EU citizens living in another Member State - statistical overview
Data extracted in April 2018
Planned article update: July 2019
The free movement of workers is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU). Therefore, EU citizens are entitled to look for a job in another EU country; work there without needing a work permit; reside there for that purpose; stay there even after employment has finished and enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages. But how many EU citizens take advantage of this right, and reside and work in another EU Member State? Which are the main countries, both in absolute and relative terms? What are the characteristics of these “mobile” citizens, especially in terms of level of education and employment rate, if we compare them with the “non-mobile” EU citizens (those residing in their country of citizenship)? These are the main questions which this article tries to answer, based on Eurostat’s (new) datasets on labour mobility.
Among the EU citizens of working age (20-64), 3.8 % resided in an EU Member State other than that of their citizenship in 2017. This share has slightly increased over time, as in 2007 it stood at 2.5 %. In 2017, the share of EU mobile citizens out of the resident population of their country of citizenship also varies very much between countries, ranging from 1 % for Germany to 19.7 % for Romania. People with tertiary level education were generally more mobile than the rest of the population, and this was especially the case for countries that were part of the European Union before the 2004 accession (with the notable exceptions of Luxembourg and, especially, Portugal). The citizens of most EU Member States who joined after 2004 (except those of Cyprus and Malta for which no data exist; and of Hungary) and of Greece who were low skilled (having achieved no more than lower secondary education) were also residing abroad more often. The employment rate of mobile EU citizens stood at 76.1 % in 2017, compared to an EU average of 72.1 % overall. It ranged from 82.9 % for the Slovenes to 68.7 % for Bulgarians and 57.9 % for Luxembourgers. In most countries the figures were higher than the employment rates found in the corresponding country of citizenship and also than the EU average. Between 2007 and 2017 there has also been a larger increase in the employment rate of mobile EU citizens (4.1 percentage points - pp) compared to the total population (2.3 pp).
Who are the most mobile EU citizens?
Romanians and Lithuanians leave their country of origin in the highest proportions, while the contrary is true for Germans and British citizens.
In 2017, Romanian citizens of working age (20-64) residing abroad within the EU accounted for about a fifth (19.7 %) of the population residing in Romania, making them by far the first largest national group among EU mobile citizens. The next five national groups accounted from 12.5 % to 15.0 % of the resident populations of their countries of citizenship: Bulgarians (12.5 %), Latvians (12.9 %), Portuguese (13.9 %), Croats (14.0 %) and Lithuanians (15.0 %). The EU Member States with the smallest share of mobile citizens (out of the resident population of country of citizenship) were Germany (1.0 %) and the United Kingdom (1.1 %). In another eight Member States this share was 2 % or less. Overall, EU mobile citizens accounted in 2017 for 3.8 % of total EU resident population, which was 1.3 pp more than in 2007. On the other hand, when looking at absolute numbers, in 2017 the most numerous national groups of mobile EU citizens aged 20-64 were those from Romania (2 366 000 persons), Poland (1 762 100 persons), Italy (1 099 700 persons), Portugal (847 700 persons) and Bulgaria (533 900 persons) .
Over the last decade, when looking at the percentage increase of EU mobile citizens as a share of the resident population of their country of citizenship, Romanians remained at the forefront. The proportion of Romanian mobile citizens increased by 12.3 percentage points (pp) followed by Latvians (10.0 pp), Lithuanians (9.5 pp) and Bulgarians (8.0 pp). Opposite to this, the corresponding share of mobile Cypriot citizens in total resident population of Cyprus decreased from 7.1 % in 2007 to 3.9 % in 2017, which is the biggest percentage decrease among EU mobile citizens. They also have the third biggest decrease in absolute numbers (from 33 800 in 2007 to 20 100 in 2017) alongside Finish (from 88 700 to 57 200) and British citizens (from 448 800 to 428 000). The share of resident population of corresponding country of citizenship for another 16 national groups (13 Member States and the 3 EFTA countries) remained stable over the decade, with percentage differences ranging from -1 pp to +1 pp. For these countries the share of mobile citizens in 2017 was also on the low side, ranging from 1.0 % for Germany to 3.2 % for the Netherlands (with the exception of Ireland and Iceland with a share of 8.8 % and 8.0 % respectively). However, 5 out of these 16 countries (Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands) whose share of mobile citizens in total resident population of corresponding country of citizenship remained almost unchanged, experienced an increase of over 50 000 in absolute numbers. In particular, the number of Italian citizens residing elsewhere in the EU grew by 233 100, Spaniards by 181 700 and French citizens by 86 200.
