Residence permits statistics
Data extracted in October 2018.
Planned article update: October 2019.
In 2017, some 3.1 million residence permits were issued across the EU to people from non-member countries.
In 2017, employment was the most common reason for a first residence permit being issued in the EU (1.01 million).
There were 662 thousand first residence permits issued across the EU to citizens of Ukraine in 2017; this was three times as high as the number to citizens of Syria (223 thousand; the second highest value).
Number of first residence permits issued by reason, EU-28, 2008-2017
This article presents European Union (EU) statistics on first residence permits issued to non-EU citizens. Data are based on the regulatory framework provided by Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on migration and international protection statistics.
A residence permit represents an authorisation issued by the competent authorities of a country allowing nationals of non-member (non-EU) countries (also known as third country nationals) to stay for at least 3 months on its territory. Data on residence permits are collected by the reasons for issuing such permits — the main reasons include: employment opportunities, family reunification and educational opportunities, while ‘other reasons’ encompass stays without the right to work or international protection.
The development of residence permits in individual EU Member States reflects the national migration systems’ diversity and the impact of European immigration policy. Other factors such as the characteristics of nationals of non-member countries, legal frameworks and the characteristics of countries involved in the immigration process — such as their geographical proximity or language ties — can also be important.
National administrative registers and databases are the main sources for these statistics, with the exception of the United Kingdom .
First residence permits: an overview
In 2017, 3.1 million first residence permits were issued in the EU-28 to nationals of non-member countries, representing a record high since 2008. The number increased by 3.7 % (or 112 000) compared with 2016, following an upward trend in the last three years. (see Figure 1).
Among the EU Member States, Poland issued the highest number (683 thousand) of first residence permits in 2017, followed by Germany (535 thousand) and the United Kingdom (517 thousand) . There was a noticeable gap to France (250 thousand), Spain (231 thousand) and Italy (187 thousand), while Sweden (130 thousand) also recorded more than 100 thousand permits issued. These seven Member States together accounted for more than four fifths (81 %) of all first residence permits issued in the EU-28 in 2017 (see Table 1).
In 2017, the highest number of first residence permits in the EU-28 was issued for employment-related reasons (1.01 million, or 32.2 % of all first permits issued), followed by family-related reasons (830 thousand, or 26.5 %), other reasons (767 thousand, or 24.5 %) and education-related reasons (530 thousand, or 16.9 %).
The increase in the total number of first residence permits in 2017 in comparison with 2016 was mainly due to the increasing number of first permits issued for employment reasons (up by 155 thousand, or 18.1 %), family reasons (up by 49 thousand, or 6.3 %) and education reasons (up by 30 thousand or 6.0 %), whereas the number of first permits issued for other reasons decreased by 123 thousand (-13.8 %). (see Figure 2).
Compared with the size of the resident population, there were an estimated 6.1 first residence permits issued in the EU-28 per 1 000 population in 2017; this was almost 50 % higher than the equivalent ratio for 2012 when there were an estimated 4.2 permits issued per 1 000 population (see Figure 3).
Across the EU Member States in 2017, the highest ratios of first residence permits to population were recorded in Malta (23.4 permits issued per 1 000 population), Cyprus (22.1), Poland (18.0), Sweden (12.9), Luxembourg (12.1) and Ireland (10.0). By contrast, at the other end of the range, fewer than 2.0 permits were issued per 1 000 population in Bulgaria and Romania — where the lowest ratios were recorded, at 1.5 and 0.7 first residence permits issued per 1 000 population.
First residence permits by reason
Poland (597 thousand permits) was the leading destination in the EU-28 for those seeking to obtain a residence permit for employment-related reasons. The next most common destination was the United Kingdom (104 thousand permits issued for employment-related reasons), followed at some distance by Germany (53 thousand) and Spain (43 thousand). Aside from Poland, first residence permits issued for employment-related reasons represented more than half of the total number of permits issued in Lithuania (74.2 %), Croatia (71.8 %), Slovenia (62.2 %), Malta (54.6 %) and Slovakia (54.2 %), while employment-related reasons also accounted for the highest shares (but not an absolute majority) of the total number of permits issued in Cyprus, Hungary, Czechia, Estonia and Latvia (see Table 1).
