The security of permanent residence may be a fundamental step on the path to full citizenship and better integration outcomes. Most immigrants are long enough settled to apply—and most have in many major, longstanding and new destinations.
Who can become permanent residents?
Most non-EU immigrants have lived in the country long enough to become permanent residents, according to 2011/2 estimates. Over 3/4 could be permanent residents in most European countries. The level is slightly lower in (2/3) in countries with many newcomers. Around 2/3 could qualify in BE, BG, FI, DE, IE, LU, SI, UK. In CY, NO, SE, only around half of the non-EU population has lived there 5+ years. Men are slightly more likely to qualify than women in CY, DK, FR, NL, PT, SI, CH, while there are slightly more long-settled men than women in LT and PL.
How easily can immigrants become permanent residents?
The path to permanent residence is just a slight strength for integration in MIPEX countries. Most residents living there for around 5 years can apply for a permanent status and equal rights, but only if they prove that they can make their own way in society, often without any state support. Those needing help or unable to pay the high fees are kept on their temporary status, without the needed support and opportunities to invest in their integration.
Permanent residence is a normal part of the integration process in top-scoring countries, such as BE, Nordics, Southwest Europe, a few Central European countries (BG, EE, HU, PL). AU, CA and NZ traditionally grant permanent residence upon arrival or after just a few years, so that migrant workers, families and refugees can start their settlement process with secure and near-equal rights. Elsewhere, most newcomers are kept ineligible to become permanent residents in CY and TU, while many may be unable to pass the restrictive and costly conditions in a long list of countries: AT, CZ, FR, GR, KR, LV, MT, NL, SK, CH and UK.
Countries rarely reform their entire path leading to permanent residence. The two major reforms in recent years were driven by the politicisation of immigration, as DK undid previous restrictions (+11) and the UK (-11) imposed them. Immigrants in MIPEX countries have been slightly more likely to face a few new restrictive conditions (10 countries, -6 points on average) than to see minor improvements in their eligibility, support or rights (8 countries, +4 on average). The restrictive trend is to extend the conditions once reserved for citizenship onto permanent residence. These new language, integration and high income requirements make it as difficult for immigrants to become permanent residents as it is for them to become citizens. Most minor improvements to policies and fees were made to comply with EU law and court cases (e.g. BE, GR, IT, NL, Central Europe), although the European Commission deplores its weak impact so far.
- Most—but not all—temporary residents have the right to become permanent residents after 5 years in most EU countries—or slightly sooner under a few national schemes (HU, Nordics)
- In traditional countries of immigration, nearly all can apply earlier under discretionary schemes, without the right to permanent residence
- The wait is exceptionally long and unfavourable in JP, TU and CH, while IE is the only country missing a long-term residence status for all residents
- Several permit-holders, such as temporary workers and international students, are denied a path to settle permanently, even if living in the country for 5 years or more (most unfavourable in AT, CY, FI, FR, IE, JP, KR, MT, NL, CH, TU, UK, US)
- Few systems are flexible enough to promise a path to permanent residence for all who meet the general requirements (e.g. AU, DK, NZ, SE and, to some extent, UK)
- The requirements to become permanent residents are radically different for immigrants across MIPEX countries
- Fees and requirements are likely too high for many immigrants to succeed in CY, GR, LV, MT, CH, and UK as well as for some vulnerable groups in countries such as AT, CZ, FR and SK
- Language levels and fees are also high and variable in AU, CA, and NZ, though more flexible and supportive for different categories of immigrants and vulnerable groups
- Within the EU, language requirements expanded from only one EU country in 1999 (DE) to 18 by 2014. Many of these requirements are more likely to deter more immigrants from applying (e.g. HR, CY, GR, SK, CH, now NL) than to stimulate more to learn the language (better support in CZ, EE, IS, IT, NO, PT, now DK)
- Fees are often high (esp. AU, UK, US, GR, DK, BG, IE, CY) and rising, sometimes due to the economic crisis and austerity (e.g. CZ, PT, ES)
- Despite these restrictive trends, many MIPEX countries do not restrict permanent residence to only the employed/self-sufficient (26), 'integrated' (23), fluent (14) or applicants paying high fees (<160 euros in 20 MIPEX countries)
Security of status
- On average, the procedures for obtaining and losing permanent residence leave immigrants only halfway secure in their new status
- The status is critically weak in IE and slightly insecure in countries such as TU, US and several Central European countries
- In 27 other MIPEX countries, applicants obtain a permanent secure status for their entire life in the country
- Their residence is relatively secure in Western Europe, though never as secure as it is for national citizens. Authorities in most countries retain discretion to refuse or withdraw a permit even after decades, although personal circumstances must usually be taken into account and there are grounds for an appeal
- Permanent residents can work, study and live in the country with the same social and economic rights as nationals in 30 MIPEX countries
- Elsewhere, their life opportunities are still limited by underdeveloped laws in TU, closed job sectors in FR and gaps in the social system in CY, CZ, KR and SI
- Newcomers with permanent residence in AU, NZ and US must build their life in the country without full access to the social safety net, much like many temporary residents must in Europe
Best Case & Worst Case
This is a composition of national policies found in 2014 in at least one of the 38 countries
Soon after arrival, any temporary resident has the right to settle permanently in the country if she secures a basic legal income, obey the law and, if necessary, improved her language skills through free courses and study materials. For an applicant, the procedure is short and nearly free, with full rights to appeal. If accepted, she is secure in her status as a permanent resident and treated equally as nationals, with the same rights and responsibilities in most areas of life.
