Migration and Home Affairs


Labour immigration has a key role to play in driving economic development in the long term and in addressing current and future demographic challenges in the EU. The EU is therefore working on a number of interconnected measures which, together, aim to produce flexible admission systems, responsive to the priorities of each EU State, while enabling migrant workers to make full use of their skills. These measures cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants such as highly qualified workers, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees, as well as the establishment of a single work and residence permit.

The EU Blue Card Directive

Highly skilled workers from third countries play a crucial role in strengthening the EU's competitiveness. Key sectors of the EU's economy already suffer from specific labour and skill shortages that are expected to increase in the coming years. The EU needs to attract more highly skilled workers yet in a world where international competition for talent is increasing, Europe can only appeal if it speaks with one voice.

In 2009, the EU therefore put in place a specific migration scheme for highly qualified non-EU workers. A fast-track procedure and common admission criteria (a work contract, professional qualifications and a minimum salary level) were introduced for issuing a special residence and work permit – called the "EU Blue Card" – that facilitates access to the labour market, entitles holders to socio-economic rights, favourable conditions for family reunification and facilitated movement around the EU.

However, it soon became clear that this instrument was not effective in fulfilling its objectives and lacked the ambition to equip the EU sufficiently for the challenges ahead. The number of Blue Cards remained relatively low, were very unequally issued by Member States, and, more broadly, the EU continued to attract a relatively low number of highly skilled workers compared to other OECD countries. After the first implementation report already voiced some serious concerns about the shortcomings of the Directive, the present Commission made a review of the EU Blue Card one of its top priorities. In early 2015 DG HOME started evaluation, stakeholder consultation and impact assessment activities with the goal of making the EU Blue Card a more attractive and relevant scheme across Member States.

In June 2016, the Commission put forward a proposal for a new EU Blue Card Directive that offers a more harmonised, simplified and streamlined approach to attract highly skilled workers through an EU-wide scheme that increases efficiency and clarity, and cuts red tape. This ambitious proposal intends to introduce more inclusive and flexible admission conditions, faster and more flexible procedures, improved rights and enhanced facilitation of intra-EU mobility.

At the same time a new dedicated EU Blue Card section was launched on the EU Immigration Portal with user-friendly, up-to-date and practical information for potential EU Blue Card applicants.

Stronger protection for seasonal workers

According to estimates, well over 100 000 non-EU seasonal workers come to the EU each year (this includes irregular migrants). EU economies face a structural need for seasonal work for which labour from within the EU is expected to become increasingly difficult to find. Furthermore, there is significant evidence that certain non-EU seasonal workers face exploitation and sub-standard working conditions which may threaten their health and safety. And finally, sectors of the economy that are characterised by a strong presence of seasonal workers - most notably agriculture, horticulture and tourism - are repeatedly identified as the sectors most likely to have non-EU nationals staying and working irregularly in the EU.

These elements led the European Parliament and the Council to adopt, on 26 February 2014, the Directive on seasonal workers. The Directive sets the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals for the purpose of employment as seasonal workers.

When transposed into national law, the Directive provides for clearer and more harmonised admission rules which should result in fewer people working unauthorised in seasonal jobs and/or staying on longer in the EU than they are entitled to. Moreover, the new rules governing working conditions help prevent exploitation and protect the health and safety of those seasonal workers. Seasonal workers benefit from appropriate accommodation during their stay, and a complaints mechanism is available to them and third parties.

Finally, the circular movement of seasonal workers between the EU and their home countries is encouraged through the introduction of a facilitated re-entry procedure for subsequent seasons. This brings those countries providing seasonal workers a reliable flow of income, skills and investment, thereby contributing to development.

Facilitating the intra-corporate transfer of managers, specialists and trainee employees

As a result of the globalisation of business, increasing trade and the growth and spread of multinational groups, in recent years movements of managers, specialists and trainee employees of multinationals, temporarily relocated to other units of the company, have gained momentum. Such intra-corporate transfers of key personnel result in new skills and knowledge, innovation and enhanced economic opportunities for the host entities, thus advancing the knowledge-based economy in the Union. Intra-corporate transferees (ICTs) from third countries also have the potential to facilitate transfers from the Union to third-country companies and to put the Union in a stronger position in its relationship with international partners. Facilitation of admission of ICTs enables multinational groups to tap their human resources best.

However, a number of factors currently pose administrative burden on ICTs: a lack of clear specific schemes, the complexity and diversity of visa or work permit requirements, costs and delays in transferring foreign ICTs from one Member State to another and difficulties in securing family reunification.

To address this situation, a Directive on intra-corporate transfers was adopted in 2014. It had to be transposed by Member States by the end of 2016. This Directive establishes a transparent and simplified procedure for admission of ICTs, based on common definitions and harmonised criteria. This Directive builds on existing commitments of the Union under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and complements and facilitates the application of those commitments. However, the scope of the ICTs covered by the Directive is broader and covers also third countries which are not party to a trade agreement. In addition to a fast-track entry procedure and a single application for a combined work and residence permit, the Directive includes attractive residence conditions for the families of intra-corporate transferees and enhances mobility within the EU.

A single permit and procedure for work and residence permits and equal treatment for third country workers: the Single Permit

In December 2011, the so-called Single Permit Directive was adopted. It creates a set of rights for non-EU workers legally residing in an EU State, notably the right to equal treatment with nationals in the country they reside and work. The Directive applies to most non-EU nationals with authorisation to reside and work in the EU, independently of their initial reason for admission, unless they are explicitly excluded from the scope of the Directive. Its scope includes both non-EU nationals seeking to be admitted to an EU State in order to stay and work there and those who are already resident and have access to the labour market or are already working there. It provides for:

  • a single permit giving the right both to residence and work
  • a single application procedure for this permit
  • a set of rights for non-EU workers, notably the right to equal treatment with nationals of the country where they reside and work, in a number of key areas: working conditions, freedom of association and joining organisations representing workers, education and vocational training, recognition of diplomas, social security, tax benefits, access to goods and services including procedures for housing and employment advice services. Some exemptions may be applied by Member States. The right to social security can for instance be limited to those in employment, or who have worked for at least 6 months and who are registered as unemployed.