Restrictions on working in the EU for new member states
27 February 2004
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Of all 15 EU member states, only Ireland has decided not to restrict access of Central and Eastern European migrants to its labour markets from 1 May.
Below you will find details of what restrictions are planning to be put on migrants from eight of the ten new accession countries by current EU member states. These restrictions will not apply to citizens of Malta and Cyprus.
Austria, like Germany, has always taken a tougher stance on this issue. The current work permit system will apply to nationals of the new EU member states for at least two years, whereafter the restrictions will probably be extended for a further five years.
Belgium, already having quite a difficult work permit regime, also plans to apply restrictions for up to two years after 1 May. During this period the government can apply any restrictions whatsoever without justification.
During the summer of 2003, Denmark had originally pledged to let migrants from the 10 new EU member states work without any restrictions, but has meanwhile changed its mind. Immigrants from these countries will be able to go to Denmark for up to six months, but will have no automatic access to benefits. However, if these job-seekers are successful, they will be granted residence and work permits.
Finland had also been considering to open up its labour market completely to immigrants from Eastern Europe. However, the governemtn has decided to apply restrictions for at least two years after 1 May. During this period migrants from the new member states will be able to get a job without a work permit only if the employment office decides there is no-one available to fill the position from within the local labour market. If there is no shortage, then a work permit application will need to be made. After these first two years the government will then decide if this policy is to continue.
France's rather difficult work permit system will be maintained for two years from 1 May. Immigrants who are granted work permits (depending on a job offer, high salary, qualifications. etc.) will be able to claim the same social security benefits as French citizens. Their family members will also be able to have full access to the labour market. A different system will continue to apply for seasonal workers, au pairs, students and researchers.
Like Austria, Germany has also taken a tough stance on this issue. Germany plans to maintain the existing work permit scheme, including the German Green Card process, for the initial two years and is likely to extend this for up to seven years. Nevertheless, existing deals with new EU member states would continue to apply, as with Polish seasonal workers.
Greece, like Belgium, also plans to impose restrictions on their labour market for at least two years from 1 May. The new government to be elected on 7 March will make a final decision on what these restrictions will comprise and whether they will be extended for another five years.
Ireland, as mentioned above, is the only current EU member state that will welcome workers from the new EU member states without imposing any restrictions on its labour market. Currently, the Irish government is also giving priority to Eastern Europeans for work visas/permits over other non-EU nationals. However, in order to prevent abuse of the benefits system, Ireland will be proposing changes to its social welfare code in the near future.
The Italian government has still not made a final decision on whether to apply any restrictions to its labour market for two years after 1 May.
Luxembourg intends to restrict access to its labour market for at least two years after 1 May.
Like Sweden and Denmark, the Netherlands initially intended to let migrants from the EU accession countries work without restriction in Holland, but also changed their stance. There was to be a quota of 22,000 immigrants allowed to enter the Netherlands for work purposes from the new EU member states during the first year. However, the government has now decided to impose even tighter restrictions to reflect public opinion and wishes of MPs, who want to approve work authorisation only in cases where there is a proven shortage of Dutch nationals. However, in certain areas where the Netherlands is short on workers, it will become easier and quicker for employers to obtain work permits for their foreign employees.
Portugal will impose restrictions for at least two years from 1 May and will continue to issue work permits. However, the government has an annual quota of 6,500 work permits on all foreign workers, so any new work permits issued to new EU nationals must fall within this quota. The government will consider the neccesity of this policy after the initial two years.
Spain's already difficult work permit system will be further burdened by restrictions for at least two years after 1 May. During this period the government can apply any restrictions whatsoever without justification.
Sweden, like Denmark and the Netherland, Sweden initially intended to let migrants from the EU accession countries work without restriction, but they have changed their stance. The Swedish government is especially worried about "benefits shopping" in light of its generoous social welfare system. The existing liberal work permit scheme (requiring merely a job offer in a skilled position) will remain in place for at least two years, subject to approval by parliament.
The UK, as mentioned on our website, has recently announced its policy on this issue. The UK had initially pledged to open its labour market completely to new EU nationals after enlargement, but is now saying that migrants will have to "register" and may in fact need a work permit. The main aspect of the plan is that these migrants will only be able to claim certain welfare benefits if they have worked continuously in the UK for at least a year. The government seems to have taken a tough stance but in practice, there will be nothing to "ban" migrants from Eastern Europe in finding a job in the UK. Furthermore, some benefits will be available immediately for those who have a job.
It is also interesting to note that the EU accession countries also need to decide whether or not to open their labour markets to current and future EU nationals. For example, the Welfare Ministry in Latvia is currently deciding on what benefits will be accessible to foreign workers, who will no longer need to have a work permit to work in Latvia from 1 May. A residence permit will also be relatively easy to obtain. The government is particularly concerned about an influx of migrants from countries such as Poland, which has a significantly higher unemployment level. It is expected, however, that the new EU member states will most likely allow full access to their labour markets, as the benefits expect to outweigh negative consequences of an expanded labour market.