By Claire West
The proposed "single permit" must suffice to enable third-country workers to live and work in the EU, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday.
Allowing Member States to issue additional documents would defeat the whole purpose of having a "single permit", which should include all relevant information on the right to work.
MEPs backed the original Commission text on this and confirmed December's plenary vote on the employment issues.
The proposed "single permit" directive aims to streamline bureaucratic procedures for all potential immigrants applying to live and work in an EU Member State, by enabling them to obtain work and residence permits via a single procedure. The proposal would also confer a common set of rights to third-country workers comparable to those of EU citizens, such as minimum working conditions, recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications and access to social security.
Bones of contention: scope, equal treatment, additional documents
After approving a series of amendments to the Commission proposal on 14 December 2010, MEPs rejected the amended text in their final vote (306 votes in favour, 350 against and 25 abstentions). The key issues disputed among the political groups were the scope of the legislation, equal treatment of third-country nationals and EU citizens and whether Member States should be enabled to issue or require other documents, in addition to the permit.
The Commission chose not to withdraw the proposal, so it was referred back to the Civil Liberties Committee, which restricted the reopening of amendments to only some parts of the texts, relating in particular to additional documents.
No additional documents
MEPs tabled no amendments on additional documents. By approving the Commission's original text, the Civil Liberties Committee confirmed that "when issuing residence permits, Member States shall indicate the information relating to the permission to work irrespective of the type of the permit".
According to most MEPs, allowing Member States to issue additional documents would defeat the whole purpose of having a "single permit".
The previous amendments adopted in plenary would have allowed Member States to issue additional documents to the residence permit holding information on the specific right and conditions to work. This was not supported by the committee.
A single application for a single permit
Under the proposed legislation, third-country immigrants applying to live and work in the EU, or their employers, would only have to fill in a single application for the authorities of the host country. Once their applications were accepted, the immigrants would receive a "combined" work and residence permit. The duration of this permit and the conditions under which it is granted, renewed or cancelled, would be decided by Member States.
A common set of rights
The proposal seeks to guarantee basic socio-economic rights to third-country workers on an equal footing with Member State nationals, in particular as regards working conditions and pay, education, tax benefits, trade union rights and social security.
It is up to each Member State to lay down the conditions under which social security benefits are granted, as well as the amounts of such benefits and the periods for which they are granted. However, when exercising that power, they should "comply with EU law", underlines the text.
Regarding the portability of pensions, when a legal immigrant decides to move to a third country, he/she should have access to his/her pension rights under the same conditions and at the same rates as EU nationals. Member States, however, may make this right subject to the existence of bilateral agreements recognizing the reciprocal export of pensions.
Who is not covered?
The draft law was not intended to long-term residents, refugees and posted workers (already subject to other EU rules), seasonal workers or intra-corporate transferees (who will be covered by other specific EU directives). During the December vote, the S&D group tabled amendments to include intra-corporate transferees, seasonal workers and refugees, arguing that their exclusion would lead to a two-tier workforce.
These changes on additional documents, along with the amendments voted on 14 December, should be put to a plenary vote. The Civil Liberties Committee decided not to reopen discussion on other issues adopted in plenary when it took its decision on the procedure to follow, under Rule 56(3) of Parliament's Rules of Procedure.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament and Council legislate on an equal footing on legal immigration issues.