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Brussels, 20th January 2006

Status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU : deadline for rules to take effect on 23 January 2006

Since the Community acquired competence in the area of migration under the Treaty of Amsterdam, it has adopted a series of legislative instruments on the conditions for the admission and stay of third-country nationals: Directives concerning family reunification (2003/86/EC), students (2004/114/EC), researchers (2005/71/EC) and long-term residents (2003/109/EC). These directives create a legal framework, aiming at assuring equality of treatment and according rights of access to employment, and to education/training, all of which elements are necessary components not only for a credible immigration policy but also for any successful integration of third-country nationals.

Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents is a cornerstone of this legal framework. It translates into legal reality the express call of the Tampere European Council, that the legal status of third-country nationals should be approximated to that of Member States' nationals and that a person who has resided legally in a Member State for a period of time to be determined and who holds a long-term residence permit should be granted in that Member State a set of uniform rights which are as near as possible to those enjoyed by citizens of the European Union.

Based on the already existing tradition in Member States that the length of residence has an influence on the level of rights of the person concerned, the Directive determines the conditions for long-term resident status, a period of continuous legal residence of five years being the fundamental requirement. To acquire long-term resident status, third-country nationals have to prove that they have adequate resources and sickness insurance, to avoid becoming a burden for the Member State. Member States may require third-country nationals to comply with integration conditions, in accordance with national law.

Long-term residents enjoy reinforced protection against expulsion. This protection is based on the criteria determined by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. In order to ensure its practical application, Member States have to provide for effective legal redress. Long-term resident third country nationals are guaranteed equal treatment with nationals of the EU in a wide range of economic and social matters.

Long-term residents will also have the right to reside in another Member State for employment, study or other purposes on the conditions set out in the directive. Family members will be able to settle in another Member State with a long-term resident in order to preserve family unity and to avoid hindering the exercise of the long-term resident's right of residence. These provisions will contribute to the effective attainment of an internal market as an area in which the free movement of persons is ensured. It could also constitute a major factor of mobility, notably on the Union's employment market.

As it is also the case in all other migration directives, Member States remain able to check that the persons concerned do not constitute a threat to public policy, public security or public health.

Although precise data about the number of third country nationals who have been legally residing in an EU Member State for at least 5 years is not currently available, an extrapolation of existing data, based on the third country national population in the EU25 minus the net migration figures for recent years, indicates that at least 10 million of legally residing third-country nationals could qualify as beneficiaries of this Directive.

The Directive was unanimously adopted by Member States on 25 November 2003 and has to be transposed by Member States by 23 January 2006 at the latest. By mid-January only 5 Member States (Austria, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic) have notified their implementing measures to the Commission. Three Member States (Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom) are not bound by its provisions. The Commission regrets this delay in transposition and the legal uncertainty for third-country nationals resulting from it.

With regard to those Member States who have not notified any implementing measures yet, the Commission will take appropriate procedural steps according to its power conferred by Article 226 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.

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