Germany (157 thousand), Spain (126 thousand), Italy (113 thousand) and the United Kingdom (101 thousand) were the EU Member States with the highest number of first residence permits issued for family-related reasons in 2017; they were closely followed by France (93 thousand). Family-related reasons were the most common reason for issuing residence permits in 10 of the Member States and in three of these — Italy, Spain and Belgium — family-related reasons accounted for more than half of all the permits issued. Family-related reasons also accounted for the highest share of permits issued in each of the EFTA countries.
The United Kingdom was by far the most common destination in the EU-28 for students from non-member countries. In 2017, there were 180 thousand first residence permits issued in the United Kingdom for education-related reasons; this represented just over one third (33.9 %) of all the permits issued for education-related reasons in the EU-28 and 34.7 % of the total number of permits issued in the United Kingdom. Education-related reasons accounted for a much higher share of the total number of permits issued in Ireland (57.6 %), while there was one other EU Member State — aside from the United Kingdom and Ireland — where the most common reason for granting a residence permit was education-related: Romania (33.5 % of all permits issued).
Table 1 also shows the number of first residence permits issued for other reasons, such as international protection, residence without the right to work (for example, pensioners), or people in the intermediate stages of a regularisation process. A cross-country comparison based on this miscellaneous category is hampered by the differences that exist in the national administrative and legislative systems. However, on the basis of the information that is available, these reasons accounted for more than half of the total number of permits issued in Austria (61.8 %) and Germany (51.7 %), while they were also the most common reason for granting a permit in Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
An analysis based on the results available for 23 of the EU Member States reveals some differences between the sexes as regards their principal reasons for seeking to be granted a residence permit (see Figure 4). In 2017, more than one quarter (27.1 %) of all — in other words, the total number for both men and women — first residence permits issued in the EU-28 were granted to men for employment-related reasons, while the corresponding share for women was 13.8 % of the total. By contrast, 16.1 % of all permits issued were accounted for by women who sought a residence permit for family-related reasons; this share was higher than the corresponding proportion recorded among men (11.4 %) for this reason. Lower shares of the total number of permits issued among the 23 Member States were granted to men and women for other reasons, some 9.4 % and 7.8 % respectively. Finally, there was little difference between the sexes in terms of their relative shares of the total number of permits issued for education-related reasons (7.4 % of the total number of permits issued were granted to women and 7.0 % to men for these reasons); note that these figures could be under-reported insofar as Germany and the United Kingdom are among the leading destinations in the EU for non-EU students looking to study in the EU.
First residence permits by citizenship
In 2017, citizens of Ukraine (662 thousand beneficiaries, or 21.1 % of the total number of first residence permits issued in the EU-28) received the highest number of first residence permits (see Figure 5), ahead of citizens of Syria (223 thousand, or 7.1 %), China (193 thousand, or 6.2 %; note all data presented for China include Hong Kong), India (163 thousand, or 5.2 %), the United States (147 thousand, or 4.7 %), Morocco (108 thousand, or 3.4 %) and Afghanistan (87 000, of which around 61% in Germany). About half of all first residence permits issued in the EU in 2017 were issued to citizens of these seven countries.
Between 2016 and 2017 there was rapid growth in the number of residence permits in the EU-28 that were issued to citizens of Afghanistan, as their number more than doubled, while there was an increase of 43.6 % in the number of permits issued to citizens of Iraq. In absolute terms, the number of Ukrainians who were issued a residence permit rose by 77 thousand between 2016 and 2017, while there was a 52 thousand increase in the number of permits issued to citizens of Afghanistan, and a growing number of additional permits were also issued to citizens of Iraq (21 thousand more), Brazil (15 thousand more), China (13 thousand more), India (12 thousand more), Morocco (8 thousand more), and Turkey (7 thousand more).
