Residence permits - statistics on first permits issued during the year
Data extracted in September 2021.
Planned article update: October 2022.
After 7 years of increase, the flow of residence permits drops by 24% as a result of the pandemic. The number of first residence permits issued in the EU dropped from almost 3 million in 2019 to 2.2 million in 2020.
Why were non-EU nationals awarded residence permits in the EU in 2020? While Ukrainians came for work, Moroccans came to join their family, and Syrians received a permit for international protection.
In 2020, the number of first residence permits issued decreased everywhere in the EU, except in Lithuania.
Number of first residence permits issued by reason, EU, 2009-2020
This article presents European Union (EU) statistics on first residence permits issued to non-EU citizens during each reference year. Data are based on the regulatory framework provided by Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on migration and international protection statistics. Note that there is a complementary article providing information on statistics on the stock of valid residence permits held at the end of the year by migrants from non-EU member countries living in the EU.
A residence permit represents an authorisation issued by the competent national authority allowing a national of a non-member (non-EU) country (also known as a third country national) to stay for at least three months on its territory. Data on residence permits are collected together with information on the reasons for issuing such permits. The main reasons include: employment, family reunification and education, with a residual category for ‘other reasons’.
The development of the number of residence permits in individual EU Member States reflects the diversity of national migration systems 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.
First residence permits — an overview
The Covid 19 pandemic affected the flows of residence permits in 2020. Indeed, after 7 years of consecutive annual increases between 2012 and 2019, the number of first permits issued in the EU in 2020 dropped by 24% compared with 2019, from almost 3 million to 2.2 million. Several countries completely closed their borders for months and most of them enforced severe travel restrictions which resulted in an overall drop of first permits delivered. (see Figure 1).
Among the EU Member States, Poland issued the highest number (598 000) of first residence permits in 2020 (see Table 1), followed by Germany (313 000), Spain (312 000), France (226 000) and Italy (106 000). These five Member States together accounted for 69 % of all first residence permits issued in the EU in 2020. No other Member State recorded more than 100 000 first residence permits issued. All Member States issued less first residence permits in 2020 than in 2019, except Lithuania which issued 5 % more (from 21 000 in 2019 to 23 000 in 2020).
In 2020, the number of first permits decreased for each reason category that grants a right to permit, yet the distribution among reasons followed the trend observed in the past 3 years, meaning that most permits were issued for employment reasons (903 000 or 40 % of all first permits issued), followed by family reasons (621 000, or 28 %), other reasons (475 000, or 21 %) and education reasons (247 000, or 11 %).
Travel restrictions, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic mainly explain the drop of first residence permits delivered in 2020. Additionally, visa applications were made harder (because of slower administrative procedures due to teleworking and travel restrictions) and classes could be held online in many universities, which resulted in a drop in permits for education. Finally, the pandemic had an effect on the labour market, which resulted in less job opportunities and therefore a drop in the permits delivered for work — see Figure 2.
In 2020, five first residence permits were issued in the EU per 1 000 inhabitants, which is close to the equivalent ratio for 2015 when there were 4.5 permits issued per 1 000 inhabitants(see Figure 3).
Across the EU Member States, the highest ratios of first residence permits per 1000 inhabitants in 2020 were recorded in Malta (22.0 permits issued per 1 000 population), Cyprus (19.0) and Poland (15.8). The lowest ratios were observed in Romania (0.9), Bulgaria (1.5), Italy (1.8) and Greece (1.9).
First residence permits by reason
Poland with 502 000 first permits was the top destination for non-EU citizens entering the EU for work reasons. This was mainly due to agreements with Ukraine, from where 438 000 (87 % of the total) citizens came to Poland in 2020 with a work residence permit. The next most common destinations were Spain (81 000 permits) and Portugal (also 32 000 permits). First residence permits issued for employment-related reasons represented more than half the total number of permits issued in ten of the EU Member States, with the highest shares recorded in Croatia (91 %), Lithuania (87 %) and Poland (84 %), (see Table 1).
