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Set in stone: New EU rules for foreign students and researchers – How we got there

Talks to create better entry and mobility conditions attracting the brightest researches and students globally, to facilitate Europe’s increasing need for an enhanced knowledge economy, commenced in March 2013, and have been finalized this month. The submitted proposal of 2013 focused on the removal of obstacles, particularly at bureaucratic level, and addressed a lack of cohesion and transparency reflected in complex procedures permeating the differing systems across member states. Extending residency periods beyond a time frame of three months, access to labour market opportunities, protection of non-EU nationals as well as intra EU-mobility and skills transfer, set the frame for a strategy to attract new talent. A synthesis report conducted by the European Migration network, detailing immigration and mobility policies of different member states, supported further steps towards a better regulatory framework (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, March 2013).

February 2014 marked the first concrete steps towards implementation of the new rules, with the European Parliament voting on the first reading of the draft legislation proposed in 2013 and the results showed significant support from members to address the fragilities of the system, holding back the Union and global talent from advancing a competitive knowledge economy.  The measures now concretely looked at an entitlement of an 18-month time frame for labour market integration, handling-fees for applications to be reasonable and reimbursed by host entities like the university, and the establishment of a 6 months’ mobility period within the EU, with strengthened provision for Erasmus mundus and Marie Curie beneficiaries (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe March 2014).

In a final surge to build consensus towards concerted and improved conditions for non-EU students and researches, the European Commission adopted its position on the directive in March 2016 (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, March 2016) and as expected, Parliament approved the new rules this month on May 18.

Looking at the evolution of the directive over its three-year time frame:
  • Initially discussions commenced at an 18-month time frame for post-study labour market integration, which has finally resulted in an agreement of 9 months.
  • Greater consideration was given to self-sufficiency needs of students resulting in permission to work at least 15 hours per week alongside studies.
  • Needs for long term retention of global talent and successful integration are now reflected in the dimension of the family, allowing next of kin to accompany researchers.
  • Simplified intra-EU mobility procedures are now in place (notification procedures replace visa applications), and the extension of mobility periods has been upheld.

Intensions for finalizing harmonized rules and improved conditions were set for 2016, and this promise has been kept.  The success of the new directive in advancing a globally equipped European knowledge economy that is open to the world, will surface in its implementation. The quality of experiences made by affected researches and students when confronting the new system and seeking to take advantage of opportunities across different countries will be indicative- member states now facing a two year time frame for adopting the provisions into national legislation. 

European Parliament - Press release