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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Making the EU more attractive for foreign students and researchers
25 March 2013
Let me first of all thank Fatma and Bellarminus for being here with us today to share their views and their personal stories. Their valuable contribution very well illustrates the situation of many students and researchers who come to the EU and enrich our universities and research centres with their talent.
The global picture
Just as they have done, every year, a wide number of non-EU national students, researchers and other categories of young people are embracing the opportunity to move to Europe temporarily.
In 2011, around 220 000 non-EU nationals entered the EU for the purposes of studies, pupils exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service. The highest numbers are registered in France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Unfortunately too many of these young people continue to face unnecessary hurdles. This is a ''lose-lose'' situation both for them and for us: they risk missing important opportunities for their professional life and the EU's economy risks being deprived of new talents, new skills and new ideas.
I am aware that in the current European economic and political climate this proposal might be perceived with some perplexity. In a Europe plagued by high youth unemployment, why should we open our doors to foreign expertise?
The answer is: to ensure long-term competitiveness and to fill jobs in sectors that, despite the crisis, are crying out for labour.
Today it is crucial to bear in mind that we are facing important structural challenges: despite the current economic downturn and the rising unemployment levels, we still struggle to fill many skilled labour positions.
There is evidence that this struggle is going to persist during the decade ahead for both economic and demographic reasons.
One of the problems is that we are not able to attract the workforce we need – engineers, doctors, nurses to name a few. Brazil, China and India are the destinations where highly educated people look for tomorrow's most promising sites.
And other countries worldwide are doing much better than us when it comes to convince these talents to go there for their universities studies and research projects.
The US, Australia and Japan, for example, have better incentives to attract talents and to convince them to join their job market, in turn benefitting from the skills and knowledge they have acquired.
It is therefore in the EU's own interest to increase its appeal for foreign students and researchers and as a world centre for excellence.
More exchange students and international scholars will lead to economic growth, spur innovation and lead to more jobs in the long run.
This is why today I have the pleasure to share with you a proposal for a Directive which aims at introducing better conditions of entry and stay for foreign students, researchers and other groups such as pupils, trainees, volunteers and au-pairs coming to the EU.
With this proposal, we do not start from scratch. The proposal will modify and merge two existing Directives: one on students, school pupils, volunteers and unremunerated trainees; the other one on researchers.
The main problems in the EU
Let me start by illustrating the main problems we currently face:
Non-EU nationals may fulfil the conditions of the Directive, but they may still not be able to come to the EU, as they may be refused for example a visa to enter.
Or a non-EU national may have succeeded in applying for an Erasmus Mundus scholarship, but once again, he or she may be refused entry into the EU on the basis of immigration rules.
Also the current rules do not specify time-limits within which Member States need to take a decision on an application. This can leave applicants in difficult situations.
Moving from a Member State to another can be difficult or even impossible for non-EU national students and researchers - which has a negative impact on transfer of skills and knowledge between EU countries.
The existing Students Directive requires non-EU national students to leave the EU immediately after finalization of studies, so Member States do not reap the benefits of knowledge and skills these students and researchers have acquired.
In absence of a clear legal framework, there is also a risk of exploitation to which trainees and au-pairs are particularly exposed, with the subsequent risk of unfair competition.
What will change with the proposal?
The proposal will improve the conditions of admission in order to make sure we avoid situations in which people fulfil the conditions for a permit, but not the conditions for a visa, and therefore cannot enter into the Member States concerned.
We will introduce a 60-day time limit for Member States' authorities to decide on an application, which will make the application process more straight-forward and transparent.
Increased intra-EU mobility will be ensured. There will be simpler and more flexible rules for researchers, students and remunerated trainees to move within the EU, in particular to carry out part of research or studies in another Member State.
For researchers this will also mean giving certain mobility rights to their family members. This will allow for an easier transfer of skills and knowledge and will render the EU more attractive as a destination for talent from abroad.
We will also improve the access to the labour market. During their studies, students will be allowed to work at least 20 hours per week so that they can support themselves adequately and contribute economically.
Researchers and students will also have the possibility to remain under certain conditions for a period of 12 months on the territory after finalisation of their studies/research to identify job opportunities or set up a business. Yet, this will not be considered an automatic right to work, as granting a work permit remains a national responsibility.
The proposal will also guarantee the overall protection of additional groups of non-EU nationals, such as au pairs and remunerated trainees, who are not covered by the existing EU legislation despite facing similar problems and taking part in similar exchanges.
Such improved rules can help Europe make a difference in attracting young talented third country nationals and stimulating research, development and innovative performance.
At the same time this proposal will make sure that these forms of temporary migration are beneficial for both the sending and the receiving countries.
It will allow non-EU nationals to acquire skills and knowledge and contribute to Europe's competitiveness.
In addition this training period in Europe will encourage the inflow and outflow of talented individuals and support cooperation with third countries.