Family formation and reunification
Germany (131 000), Spain (119 000), France (80 000) and Italy (62 000) were the EU Member States with the highest number of first residence permits issued in 2020 for family-related reasons; these four countries accounted for 63.0 % of the EU total. Family-related reasons were the most common reasons for issuing residence permits in 12 of the Member States and in four of these (Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg), family-related reasons accounted for more than half of all the permits issued at a national level.
Education and study
France was by far the most common destination in the EU for students from non-EU countries. In 2020, there were 73 000 first residence permits issued in France for education -related reasons; this represented 29 % of all the permits issued for education-related reasons in the EU and 31.7 % of the total number of permits issued in France. However, education was not the main reason for resident permits delivered in France in 2020; family reasons were accounting for 36 % of the total number of permits delivered. In fact, Ireland was the only EU Member States where the most common reason for granting a residence permit was education-related.
Table 1 also shows the number of first residence permits issued for other reasons, such as international protection, residence without the right to work (e.g. pensioners), or people in the intermediate stages of a regularisation process (which in the EU context refers to national procedures by which illegally-staying nationals of non-member countries are awarded a legal status. 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 other reasons accounted for close to half of the total number of permits issued in Austria (51 %), Germany (49 %) and Greece (46 %). In fact they were the most common reason for granting a permit in the tree above-mentioned countries, along with Bulgaria. This category also covers some specific statuses that only exist under national legislation — for example, in Poland holders of the Pole’s card are registered in this category (for more information, please see the national metadata file).
An analysis based on the results available for 25 of the EU Member States  reveals some differences between the sexes as regards their principal reasons for obtaining a residence permit (see Figure 4). In 2020, based on available data, the primary reason for issuing a first residence permit to men was for employment-related reasons (29.2 % of the total), while the corresponding share for women was lower and accounted for 14.6 %. By contrast, 16.5 % of all permits issued were for women who were granted residence permits for family-related reasons; this share was higher than the corresponding proportion recorded for men (11.4 %). Almost the same amount of permits for education reasons were delivered to men and women, which accounts for the same share in the total permits delivered in 2020 (6.1 %).
First residence permits by citizenship
In 2020, citizens of Ukraine (601 000 beneficiaries, or 27 % of the total number of first residence permits issued in the EU) received the highest number of first residence permits (see Figure 5), ahead of citizens of Morocco (123 000, or 5 %) and India (79 000, or 4 %). More than half (56 %) of all first residence permits issued in the EU in 2020 were issued to citizens of the top 10 countries.
Figure 5 also shows the development of the number of first residence permits that were issued between 2018 and 2020 for the 10 most popular citizenships. Interestingly the top 10 citizenships that were awarded first residence permits remained almost unchanged between 2019 and 2020, despite the general drop in figures observed due to Covid-19. In fact, the top 3 citizenships are the same as in 2019, and the only significant change in the ranking is the drop in ranking of citizens of China granted first permits. Additionally, in 2019 Venezuela was not ranked among the the top 10 countries of origin, while it was ranked top 7 in 2020 with 60 000 permits received. The latter was the only country among the top 10 for which citizens were awarded more permits in 2020 than in 2019. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of residence permits issued to citizens of China rapidly shrank from 110 000 to 59 000, down 46 %. The next highest decreases were recorded for citizens of India (down 39 %) and Brazil (down 28 %).
Some of the factors that may influence the destination chosen by citizens of non-EU countries granted residence permits include: geographical proximity (for example, a high number of Ukrainians sought residence in Poland, Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. A high number of Moroccans sought residence in Spain); historical and linguistic links (for example, a high number of Venezuelans, Colombians and Hondurans sought residence in Spain, a high number of Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians sought residence in France, and a high number of Brazilians, Angolans and Cape Verdeans sought residence in Portugal); or established migrant networks (for example, a high number of Turkish citizens sought residence in Germany) — see Table 2.