Tertiary graduates among the EU mobile citizens
Tertiary graduates were generally more mobile than the rest of the population
In 2017, the proportion of EU mobile citizens with tertiary education ranged from 62.5 % for the French to 16.1 % for Portuguese citizens. Figure 2 indicates that those living abroad in another EU country were more likely to have attained tertiary level education than those residing in the country of which they are citizens. This was the case for all EU nationalities with the exception of Portugal, Bulgaria, Croatia, Luxembourg and the three Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania). This difference was however relatively small, almost negligible, for another series of EU nationalities (Romania, Cyprus, Poland, Greece and Slovenia). For the remaining 15 countries the difference was quite notable, ranging from 9.5 pp in the case of the United Kingdom to over 28 pp for French and German citizens (in favour of mobile citizens). There were also very large differences to be observed in the proportion of tertiary graduates within national resident populations, which ranged from 42.4 % in Ireland to 16.7 % in Romania. This should be correlated with the corresponding variations among EU mobile citizens. One interesting conclusion is that tertiary graduates were generally more mobile than the rest of the population, and this was especially the case for countries that were part of the European Union before the 2004 accession (with the notable exception of Luxembourg and especially Portugal). This was also the case for the 3 EFTA countries for which data is available (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), whose mobile citizens were also much more likely to have tertiary education than the resident population of their country of citizenship.
The share of highly skilled amongst mobile EU citizens grew by 8 pp between 2007 and 2017, at a similar rate as for the total population in the EU
The share of highly skilled amongst mobile EU citizens grew from 24.4 % in 2007 to 32.4 % in 2017, at a similar rate as for the total population in the EU (which grew from 22.3 % to 30.1 %). The increase amongst the mobile EU citizens ranged from over 20 pp in Ireland, France and Spain to 2.4 pp in Romania. Only one nationality, Bulgarian, registered a decrease (of 7.8 pp), while there has been an increase of 5.6 for their resident population. In most EU Member States and the 2 EFTA countries for which data are available (Norway and Switzerland), the proportion of the highly skilled amongst their mobile citizens increased more rapidly than amongst the resident population of their corresponding country of citizenship. The reverse is true only for Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Finally, in the case of Portugal, Croatia, Poland, Hungary and Belgium, the rate of growth was similar for the two populations analysed, the same as for the EU average.
Mobile EU citizens with a primary education level
Higher proportion of low skilled citizens living abroad than among the resident population of their corresponding country of citizenship
It is important to look also at the reverse - that is to compare the share of those having completed at most lower secondary education amongst the EU mobile citizens and amongst those who reside in their country of nationality. In 2017 they were also overall slightly more likely to reside abroad (24.1 % amongst the mobile citizens compared to 21.9 % for the total EU population). The proportion ranged in 2017 from 49.4 % amongst the Portuguese citizens living abroad to 8.2 % for the Germans in the same situation. Figure 3 indicates that, in 2017, generally the opposite was true: the nationalities that registered a higher proportion of tertiary graduates for those residing abroad than on their territory had a lower proportion of low skilled citizens living abroad than in their territory. This was the case for Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Hungary as well as for Norway and Switzerland. The difference was negligible in Portugal. On the other hand, a higher percentage of low skilled workers were residing abroad compared to on the country’s national territory in the case of Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, Greeks, Polish, Lithuanians, Latvians, Romanians, Czechs, Estonians and Bulgarians, with differences ranging from 5.5 pp (Slovaks) to more than 10 pp (in the case of the last four citizenships) reaching a maximum of 19.3 pp for Bulgarians.
The share of the low skilled amongst mobile EU citizens decreased by 5.9 pp between 2007 and 2017, at a similar rate as for the total population in the EU
The share of the low skilled amongst mobile EU citizens aged 20-64 decreased from 30 % in 2007 to 24.1 % in 2017. A similar trend could be observed amongst the total EU population, amongst which the share of those having achieved at most lower secondary education in the corresponding age group decreased from 28.3 % to 21.9 %. Similar decreases for the mobile EU citizens and resident population of their corresponding country of citizenship could be noted between the same two years for Germany, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Greece and Portugal. While decreases have been observed for the total population for all Member States, the share of low skilled amongst the mobile citizens of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania has increased between 2007 and 2017 (by 13 pp, 3.3 pp, 2.6 pp and 2.5 pp respectively). In the case of Croatian, Spanish, Italian, Slovakian and Slovene citizens, the decrease was much steeper for the mobile citizens compared to the resident population in these countries. These same countries, together with Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Lithuania registered the biggest decreases in the share of low skilled amongst their mobile citizens (over 7 pp).
What are the employment rates of mobile EU citizens?
