“To travel is to live,” the famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote in his autobiography in 1855. Living according to this quote, many young people today reside in different places, study and work in various countries, and use all available opportunities to travel and experience new things. However, many young people coming from outside of the European Union have until recently had limited opportunities to travel and live within the EU’s borders. Visa requirements, residence applications, and deadlines to leave the EU – these were the challenging realities for many non-EU students, interns, and volunteers wishing to enter the Union. However, the situation is about to change.
Bearing in mind that young people develop their skills and competencies and thus improve their employability through mobility, the directive’s objective is to advance the EU in the global competition for talent and to promote Europe as a world centre of excellence for studies and training. The Union’s officials have noted that highly skilled people from all around the world are the EU’s key asset in strengthening its competitiveness, boosting growth, and creating jobs.
The decision was welcomed by youth groups and youth organizations which have for years advocated a system under which all young people would have equal opportunities to stay in the EU to study, accept an internship, volunteer, or obtain other forms of training. The decision on whether to grant unlimited access to the labor market to young non-Europeans will, however, remain a prerogative of each EU member state.
Under the new rules, students and researchers can remain in the European Union for nine months after their graduation or research project to look for a job or set up a business, which should raise the odds that Europe will benefit from their skills. Today, it is up to each EU member state to decide whether students and researchers from third countries may stay on after their studies or research have ended.
Furthermore, it will be easier for students and researchers to move within the EU during their stay. Under the new rules, they will have to notify only the member state to which they are moving, for example to do a one-semester exchange, instead of having to submit a new visa application and wait for it to be processed, as is the case today.
Researchers will also be able to move for longer periods than those currently allowed. They will have the right to bring their family members with them also when they move within the EU, and these family members will also have the right to work during their stay in Europe. Previous limits to the number of hours that students could work during their studies have been raised, and they will now have the right to work at least 15 hours a week.
In addition to the rules on students and researchers, the new directive also has provisions for interns and volunteers under the European Volunteer Scheme (EVS), who will benefit from uniform conditions on entering Europe and increased protection once they enter it, as well as optional provisions for other volunteers, school pupils, and au pairs. This is the first time that third-country au pairs have been included in an EU law.
The rule changes were first proposed two years ago, and now that they have been adopted, member states will have two years to integrate the rules into national law. The new regulations seek to facilitate legal migration of skilled knowledge workers across the EU, and to support cooperation with countries outside of it. Based on the 2014 figures, the new rules will affect around a quarter of a million students and researchers from outside of the EU. In 2014, a total of 228.406 non-EU students received study permits in EU member states, and 9.402 permits were granted to third-country national researchers.
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