Edition 221 - September 2019

European Migration Network: Attracting and retaining international students in the EU

Earlier this month, the European Migration Network (EMN) has published a synthesis report on EU member states’ national policies and measures for attracting and retaining international (non-EU/EEA) full-time students from level 5 (short-cycle tertiary education) to level 8 (doctoral or equivalent) ISCED (International Standard Classification of Education). This synthesis report brings together the information from national reports and policy documents, as well as from the EUROSTAT database. It covers the periods 2013-2017 (statistics) and 2012-2018 (policy developments). It looks into conditions for admission of international students, incentives in place to attract international students at national levels and where applicable, into measures targeting to retain international students after graduation. It also presents related common challenges and good practice in member states. Finally, the report explores how the 2016 so-called Students and Researchers Directive was transposed in different member states.


The findings show an increase in the number of international students between 2013 and 2017, based on the number of first residence permits issued for study reasons in the 25 member states that participated in the study. Almost half of the 460 000 permits issued in the EU were issued in the top-three receiving countries – the UK, France and Germany, and almost one quarter of permits to students from China, followed by the US and Indian students. Most member states use marketing activities and outreach campaigns to promote their countries as attractive study destinations (see for example, the Study in Europe initiative), including scholarships and programmes taught in English.


A large majority of member states have retention measures in place, some following the transposition of the 2016 Directive, such as legal residence of minimum nine months to seek employment after graduation, and some as additional measures to facilitate labour market access, such as exemptions from salary thresholds or employment tests, no restrictions concerning the field of employment or setting up a business. Some member states provide career counselling services as well as facilitated family unification procedures or special integration programmes.


A common challenge for both attraction and retention pertains to lengthy study visas and residence permits processing procedures. Student attraction is often limited by (insufficient) provision of English-taught programmes, insufficient presence in third countries and insufficient promotion and scholarships. Challenging economic situation, including low national employment rates in some member states, impedes retention of international graduates, hand in hand with lack of competitive employment offers and living standards.


EMN synthesis report
European Migration Network
2016 Directive

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