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Third country migrants working legally within the EU will enjoy common rights, similar to those of EU nationals, as regards working conditions, pensions, social security and access to public services, under a new "single permit" law passed by Parliament on Tuesday. The directive will also enable foreign workers to obtain work and residence permits via a single procedure. Member States will have two years to adapt their national laws to the new rules.

The "single permit" directive complements other measures on legal migration, such as the blue card, and is designed to facilitate such migration where it meets the needs of the EU labour market.

In a debate on Monday, rapporteur Véronique Mathieu (EPP, FR) commented: "The single permit directive will allow us to deal to a degree with the shortage of European labour. It will also facilitate the checks and balances involved in migratory flows. It is much better to have legal migration and remove any kind of incentive to illegal or clandestine measures. The new rules will simplify the permits for both residence and work and will allow third country nationals to enjoy the same rights as workers in the EU. Workers' rights are at the heart of this directive."

These rules do not affect EU countries' power to decide whether or not to admit non-EU workers or how many to admit, but they will have to decide within four months on whether to grant single permit applications.

The proposed directive will reduce red tape for third-country nationals, by enabling them to obtain both work and residence permits in a Member State via a single procedure. It will allow a single permit application to be filed by the third-country national or by his or her employer in the EU.

Who is covered?

The agreed rules will apply to non-EU nationals who wish to live and work in a Member State, or who already legally reside or work there.

The new law will not cover long-term residents, refugees and posted workers (who are already subject to other EU rules), seasonal workers or intra-company transferees (who will be covered by other EU directives). Au pairs and seafarers sailing under the flag of a Member State are also excluded.

A new set of rights

Single permit holders will enjoy a common set of rights comparable to those of EU workers, such as decent basic working conditions, recognition of qualifications, the right to join trade unions, tax benefits and access to pensions, social security, employment office services and public housing. However, EU countries will be able apply some specific restrictions to these rights.

Social security, public housing and pensions

As a general rule, non-EU workers will have access to social security on the same terms as EU nationals. However, Member States could apply restrictions to workers with contracts of less than 6 months' duration. For non-EU citizens admitted to follow a course of study, family benefits could also be further restricted. Member States will also be able to restrict access to public services, such as public housing, to those foreign workers who have jobs

At the request of MEPs, the directive ensures that non-EU workers will be able to receive their pensions when moving back to their home country under the same conditions and at the same rates as the nationals of the Member State concerned.

Vocational training and education

Also at the request of MEPs, vocational training and education will be provided for non-EU workers who have a job or are registered as unemployed. During the negotiations, MEPs rejected a proposal by Member States to limit these services to foreign workers in employment. With respect to access to university or vocational training not linked directly to employment, EU countries could set specific conditions, such as language proficiency.

Next steps

As the law passed by Parliament on Tuesday had already been approved by Member States, Parliament's vote is the end of the legislative procedure. Once the directive is published in the EU Official Journal, Member States will have two years to transpose it into their national laws.

Procedure: Co-decision (2nd reading)