Foreigners are trapped in a ‘permanently temporary’ legal status, without the equal opportunities and rights to invest in their integration. A legal immigrant may be ineligible to apply because of his type of permit, even though he meets all of the other requirements. High-level language fluency and vague 'integration' requirements are imposed on all applicants, even the elderly, invalid, disabled and locally educated, all without enough free courses and materials for them to pass. He must pass a demanding income, employment and integration check that many national citizens would fail. He can also be rejected on several vague grounds. If finally accepted, his status remains insecure and his rights limited. He faces renewals every few years and the threat of deportation for minor absences or offenses, even after decades in the country. He still cannot access all types of jobs, housing or social programmes unless he can naturalise as a citizen.
How many immigrants are permanent residents?
12 million non-EU citizens have settled as permanent residents in 28 European countries by 2013. The largest numbers live in the largest countries, which are all major immigrant destinations: Germany (2.4 million), Italy (2.2 million), France (1.8 million), Spain (1.8 million) and UK (1.6 million). Countries such as AT, CZ, EE, GR, LV and SE each count between 150,000-350,000. The numbers are very low in BG (150), CY (1,439), DK (5,302), IE (4,869), IS (1,802) and MT (614). Across countries, few permanent residents are EU long-term residents, a status with guaranteed rights under EU law, including the right to move and work freely in other EU Member States. The recorded number of EU long-term residents is only 2.8 million, or which 77% or 2.1 million live in Italy. Only 630,000 EU long-term residents were identified in other EU countries (196,549 in AT and 173,280 in EE). EU long-term residents made up most or all of the permanent residents in AT, BG, EE, IT, LT, LU, RO, SI, but almost none in BE, CY, HU, LV, ES and SE.
What other factors explain whether immigrants become long-term residents?
- Residents with <1-year-permits potentially ineligible: majority in MT, PL and estimated 12-25% in BG, CY, FI, HU, IE, NL, UK
- Around half are newcomers with <5 years' residence in CY, NO, SE (also high in JP, KR, TU)
- Mostly humanitarian or family migrants likely to settle in US and Northwest Europe
- Only option to secure residence for long-settled residents and 2nd generation in countries with restrictive naturalisation policies (e.g. Baltics, Central Europe, AT, IT, ES, CH)
How often do immigrants become permanent residents?
Around 45% of non-EU citizens in Europe have become permanent residents, according to 2013 data from 28 European countries. The difference between countries is enormous. Nearly 100% of non-EU citizens are permenent residents in the Baltics. The majority (2/3) are permanent residents in the major destinations (FR, IT, ES, SE, UK) and a few Central European countries (CZ, SK, SI) as well as near-majorities in AT and DE. Around 1/4 are permanent residents in GR, RO and the Benelux, while hardly any (1-6%) are in BG, CY, DK, IE and MT. The few permanent residents in countries such as BG, DK and IE do not resemble the rest of the non-EU population in terms of their age, gender and nationality, while permanent residents reflect the population in the Baltics, CZ, SI, IT, ES.
The number of permanent residents strongly reflects countries' path to permanent residence and citizenship. New countries of immigration with restrictive residence policies allow for very few permanent residents (e.g. CY, GR, IE, MT). Longstanding destinations that restrict residence and naturalisation eventually end up with high numbers of permanently resident foreigners, including their children born in the country (e.g. AT, CH). Immigrants are more likely to become permanent residents under inclusive residence policies and over time, but also more likely to move on and become citizens under inclusive citizenship policies. Countries that restrict naturalisation but facilitate permanent residence (as the 'second-class citizenship' alternative) end up with very high numbers of permanent resident foreigners (e.g. Baltics, Central Europe, IT, ES, except BG). Countries that facilitate both (e.g. BE, PT, LU, SE) emerge with a certain number of permanent residents every year, depending on the annual immigration flows, administrative practices and choices of immigrants themselves. The numbers are comparatively high in FR and DE, two longstanding destinations where certain policies and practices may discourage naturalisation. The numbers in DK and UK are expected to change, following DK's reform and the UK's restriction of their paths to permanent residence and citizenship.
What do we learn from robust studies?
Policies can have disproportionate effects on access to permanent residence, especially for vulnerable groups. Research on family reunion and access to nationality suggests that high fees, income, language, and integration requirements disproportionately affect the less educated, economically disadvantaged, very young or very old, newcomers, refugees, other vulnerable groups, and women (see Strik et al. 2013, Huddleston and Pedersen 2011). The security of permanent residence can affect immigrants' likelihood to settle permanently in the country. Countries' policies on long-term residence appear to be related to how long immigrants end up staying in the country (De Waard and Raymer 2012): shorter in restrictive countries (e.g. BG, CY, CZ, CH) and longer in more inclusive ones (e.g. Nordics, Northwest Europe, IT, PT). A secure legal status may also improve immigrants' labour market integration. Non-EU migrants are more likely to hold lower-status jobs where access to permanent residence is restricted and the requirements for citizenship are increased. Difficulties in transitioning to a more secure legal status affect non-EU migrants' insecurity on the labour market, even after controlling for the major individual and contextual factors (Corrigan 2013).