Higher employment rates among mobile EU citizens than among the resident population of their country of citizenship
The employment rate of mobile EU citizens stood at 76.1 % in 2017, compared to an EU average of 72.1 % overall. It ranged from 82.9 % for the Slovenes to 57.9 % for Luxembourgers and 51.8 % for Cypriots. Figure 4 indicates that in most countries the employment rates of mobile EU citizens were higher than those of the resident population of their corresponding country of citizenship. The differences were significant in the cases of Greek, Croatian, Italian, Spanish and Polish citizens living abroad in the EU. In these cases, the difference was larger than 10 pp and reached almost 20 pp for Greek citizens. A significant difference in employment rates between the country of origin and the countries of destination (the European labour market) was probably an important pull factor. This was especially true for Greek, Croatian, Italian and Spanish citizens, for which this difference exceeded 6 pp. On the other hand, in the case of the Nordic (except Finland) and Benelux (except Belgium) countries , as well as Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, employment rates are higher in the countries of citizenship than for the mobile citizens. This is most likely due to the fact that migration from these countries is also motivated by other reasons than seeking employment (for example family reunification, the pursuit of higher education or early retirement).
Employment rates for mobile EU citizens increased faster over the last decade than for the total population
The employment rate of mobile EU citizens increased from 72.0 % in 2007 to 76.1 % in 2017 (4.1 pp). In the case of most EU and EFTA nationalities, the same trend was observed (see Table 3). The only exceptions are Luxembourg (a decrease of 7.9 pp), Bulgaria, Romania and Denmark (with a decrease of about 4 pp). It must be noted however that in the case of Romania and Bulgaria the reference population, mobile citizens, almost tripled between the two reference years mentioned (see Figure 1). The increase in employment rates of mobile citizens was larger than 10 pp in the case of Estonian, Croatian, Finnish, Cypriot and Slovene citizens (although some of these figures are of low reliability due to a small sample size). For another 14 nationalities the increase was between 4.9 pp and 9.8 pp. In order to contextualise this information it can be specified that, over the same period, the EU average increase in employment rates was 2.3 pp. There have been decreases only in few Member States, most notably in Greece (-8.0 pp), Cyprus (-6.1 pp), Spain (-4.2 pp), Ireland and Denmark (both -2.1 pp).
Employment rates of female mobile EU citizens
Employment rates for mobile women higher than the EU average for females
The employment rate of female mobile EU citizens in 2017 ranged from 79.4 % for Finnish women to 55.5 % for Luxembourg women and 58.7 % for Bulgarian women, while the female EU average stood at 68.8 %. In most cases the employment rate of mobile EU women was higher than both the female EU average employment rate and that of women residing in the corresponding countries of citizenship. The number of exceptions was, however, higher than for the total rates (see Figure 5). For Luxembourgish, British, Swedish, Bulgarian and Dutch female citizens, the employment rate of those residing abroad is more than 5 pp less than that found in their corresponding country of citizenship. The same trend can be noted amongst the 3 EFTA nationalities. As noted earlier, this could be partially explained by the fact that EU citizens can have also different motivations to live abroad, for example family reasons, more likely found amongst women (see First and second-generation immigrants - statistics on main characteristics). On the other hand, female employment rates are higher for the mobile citizens in the case of 16 EU nationalities. The differences range from as little as 0.8 pp for Estonian women to more than 10 pp for those of Polish, Croatian, Spanish, Italian and Greek nationality, reaching a maximum of 21.9 pp for the latter. With very few exceptions (Luxembourg, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Romania and the Netherlands), the employment rates for women residing in another EU country were higher than the EU average for females, which stood at 66.4 % (2.4 pp lower than for mobile females).
Employment rates of highly skilled mobile EU citizens
Highly skilled mobile EU citizens had overall a slightly lower employment rate compared with the same level of skills
Employment rates were always higher for the highly skilled EU citizens than for the rest of the population, with the average EU figure standing at 84 % in 2017 compared to 72.1 % for the total population. For mobile citizens it ranges from 87.8 % for Austrians to 72.4 % for Luxembourgers and 73.9 % for Bulgarians, while the EU average is 83 %. Therefore, the figure is slightly lower (1 pp) than for the total population with an equivalent educational level. Also at national level, the employment rate of the highly skilled mobile EU and EFTA citizens is not, in most cases, higher than that of the resident population of their corresponding country of citizenship with the same level of education. In fact it is lower by more than 4.6 pp in Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and Estonia, as well as Iceland and Norway. Most countries in which the reverse was true in 2017 (mobile highly skilled citizens have higher employment rates than those who are not mobile) are situated in the Mediterranean area (Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal and France). The same is true for Slovakia, Ireland and Slovenia, albeit the differences are negligible for the latter two, as well as for France. It seems that, especially in Greece, Spain and Italy, tertiary graduates find it difficult to find jobs in their country of nationality and easier abroad (the difference in employment rates is more than 5 pp, reaching a maximum of 13.6 pp in the case of Greece).
