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Explaining the rules

Immigration rules are not the same in every EU country. This is because most EU countries have both EU rules and their own national rules.

These pages explain the differences between these two sets of rules and what this means for you as a potential migrant.
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EU Immigration Rules

Since 1999, the EU has been developing a common immigration policy for Europe.

EU countries have agreed that the EU should have common, or EU-wide, immigration and visa rules that will be valid all across the EU, in the 27 EU countries.

These are set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2009) and include common rules on:
  • Entry and residence conditions for migrants;
  • Procedures for issuing long-term visas and residence permits;
  • The rights of migrants living legally in an EU country;
  • Tackling irregular immigration and unauthorised residence;
  • The fight against human trafficking;
  • Agreements on the readmission of citizens returning to their own countries;
  • Incentives and support for EU countries to promote the integration of migrants.
Common measures to date include: Types of EU-wide rules

There are two types of EU-wide rules:

Regulations and decisions: These are legislative acts of the EU which are immediately applicable as law in all EU countries. There is no need for a change in national law.

Directives: Each EU country must incorporate directives into its national law by a certain deadline. While directives are binding as to the results to be achieved, individual countries can choose the form and methods.

Most EU-wide immigration rules come from directives.

Exceptions to EU-wide rules

EU-wide immigration rules generally apply in 24 out of the EU’s 27 countries. The following exceptions apply:

Denmark does not apply EU-wide rules which relate to immigration, visa and asylum policies.

Ireland and the United Kingdom choose, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not to adopt EU rules on immigration, visa and asylum policies.

For information on immigration and visa rules in any of these three countries, select the country on this map.

More on EU-wide immigration rules

More on EU-wide visa rules
National Immigration Rules

Each EU country alone decides:
  • The total number of migrants that can be admitted to the country to look for work;
  • All final decisions on migrant applications;
  • Rules on long-term visas – stays for periods longer than three months; and
  • Conditions to obtain residence and work permits when no EU-wide rules have been adopted.
Further information

EU immigration rules

Country-specific rules

Overview of all EU immigration legislation on immigration

More on the common EU immigration policy