Some of the factors that may influence the destination chosen by citizens of non-member countries when they decide to seek a residence permit include: linguistic ties (for example, it is commonplace to find a high number of citizens of Australia or the United States applying for residence in the United Kingdom); geographical proximity (for example, there was a high number of Ukrainians seeking residence in Poland and a high number of Moroccans seeking residence in Spain); historical links (for example, there was a high number of Algerians and Moroccans seeking residence in France, and a high number of Brazilians and Cape Verdeans seeking residence in Portugal); or established migrant networks (for example, there was a high number of Turkish citizens seeking residence in Germany) — see Table 2.
Poland was the principal destination for Ukrainians who sought a residence permit (88.5 % of all Ukrainians receiving a resident permit in the EU-28 in 2017; see Table 3).
Looking in more detail (see Figure 6), more than four fifths (580 thousand, or 87.7 %) of all Ukrainians who were granted a residence permit in the EU-28 in 2017 received their permit on account of an employment-related reason. A further analysis of the relative shares of first residence permits by reason shows that alongside citizens of Ukraine, employment was also the principal reason for granting residence permits in the EU-28 to citizens of India (36.9 %), while education was the primary reason for granting permits to citizens of China (65.2 %). Family-related reasons were predominant among Moroccans (67.0 %), Turkish citizens (41.5 %) and Brazilians (37.7 %) who were granted residence permits in the EU-28, while most Afghani citizens (91.6 %); Iraqis (74.9 %), Syrians (71.4 %) and citizens of the United States (32.0 %) were granted a permit for other reasons (see Figure 6).
In 2017, Ukrainians represented the largest absolute number of citizens who were granted a residence permit in the EU-28 for employment-related reasons (580 thousand), of which (85.4 %) were admitted for seasonal workers in Poland. They were followed by Indians (60 thousand) and citizens of the United States (39 thousand). On the other hand, Moroccan (72 thousand), Syrian (61 thousand) and Indian citizens (56 thousand) were the largest groups receiving residence permits for family-related reasons, and Chinese (126 thousand), United States (39 thousand) and Indian citizens (34 thousand) were the largest groups receiving residence permits for education-related reasons (see Table 4).
Source data for tables and graphs
The statistics used for this article are provided to Eurostat by the responsible authorities in each of the EU Member States and EFTA countries, principally Ministries of the Interior or Home Affairs or various immigration agencies. The data are based entirely on administrative sources supplied to Eurostat as part of an annual residence permits data collection exercise according to the provisions of Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on Community statistics on migration and international protection. Commission Regulation (EU) No 216/2010 on Community statistics on migration and international protection, as regards the definitions of categories of the reasons for the residence permits provides the list and definition of reasons for permits being issued.
A subset of the data on resident permits — statistics on EU Blue Cards — has been collected since 2012 on the basis of Article 20 of Directive 2009/50/EC on conditions of entry and residence of third country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment. From 2014, Eurostat has collected data on first residence permits granted to nationals of non-member countries during the reference year and data on first residence permits valid at the end of the reference period based on the single permit directive (Directive 2011/98/EU).
The data on residence permits may be analysed by: reporting country, citizenship of the permit holder, reason for the permit being issued, and length of validity for the permit. From reference period 2010 onwards, data on residence permits have also been collected on a voluntary basis by age and by sex.
Resident permits statistics are available as both flows and stocks.
- Data related to residence permits granted during the reference year (flows): the data published under this category contain information about first residence permits issued during the reference year and information about any change of resident status of immigrants during the reference year;
- Data related to residence permits valid at the end of the reference year (stock of permits): the data published under this category contain information about the number of valid permissions to stay at the end of the reference year and long-term legal resident status at the end of the reference year.
