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Friday, October 28, 2011

Long-term EU Foreign Residents - Know Your Rights

I was sitting in a bistro the other day with another long-time American resident here in France (he's been here nearly 30 years) and I was astonished to find out that he didn't have any idea what rights he had as a long-term foreign national in an EU country.

This is serious.  Even though we can't vote it is deadly to think you can just keep your head down and think that nothing that happens at the national or EU level concerns you.  A foreign passport (even from a powerful nation-state) will not necessarily help.  Foreign states have very limited rights to intervene on behalf of their citizens living abroad.  In theory (and according to international law) you can always go to your consulate for help.  In practice this is not always your best option.  Frankly, I don't believe for two seconds that the U.S. government is going to seriously tangle with the French government on my or any other Americans behalf here. There are American students right now being ejected from France because of the new policy that foreign students must leave right after graduation even if they have managed to land a job.  I have not heard one peep from the American Embassy on this subject and I don't expect to.

For the record, not all governments take such a hands-off approach to their diasporas.  Both the Indian and the Mexican governments lobby the U.S. Congress for laws that are favorable to their people living in the United States and elsewhere.  Ours is not particularly active on our behalf (unless, of course there is a major international incident like the case of the hikers in Iran) and so, for all practical purposes, we need to take care of ourselves.

The longer a foreign national stays in a host country, the more he or she has to lose so it is absolutely essential to understand that there are responsibilities (obeying the laws, paying taxes and so on) but there are also rights that countries or supra-national entities like the EU grant to long-term residents.

If you live in Europe as a third-country national, one of the most important laws in your favor is European Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents.  

All non-EU foreign nationals who reside in a member-state continuously for 5 or more years are entitled to Long-term Resident Status.  All member-states must recognize this status for those migrants who are in an EU country legally and have the means to support themselves and are not a threat to public security.  What does this status mean in concrete terms?

Recognition - Those who qualify get a long-term resident permit valid for 5 years and automatically renewable

Equal treatment - As a long-term resident you are entitled to equal treatment with nationals in the following areas (from Europa):
  • access to paid and unpaid employment, conditions of employment and working conditions (working hours, health and safety standards, holiday entitlements, remuneration and dismissal);
  • education and vocational training, recognition of qualifications and study grants;
  • welfare benefits (family allowances, retirement pensions, etc.) and sickness insurance;
  • social assistance (minimum income support or retirement pensions, free health care, etc.);
  • social benefits, tax relief and access to goods and services;
  • freedom of association and union membership and freedom to represent a union or association;
  • free access to the entire territory of the EU country concerned.
Protection against Deportation - A long-term resident cannot be expelled from an EU member-state for economic reasons.  There is an extra burden of proof where the state must prove that the offending party is a threat to public order.

In addition to the above there is also a limited right to reside in other EU countries and provisions for family re-unification.

In the above paragraphs I've given you a link to a summary of the Directive on Europa.  Read it even if you think you are only here in Europe temporarily.  I know from experience how quickly "temporary" segues into "semi-permanent" and finally to "permanent resident."  Fulfill your responsibilities but know your rights too.  One day you just might find yourself in a position to exercise them.

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