The vast majority of European Union member countries operate a permanent residence scheme for citizens of countries outside of the EU who are termed third-country nationals. The only exceptions are Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, and the same is true of the United Kingdom, although Britain is no longer a member of the European Union.
The permanent residency scheme is open to all third-country nationals who have resided in the country for a minimum period of five years. Once granted, the permit is valid for a minimum of five years, but there is no need to reapply once this initial period has passed, as the permit remains valid until the holder is notified otherwise.
Applying for a Long-Term Residence Permit is open to all non-EU nationals, but there are a number of conditions that must be met in order to be successful.
The applicant must:
- Have resided in the country in question for a minimum of five years
- Have sufficient funds to support himself/herself and any financial dependents if applicable
- Have an acceptable command of the country’s official language
- Have a basic understanding of the host country’s social and legal systems
- Have sufficient and suitable accommodation for oneself and any dependents
Although it is not part of the official requirements, an applicant is also expected to have an understanding of the country’s way of life and customs, which will demonstrate a willingness to adapt to the host country’s society and integrate successfully.
Once granted, a Long-Term Residence Permit offers non-EU nationals many benefits, including:
- The ability to become employed or self-employed
- Access to educational courses and vocational training
- Eligibility for basic social welfare benefits or assistance
Although the social welfare system is open to non-EU nationals with a Residence Permit, some services are limited or restricted, but this is still an important benefit for some.
Residence Permit Application Process
Applications for a Long-Term Residence Permit must be lodged with the proper immigration authority in the European Union country of residence. It is strongly advised that this application is lodged at least three months before any existing right to residency expires.
Different countries have different regulations, and applications may have to be submitted in person rather than by post in some cases. Regardless of the exact procedure, the basic requirements for applying are as follows:
- Provide all requested supporting documentation
- Provide any requested biometric information (may need to be done in person)
- Make full payment for processing the Residence Permit (will vary in different countries)
- Wait for a positive or negative response to the application
Generally speaking, it takes up to six weeks to process an application for a Long-Term Residence Permit in most EU countries.
If the permit is granted, an applicant will be notified to that effect and instructed on where and when the Residence Permit may be collected.
A negative outcome will result in the immigration authorities checking for alternative options, such as granting a permanent residency or extending the current temporary permit.
Permit Requirements, Fees and Validity
The application process involves the collection of certain required documents and other materials. The list of permit requirements includes the following:
- Current, valid passport
- One recent passport-approved photograph
- Colour copies of all passport pages that contain personal data
- Colour copies of all passport pages that display any stickers or stamps
- Proof of a minimum five years residency in the country
- Registration certificate issued on arrival in the country
- Documentary evidence of continued residency (utility bills, rent books, rental agreements etc.)
- Proof of any income, such as pay slips, bank statements etc.
- Documentation covering any employment or study undertaken while in the country
- Proof of accommodation, such as a lease, mortgage or rental agreement
- Proof of current private or public health insurance
Although all of the above will usually be requested, this may not always be sufficient in every case. Some EU countries will demand further documentation, and applicants should always check on the latest regulations and rules before lodging an application.
The fees for a Long-Term Residence Permit vary from country to country. As a general rule of thumb, a Long-Term Residence Permit costs about the same as the country charges its own citizens for an identity card. Currently, in Germany, this costs €109 (£96), while in Holland, this rises to €171 (£150).
Although a Long-Term Residence Permit is technically limited to five years in most EU countries, this is somewhat misleading. This is because the permit automatically renews without any requirement on the part of the holder to submit a renewal application. It should be noted, however, that a permit holder may be notified that the permit has expired with little or no warning.
Reasons for Rejection
An application for a Long-Term Residence Permit is never certain to be successful, and many are rejected for sometimes inexplicable reasons. Broadly speaking, there are three main reasons for refusal:
- The applicant is deemed to pose a threat to the country’s or European Union’s security
- The applicant has spent a period of more than twelve consecutive months outside the country
- There is a suspicion of fraud regarding the applicant or the application
Another reason for an application to be refused is that the number of Long-Term Residence Permits granted is limited, and the quota may have been reached before an application was lodged. This is a common reason for rejection, but, unfortunately, there is no real way of knowing what the limit is or whether it has been reached at any given time. There is also the fact that the number of Residence Permits granted is subject to revision at almost any time to take into consideration.
Qualifying for Residence Permit
Because a Long-Term Residence Permit can only be applied for after five years of continuous residency in a European Union country, it will (obviously) be necessary to acquire permission to remain within the EU for such a long period of time. A standard Schengen Visa only allows non-EU citizens to remain in a European or Schengen country for a maximum of 90 days out of a period of 180 (90/180 rule), so this will clearly not suffice.
Instead of securing a standard visa, it will be necessary to possess a Schengen D Visa, which is also called a National Visa. This is a long-term visa and is issued to foreign nationals who wish (or need) to spend an extended period of time within the EU and Schengen Area. There are several reasons for this form of visa to be issued, and these include:
- Medical purposes
- Family reunions
Like a standard visa, a Schengen D Visa allows for single entry or multiple entries to the Schengen Zone, but the 90/180 rule does not apply.
Schengen D Visa Application Process
Applications for a Schengen Type D or National Visa must be lodged with the embassy or consulate of the destination country. A current, valid passport (with at least two blank pages to accommodate the visa) is a necessity when applying as are:
- Application form completed in full, dated and signed
- Documentation supporting the main reason for the application (employment contract, medical report, university acceptance etc.)
- Proof of sufficient funds
- Proof of adequate medical insurance coverage
- Police certificate confirming clean background check by applicant’s home country police authorities
Every EU country has different requirements for issuing a National Visa, and these should be thoroughly scrutinised and understood before applying.
Although a Schengen Nationa Visa is specific to one country, the holder is not restricted to that one country. Once granted by one Schengen country, the holder is fully entitled to visit any other Schengen Area member state as long as the 90/180 rule is observed.