Poland was the principal destination for Ukrainian citizens, as 81.3 % of all resident permits issued to Ukrainians in the EU in 2020 were issued in this country (see Table 3). In a similar vein, the principal destination for citizens of Belarus was also Poland (80.2 % of all resident permits issued to citizens of Belarus in the EU). Spain was the most popular destination for citizens of Morocco, Venezuela and China, accounting for respectively for 56, 91 and 16 % of all the resident permits issued to citizens of those countries by the EU.
Figure 6 looks in more detail at the reasons for granting permits to citizens of particular countries. Out of 100 Ukrainians who were granted a residence permit in the EU in 2020, 86 received their permit for employment-related reasons. As with citizens of Ukraine, employment was also the principal reason for granting residence permits in the EU to citizens of Belarus (59.6 %) and India (40.2 %), while education was the primary reason for granting permits to citizens of China (36.2 %). Family-related reasons were predominant among Moroccans (52.6 %), Brazilians (44.9 %), Turkish citizens (40.0 %) and Russians (30.4 %) who were granted residence permits in the EU, while most citizens from Syria (69.6 %) and Venezuela (78.2 %) were granted a permit for other reasons.
In 2020, Ukrainians were granted the largest number of residence permits in the EU for employment-related reasons (516 000), of which the vast majority (84.8 %) were granted in Poland. They were followed by citizens of the Belarus (38 000) and India (31 000). On the other hand, Moroccan (65 000), Brazilian (33 000) and Ukrainian (29 000) citizens were the largest groups receiving residence permits for family-related reasons, and Chinese (22 000), Ukrainian (21 000) and Moroccan citizens (17 000) 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, the United Kingdom 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 are noted below.
- Data for Ireland have reduced reliability for educational reasons breakdowns. According to Irish authorities, it is due to the technical nature of manually linking data sources and the existence of blank fields within key variables between these data sources.
- Data for France relate to permits which were issued after at least 12 months since the expiry of any previous permit.
- Data for Poland were recently revised after detecting an error in the compilation of statistics provided previously by national authorities.
Migration policies within the EU are built upon solidarity and responsibility, taking account of the contribution that immigrants make to the EU. Within the European Commission, the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs is responsible for immigration policy.
In September 2020, the European Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. This pact provides a comprehensive approach, bringing together policy in the areas of migration, asylum, integration and border management, recognising that the overall effectiveness depends on progress on all fronts. It creates faster, seamless migration processes and stronger governance of migration and borders policies, supported by modern IT systems and more effective agencies. It aims to reduce unsafe and irregular routes and promote sustainable and safe legal pathways for those in need of protection. It reflects the reality that most migrants come to the EU through legal channels, which should be better matched to EU labour market needs.
All relevant legal acts and information regarding the EU’s immigration policy can be accessed on the European Commission’s website.
- As a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, several lockdowns were put into place in Germany in 2020, forcing all foreigner authority/registration offices to close for certain time periods. With offices being closed to any visitors no new titles could be registered during these time periods, creating a push back in titles still to be registered. As an interim solution, fictional certificates were most likely being registered in most cases as a person’s current title expired. These fictional certificates are left in the register even as a person reapplies for their title, and the new title will be registered with the date it is actually approved. The titles that could not be registered in 2020, but instead in 2021, will not be added back to the year 2020 as a result.
- Residence permits statistics analysed by sex are collected on a voluntary basis. Data for 2020 were not provided by the following Member States: Malta and Slovakia. Additionally, partial data for 2020 are available for Germany (results missing for the employment and other-related reasons), Italy (results missing by sex for the category "family reasons") and Latvia (results missing for the category ‘education reasons’).
- Asylum statistics
- Statistics on countries responsible for asylum applications (Dublin Regulation)
- Enforcement of immigration legislation statistics
- Migrant integration statistics
- Migration and migrant population statistics
- Residence permits — a methodological and analytical overview
- Residence permits — statistics on stock of valid permits at the end of the year
- 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 (ESMS metadata file — migr_res_esms)