It should be noted that certain methodological aspects are not fully harmonised between the reporting countries due to different legal or information technology systems. Therefore, the results that are presented in this article should be interpreted with care and readers are advised to make reference to the metadata file on residence permits statistics. Some of the most important methodological and administrative differences between the EU Member States are noted below.
- Data for France relate to permits which were issued after at least 12 months since the expiry of any previous permit.
- Data for the United Kingdom are not based on a register of residence permits (as one does not exist at the time of writing); statistics for the United Kingdom have instead been provided by the Home Office and these are mainly based on passengers given leave to enter the United Kingdom under selected categories (for further details see the Home Office website).
Migration policies within the EU are built upon solidarity and responsibility, taking account of the contribution that immigrants make to the EU’s economic development and performance. Within the European Commission, the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs is responsible for immigration policy. EU policy measures on legal immigration cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants, such as highly qualified workers subject to the ‘EU Blue Card Directive’, students and researchers, as well as family reunification and long-term residents: see Towards a European agenda on migration for more information.
All relevant legal acts and information regarding the EU’s immigration policy can be accessed on the European Commission’s website.
- Residence permits (migr_res)
- Residence permits by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resval)
- First permits by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resfirst)
- First permits issued for family reasons by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resfam)
- First permits issued for education reasons by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resedu)
- First permits issued for remunerated activities by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resocc)
- First permits issued for other reasons by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resoth)
- Change of immigration status permits by reason and citizenship (migr_reschange)
- All valid permits by reason, length of validity and citizenship on 31 December of each year (migr_resvalid)
- Long-term residents by citizenship on 31 December of each year (migr_reslong)
- Single permits issued by type of decision, length of validity (migr_ressing)
- Long-term residents among all non-EU citizens holding residence permits by citizenship on 31 December (%) (migr_resshare)
- Long-term residence permits issued during the year (migr_resltr)
- First permits issued for family reunification with a beneficiary of protection status (migr_resfrps1)
- Permits valid at the end of the year for family reunification with a beneficiary of protection status (migr_resfrps2)
- Residence permits by reason, age, sex and citizenship (migr_resage)
- First permits by reason, age, sex and citizenship (migr_resfas)
- All valid permits by age, sex and citizenship on 31 December of each year (migr_resvas)
- Long-term residents by age, sex and citizenship on 31 December of each year (migr_reslas)
- EU blue cards (migr_resbcard)
- EU blue cards by type of decision, occupation and citizenship (migr_resbc1)
- Admitted family members of EU blue card holders by type of decision and citizenship (migr_resbc2)
- EU blue card holders and family members by Member State of previous residence (migr_resbc3)
- Residence permits by reason, length of validity and citizenship (migr_resval)
- Residence permits (migr_res)
- Residence permits statistics (ESMS metadata file — migr_res_esms)
- Statistics on residence permits for the United Kingdom are provided from a different data source when compared with the other EU Member States. As such, statistics for the United Kingdom presented in this article are not fully comparable with those for the remaining Member States. The data for the United Kingdom relate to the numbers of non-EU citizens arriving in the United Kingdom who are permitted to enter the country under selected immigration categories (the United Kingdom does not operate a system of residence permits). According to the United Kingdom authorities, data are estimated by combining information from the Home Office Statistical Bulletin ‘Control of Immigration: Statistics, United Kingdom’ with unpublished data. In the United Kingdom, the ‘Other reasons’ category includes: diplomats, consular officers treated as exempt from control; retired persons of independent means; all other passengers given limited leave to enter who are not included in any other category; non-asylum discretionary permissions.
- As noted in footnote (1), statistics for the United Kingdom are not fully comparable with those presented for other EU Member States.
- In the EU context, state procedure by which illegally staying third-country nationals are awarded a legal status.
- Residence permits statistics by sex are collected on a voluntary basis. Data are not provided by the following Member States: Germany, Malta, Slovakia, Finland and the United Kingdom