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The EU would offer better working and living conditions for non-EU students, researchers, trainees, volunteers, school pupils and au pairs, as a way to boost member states' competitiveness, thanks to draft rules amended by the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday. MEPs propose that researchers and students should be able to stay in the EU one and a half extra years to set up a firm or search for a job. They also propose stricter deadlines for deciding on applications.

According to the European Commission, each year Europe spends 0.8% of GDP less than the US and 1.5% less than Japan on Research and Development (R&D). Many of the best researchers and innovators are moving to countries where they get better conditions. This update of current EU rules would introduce fairer conditions and 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.

"This vote shows that Parliament understands the need for better and simplified rules for students and researchers from third countries, to enable them to start a life in an EU country after completing their studies or research. We need these people and we have to be more competitive on the global market in order to attract foreign students and researchers to the EU. Today’s vote strengthens the Commission proposal and I now urge the Council to finalise its position as soon as possible to enable us to reach an agreement", 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 one and a half years in order to look for work or set up a firm, MEPs say. The Commission had proposed that this period be limited to one year.

No excessive fees

Member states may require the payment of fees for handling applications. However, these fees should not be so excessive or disproportionate as to hinder the aims of this 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.

Stricter deadlines

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.

Right to work and mobility

MEPs back the Commission proposal to grant foreign researchers and students the right to work, although member states could set certain limits to this. Researchers would be allowed to teach and students would be allowed to do paid jobs, but only outside their study time. Researchers' and students' family members would also have the right to join their relatives and work in the same member state, the committee points out.

Under the Commission proposal, researchers, students and trainees would have the right to move between member states. MEPs propose to extend this right to volunteers as a general rule. Volunteers and trainees on EU programmes should also be able to move among EU countries as it is the case for researchers and students, MEPs add.

Next steps

The committee vote gives Ms Wikström a mandate to start talks with the Council as soon as EU countries agree on their own negotiating position.

The Civil Liberties Committee approved the negotiating mandate by 49 votes to 1.

In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)

Committee vote: 05.11.2013