Background

The current students’ Directive also applies to the admission of school pupils on exchange programmes, unpaid trainees and volunteers, although Member States have an option to apply it to the latter three groups of migrants. The CJEU has ruled twice on the interpretation of this Directive. In  Sommer it ruled that Member States could not apply a labour-market preference test for students; in Ben Alaya case (discussed here), it ruled that Member States must admit students who comply with the rules on admission in the Directive. The same logically applies to the current researchers’ Directive. The UK and Denmark opted out of both Directives, while Ireland opted in to the researchers' Directive. All three countries have opted out of the new law.
The new law

The new Directive merges the students’ and researchers’ Directives, making major changes to them both. First of all, the Commission proposed that Member States would be obliged to apply the currently optional rules relating to school pupils, unpaid trainees and volunteers, as well as rules on two new groups of migrants: au pairs and paid trainees. The EP agreed with this idea, while the Council rejected it entirely. Ultimately, the two institutions compromised: the new Directive will have binding rules on (paid and unpaid) trainees and some volunteers (those participating in the EU’s European Voluntary Service), although stricter conditions will apply to the admission of trainees (more on that below). However, the rules on other volunteers and school pupils will remain optional, along with the new rules on au pairs.

Next, the Commission proposed to limit Member States’ current power to apply more favourable rules for students and researchers, confining that power to only a few provisions relating to the rights of migrants, while fully harmonising the rules on admission. The final Directive accepts the basic principle that the power to set more favourable standards should be more limited that at present, but imposes fewer such constraints than the Commission wanted. Member States will be allowed to apply more favourable rules for the persons concerned as regards the time limits on their residence permits. Many of the conditions relating to admission and withdrawal or non-renewal of the right to stay will be optional, not mandatory (as the Commission had proposed), and the Council insisted on many additional options being added. A clause in the preamble sets out the Council’s wish to provide expressly that Member States can have rules on admission of other categories of students or researchers.

Against the Commission’s wishes, the final Directive provides that the current rules on delegating decision-making to research institutions or universities will remain. Furthermore, it adds that Member States can optionally delegate such powers as regards volunteers or trainees as well.

Trainees are defined (more restrictively than the current law) as those who have recently completed a degree (within the last two years), or who are currently undertaking one. Their time on the territory is limited to six months, although this can be longer if the traineeship is longer, and the authorisation can be renewed once. But Member States retain the power to set more favourable standards as regards these time limits.  

One striking feature of the agreed Directive is a new right for students and researchers to stay after their research or study to look for work or self-employment. The EU institutions agreed on the principle of this right, but disagreed on the details. According to the Commission, the right should apply for a period of 12 months, although after 3 months Member States could check on the genuineness of this search, and after 6 months they could ask the migrant to prove that they have real prospects. The EP wanted to extend the period to 18 months, and to make Member States wait longer to check on the genuineness of the job search or likelihood of employment. On the other hand, the Council wanted several restrictions: to reduce the stay to 6 months; to allow Member States to limit students’ possibility to stay to those who have at least a Master’s degree; to check on the likelihood of employment after 3 months; and to give Member States an option to limit the job search to the areas of the migrant’s expertise. The final deal splits the difference on the period of extra stay (it will be 9 months), and accepts the various optional limits on the right which the Council wanted.

Lees verder op het weblog van Steve Peers self / continue your reading here please: http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.be/2015/11/the-new-directive-on-immigration-of.html









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