The EU would offer talented non-EU students and researchers better living and working conditions so as to boost its member states' long-run competitiveness, under draft rules backed by the full Parliament on Tuesday. The rules would also clarify entry and residence conditions for foreign trainees, volunteers, school pupils and au pairs.
The EU spends 0.8% less of its GDP on R&D than the US and 1.5% less than Japan, prompting many of the world’s best researchers and innovators to go there instead, says the European Commission.
This update of EU rules, backed by 578 votes to 79 with 21 abstentions, would create better conditions to make the EU more attractive to third-country nationals seeking opportunities to do research, study, take part in a student exchange, or do paid or unpaid training, voluntary service or au pairing.
"Other countries in the world are doing a better job than we are in attracting competent and well-qualified workers. We often have complicated bureaucratic procedures (...) we need simplified, clearer rules to make the EU more attractive. More foreign students and international exchanges would boost economic growth, promote innovation, create more jobs in the long term and make our member states more competitive", said rapporteur Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE).
More time to set up a firm
After finishing their research or studies, third-country nationals should be entitled to stay in the member state where they studied or did their research for 18 months in order to seek work or set up a firm, MEPs say. The Commission had proposed that this period be limited to 12 months. Researchers' and students' family members would also have the right to stay and work for the same period, Parliament points out.
MEPs suggest a 30-day deadline (compared to the 60 days proposed by the Commission) for member states to accept or refuse applications. They also added a 30-day deadline for deciding on an appeal against a refusal.
Member states may require the payment of fees for handling applications. However, these fees should not be as excessive or disproportionate as to hinder the aims of the legislation, MEPs stress, adding that if fees are paid by the person concerned, he/she should be reimbursed by the host entity or the host family.
Mobility for volunteers too
Under the Commission proposal, researchers, students and trainees would have the right to move to other EU countries and carry out their activities there for up to six months. MEPs propose to extend this right to volunteers.
The European Parliament voted on its first reading of the draft legislation, in order to consolidate the work done so far and hand it over to the next Parliament. This ensures that the MEPs newly elected in May do not have to start from scratch and enables them to build on work done during the current term. The new Parliament may, nevertheless, decide to start afresh, if a committee so requests and with the agreement of the conference of the leaders of the political groups.