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VISAS

What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?
This illustration photograph shows rain drops on the European Union flag during the EU-Western Balkans summit at Brdo Congress Centre, near Ljubljana on October 6, 2021. - Western Balkan countries can expect reassurances but no concrete progress on their stalled bids for European Union membership when EU leaders meet today. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.

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For members

RESIDENCY PERMITS

Spain vs Portugal: Which Golden Visa is better for you?

Iberian neighbours Spain and Portugal both offer the highly sought-after 'golden visa' for non-EU nationals who want to move to Europe. But what are the differences between them and which one is best suited to you?

Spain vs Portugal: Which Golden Visa is better for you?

Getting a visa or residency in a European country can feel near impossible if you’re a third-party national.

The EU’s ‘golden visa’ – sometimes known as as an investor visa – gives non-EU citizens the right to live in Europe, enjoy borderless travel within the Schengen zone, and even begin the process to gaining European citizenship if they meet several criteria.

This special visa is of particular interest to Britons searching for a way to move to the EU in the aftermath of Brexit, and has also proven popular with Americans, Russians, Chinese and Indian citizens who can afford it.

READ MORE: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s Golden Visa 

What is a ‘Golden Visa?’

The golden visa is an EU immigration programme that awards residence permits in foreign countries in return for investment. It varies between countries (not all EU nations offer it), but often it involves purchasing a property of a certain value, creating a company or job opportunities, or in some instances contributing to a national development fund or investing in stocks and shares.

Two of the most popular European countries for golden visas (and for tourists and retirees in general) are Spain and Portugal. 

Since the scheme was launched back in 2013, the number of third country nationals applying has risen every year. In 2019, Spain issued this visa to a record 8,000 non-EU nationals.

Both countries are famed for their temperate climate, beaches, culture and relaxed lifestyle, but which of the golden visas is better: Spain’s or Portugal’s?

See below for the minimum investment needed; the type of investments you can make; how long it takes to get citizenship; whether the golden visa gives you free travel around the Schengen area; how long the application takes; the rules on residency, and how long you must spend in the country; and whether family members are included.

The facts

  Spain Portugal
Minimum investment required €500,000 €250,000
Type of investment Property over €500,000; €1 million in a Spanish company; €1 million in a Spanish bank account; at least €2 million in Spanish public debt securities. Property over €500,000 or urban renovation of €350,000; business startup creating at least 10 jobs; capital transfer of €1.5 million; research and development investment of €500,000; €250,000 contribution in the arts. 
Citizenship timeline 10 years 5 years
Schengen Travel? Yes Yes
Application time 20 business days processing once documentation is received; 2/3 months in total. 3-6 months
Residency rules Must visit Spain once a year. 1 week for the first year; 14 days every 2 years after.
Family included? Partner, dependents and children (under 18). Partner, dependents, children, parents of the main applicant if over the age of 65 years old (under 18 or dependent and unmarried children who are under 26 and in full-time education).

Changes to Portuguese Golden Visa

New visa rules came into effect in Portugal from January 1st 2022. These have mainly increased some of the minimum investment thresholds (but not the arts investment, which at €250,000 remains the cheapest route to a golden visa for either Portugal or Spain) and have changed some of the geographic requirements for property investment.

Keen to stimulate investment in the less touristy parts of Portugal, buying a residential property in big urban centres such as Lisbon or Porto or in the popular coastal regions such as the Algarve are no longer sufficient to qualify for a golden visa.

As of 2022, property investments must be in Madeira, Azores, or Portuguese inland regions and rural or low-density areas. In such areas, a 20 percent discount on the investment is offered.

You can find the full geographical breakdown of investment areas here, although be warned the text is in Portuguese. 

In Spain you can buy several properties which add up to €500,000

One option for the visa is to buy a property for €500,000 or more, but you are not required to spend it all on one property. You will still be eligible for the visa if you buy multiple properties, as long as the total amount adds up to more than €500,000.

The extra costs

Besides parting ways with half a million Euros to get a visa, both Spain and Portugal require some hefty application fees for the scheme.

Fee Spain Portugal
Application €70 per applicant €80 per applicant
Approval €5,000 per applicant €5,857 per applicant
Renewals €3,000 per visa holder €3,195 per visa holder
     

Tax benefits

One advantage of the Portuguese Golden Visa scheme is its tax rules.

Portugal’s Golden Visa program offers the ultimate tax advantage. Golden Visa holders are eligible for Portugal’s NHR Tax Scheme, a system that grants tax-exemptions for up to ten years.

Exemptions include income obtained from pensions, capital, income from property and capital gains, intellectual property and industrial property. The property tax transfer system means that Golden Visa holders pay the same rates as local residents.

In Spain, all foreign residents are taxed on their ‘worldwide income’ if they are in Spain for more than 183 days a year. For non-residents, tax is charged at 24.75 percent on income earned in Spain.

Getting the golden visa, however, doesn’t mean you have to reside in Spain or spend a certain amount of time here in order to renew it. This means that you don’t have become a tax resident. The only requirement is to visit once a year to renew your permit.

READ MORE: Property in Spain: Is now a good time to buy a home? 

The golden visa is retroactive in Spain

This means that if you already bought a property in Spain worth over €500,000 after 2014, but didn’t apply for a golden visa at the time, it’s still possible to do it now.

The property can be sold once you have obtained permanent residency in Spain. Once you have lived in Spain for more than five years and have obtained permanent residency, you are able to sell the property without forfeiting your right to reside in Spain.

You cannot, however, use a mortgage loan or financing for your investments. This cannot be done through a mortgage company or a loan, and must be from your own pocket.

Conclusion

Portugal and Spain’s golden visa schemes offer fantastic opportunities to relocate to an EU member state.

Both offer you the chance to enjoy borderless travel in EU member states, but they both also require you to have a significant amount of money saved up in order to invest it in property, renovation, shares, capital transfers, or debit securities.

If you’re concerned about taxes, perhaps the benefits of the Portuguese visa might entice you. It is worth remembering, though, that the recent changes to the Portuguese system now mean there are geographical limits on property investments meaning you can’t buy in popular areas. 

If you’re overly concerned about location, the Spanish golden visa gives you more freedom to choose where you live.

The sums for property investment are broadly similar, sitting at €500,000 in both countries, although in Portugal there are discounts for taking on renovation projects and purchasing property in sparsely populated areas which could reduce the amount of your investment quite significantly.

In Spain, the property threshold, regardless of where it is or what type of property it is, is a flat €500,000.

Both golden visas have very little in terms of residency requirements, although in Portugal the time to gaining citizenship is just 5 years, half of Spain’s 10-year wait. With the golden visa, in Spain you can obtain permanent residency after five years.

If you’re still undecided, the article below may help you pick between Portugal and Spain.

READ MORE: Portugal vs Spain – Which country is better to move to?

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