Europe Wants You
Opportunities for Working in Europe are Expanding for Non-European Citizens
For non-European citizens, working in Europe has the reputation of being difficult. If you are not a European Union passport holder, goes the stereotype, local regulations shut you out of the market, so you shouldn’t even think about it.
That may have been true in the past, but not any more.
Many European governments have begun to change laws, and are beginning to encourage immigration for non-EU citizens with university degrees and skills that are in demand. There are several reasons, but the most commonly cited one is that Europe has long suffered from “brain drain.” In turn, this lack of experts and highly educated people is affecting economic growth and European governments want to change that.
Word has been slow in getting out, though. This may be because countries have been busy changing laws and engaging in internal debate without time for much else. The bottom line, though, is that the monolithic work permit is being replaced in many countries by a combination of residency permits with various levels of work permission and work permits with flexible conditions.
Having a basic idea of how the details work can help you to understand how governments in countries like the UK, Belgium, France and Germany are trying to attract people, since they are all doing completely different things.
Sound like a conundrum? It’s not. We’ll look at a bit of theory and then some practical examples.
First, non-EU nationals do not have an automatic right to work (i.e. have permission to work) within the European Union. (European Union nationals do.) You can be given this right by local governments. The simplest, and most recognized form, is the work permit. It isn’t the only one, though. (Keep this in mind for later.)
Second, a residence visa/permit shows that you have the legal right to stay in a country. These permits are usually given for a certain purpose, such as being with your family, being with a partner/ spouse, studying, and so on. The permit can be issued with restrictions on it, for a limited or unlimited period of time, and may or may not carry work permission.
That may not sound like much, but in practice it can work for you.
Let’s say that you are studying in Italy. You will be there for a year, at a local university. Your residency permit will say, well, that you are a student who is in Italy legally for one year. While that doesn’t sound too glorious, your card also carries with it the right for you to work. So, all of the gloom and doom that you read about it taking a year or more to obtain a work permit for a job in Italy… it doesn’t apply to you!
(Do note, though, that you have to comply with whatever conditions are in place in your locality. The right of work with a student permit in Italy is not unlimited, and your real purpose is to study, not work.)
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that European governments are trying to attract talented people from outside the EU. They’re doing this in a number of ways, but the most popular are eased work permits and Green Cards.
Eased work permits are a broad category but work very simply. If a company wants to hire you, they can. A government still issues a work permit, but suspends some of the requirements. For example, they do not require potential employers to prove that there is there is lack of suitable local candidates. Instead, the employer may simply have to show that your salary is above a certain level and that you are a talented/ highly-educated individual.
In other words, you can go work in a country under three conditions, namely that you have a job offer, acceptable university degree and a salary above a preset minimum. That’s it! Currently nine countries have some form of this permit, and another two are considering the idea.
Let’s look at a practical example.
Fred has an advanced degree from a state university in Georgia, and there is a company in Antwerp who would like to give him a job which has a salary of $50,000 per year. If all of the paperwork is OK, then these conditions may be enough for local authorities to issue all of the paperwork and Fred can be on the next plane to Brussels. Up the road in the Netherlands, though, Dutch authorities would say that this is not enough to qualify for their eased work permit, since they have different conditions.
Green Cards work differently. In fact, the name Green Card is a bit confusing since European countries, in fact, have no equivalent of the United States permanent residency permit. (The name comes from popular usage.)
European countries are instead using points-based immigration systems which resemble the ones used in Canada or Australia. In this process, an applicant is given points on the basis of criteria such as education, career sector and salary. Governments then set a minimum number of points for a successful application. If you score above that number and officials accept your proof, you can move!
One of the best features of the Green Card is that some countries allow you automatic and unlimited work permission. On the whole, programs fall into two basic categories—ones where you can apply yourself without a job, and ones where you need a job offer for the initial application. The UK has the oldest system, and another six countries have a program in place or considering doing so.
For more details on the UK program, see www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/workingintheuk.
Again, a practical example helps clarify things.
Sally has a degree from a state university in Oregon, and pursued an MBA at the University of Virginia. She’s thinking about working in Europe, and finds the list of requirements for the United Kingdom. On the basis of her MBA and where she studied, she can qualify for a residency permit with working permission. She doesn’t even need a job beforehand! She does, though, need to fill out all of the paperwork correctly and get her visa before leaving for London. Sally may also need to show authorities that she has a job and is earning above a required minimum for authorities to issue her a renewal after two years. Still, no work permit required!
Keep in mind that the eased work permits depend on individual circumstances, whereas for the Green Cards you need to provide the right evidence to qualify. (Be sure that you use knowledgeable local legal help!)
Even with these legal hurdles, these changes represent a real change for talented and educated non-EU citizens who are already living and working in Europe or are thinking of making the move. Ten years ago, for example, work permits were thin on the ground for anyone not being transferred by a company… Not anymore.
Things are not standing still, and even bigger changes are in the works.
The European Union is undergoing a major reorganization, and powers are being transferred from the national level to the EU headquarters in Brussels. In some areas, the 27 individual national laws and policies are being replaced by one coordinated structure for the entirety of the EU. Immigration for talented and educated people from outside the European Union is one of the areas up for consideration. Officials have started a number of initiatives which promise further liberalization, not just for the UK, France or Germany, but for the entire European Union. That, though, deserves another article.