Employment rates of low skilled mobile EU citizens
Mobile low skilled EU citizens had systematically higher employment rates than their co-national peers.
By comparison, the employment rates of citizens with at most lower secondary education are overall low: the EU average stood at 54.9 % in 2017. On the other hand, for mobile citizens the average stood at 59.8 % (4.1 pp higher), ranging from 72.0 % for Estonian low skilled mobile citizens to 37.0 % for Dutch. Also at national level, the employment rates of mobile low skilled EU citizens were in 2017 almost systematically higher than for the resident population in their corresponding country of citizenship. The differences are higher than 10 pp for Romanian, Czech, Italian, Estonian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Hungarian, Greek, Slovakian, Lithuanian, Polish and Croatian citizens, reaching a maximum of 35 pp in the case the latter two. With the exception of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Belgium, the employment rate of low skilled mobile citizens was also higher than the EU average for this category.
Source data for tables and graphs
The section Labour mobility provides demographical and labour statistics on people of working age (15-64) either born in the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) area or having the citizenship of an EU/EFTA country and residing elsewhere on the EU and EFTA territories except their country of birth/citizenship. This implies a new “emigration” (country of origin) perspective, as the estimates coming from the Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) of all EU/EFTA countries, except that of origin or nationality, are aggregated in order to find all the persons of a certain nationality or country of origin that reside elsewhere where the EU rules regarding the free movement of people apply. On the other hand, they can be effectively identified only if a change of residence implying crossing a border has taken place, meaning they reside (or intend to do so) in another country for at least 12 months. Short term movements are therefore not taken into account. It must also be noted that the citizens residing in the country of their citizenship may have also simply acquired the citizenship of their country of residence (while being born elsewhere in the EU), or might have come back to their country of origin after having resided in another one. This type of information is not captured in the data used; these persons cannot be identified as mobile EU citizens for the purpose of the present article. Conversely, it is possible that some of the “mobile citizens” identified according to this definition are in fact second generation migrants born in the country in which they reside and that have not, for various reasons, acquired the citizenship of that country and instead have the one of their parents. These limitations come from the fact that the present article focuses on the country of citizenship and not the country of birth perspective. The data sets in the labour mobility section include both separately. Briefly, the reference area is the European Union territory while the population coverage includes the current 28 EU Member States plus the EFTA countries (except for Lichtenstein which does not participate in the EU LFS data collection).The analysis is restricted to the working age population 20-64, in order to limit as much as possible the impact of those who are not (yet/ any longer) active on the labour market and are more likely to be abroad for studying (or retirement) rather than employment reasons.
The free movement of workers is a fundamental principle of the Treaty enshrined in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and developed by EU secondary legislation and the Case law of the Court of Justice. EU citizens are entitled to: look for a job in another EU country; work there without needing a work permit; reside there for that purpose; stay there even after employment has finished and enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages. EU nationals may also have certain types of health and social security coverage transferred to the country in which they go to seek work (see coordination of social security systems).
Free movement of workers also applies, in general terms, to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are part of the European Economic Area: . People working in some occupations may also be able to have their professional qualifications recognised abroad (see mutual recognition of professional qualifications).
EU social security coordination provides rules to protect the rights of people moving within the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The EU is working to increase fair labour mobility in Europe by removing barriers that hinder it. The EU supports mobility by helping job-seekers and employers in Europe find each other, wherever they are. It also seeks to make sure that the EU's mobile workers are not abused (for example through the Posting of workers directive, May 2014 (Official Journal of the EU) and to help coordinate the fight against undeclared work (Decision on establishing a European Platform to enhance cooperation in tackling undeclared work (Official Journal of the EU).
- Labour mobility (lfst_lmb)
- EU/EFTA citizens of working age who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship and age (lfst_lmbpcita)
- EU/EFTA citizens of working age who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship, age and sex (lfst_lmbpcitg)
- EU/EFTA citizens of working age who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship age and educational attainment level (lfst_lmbpcited)
- Employment rate of EU/EFTA citizens who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship and age (lfst_lmbercita)
- Employment rate of EU/EFTA citizens who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship, age and sex (lfst_lmbercitg)
- Employment rate of EU/EFTA citizens who usually reside in another EU/EFTA country by citizenship, age and educational attainment (lfst_lmbercited)
- The Treaty on European Union
- The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
- Directive 2004/38/EC
- Regulation (EU) No 492/2011
- Regulation (EC) No 883/2004
- Regulation (EC) No 987/2009
Several Communications from the Commission:
- COM (2002) 694 final Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential
- COM (2010) 373 final Reaffirming the free movement of workers: rights and major developments
- COM (2013) 837 final Free movement of EU citizens and their families: Five actions to make a difference