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Status of non-EU nationals who are long-term residents

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Status of non-EU nationals who are long-term residents

The European Union (EU) grants European resident status to non-EU nationals who have legally and continuously resided for a period of five years within the territory of an EU country. The directive also approximates national legislation and practices regarding the terms for conferring this resident status and lays down conditions for residence in EU countries other than the one which conferred the resident status.


Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents.


By creating a single status for long-term resident non-European Union (EU) nationals *, the directive approximates the laws of EU countries and ensures equal treatment throughout the Union, whatever the EU country of residence.

The directive applies to all non-EU nationals residing legally in the territory of an EU country. Some categories of individuals are excluded from its scope because their situation is precarious or because they are resident on a short-term basis (refugees, asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their status, seasonal workers or workers posted for the purpose of providing cross-border services, persons who have been granted temporary protection or a subsidiary form of protection and persons residing in order to pursue studies or vocational training).

EU countries must apply the directive in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination pursuant to Article 10 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Long-term resident status

EU countries must recognise long-term resident status after five years of continuous legal residence. Absences from the EU country for periods of less than six consecutive months (and not exceeding ten months in total within the five-year period) or for specific reasons provided for by national law (e.g. military service, secondment for work purposes, serious illness, maternity, research or studies) will be regarded as not interrupting the period of residence.

In order to obtain long-term resident status, non-EU nationals must prove that they have, for themselves and their family (if dependent):

  • stable resources sufficient to live without recourse to the social assistance system of the EU country concerned;
  • sickness insurance.

EU countries may require non-EU nationals to comply with further integration conditions (such as sufficient knowledge of a national language of the EU country concerned).

EU countries may refuse to grant long-term resident status on grounds of public policy or public security.

The competent authority must take a decision on whether to grant long-term resident status no more than six months after the application is lodged. Decisions to reject an application must be notified in writing to the person concerned, in accordance with the procedures under national legislation, stating the reasons and indicating the redress procedures available and the deadline for action on the part of the applicant. Long-term residents will receive a permanent residence permit that is standard for all EU countries, valid for at least five years and automatically renewable.

Long-term resident status may be withdrawn only on certain grounds that are set out in the directive (absence from the EU territory for more than 12 consecutive months, fraudulent acquisition of the status or adoption of a measure to expel the person concerned).

Persons who have acquired long-term resident status will enjoy equal treatment with nationals as regards:

  • access to paid and unpaid employment, conditions of employment and working conditions (working hours, health and safety standards, holiday entitlements, remuneration and dismissal);
  • education and vocational training, recognition of qualifications and study grants;
  • welfare benefits (family allowances, retirement pensions, etc.) and sickness insurance;
  • social assistance (minimum income support or retirement pensions, free health care, etc.);
  • social benefits, tax relief and access to goods and services;
  • freedom of association and union membership and freedom to represent a union or association;
  • free access to the entire territory of the EU country concerned.

In certain cases, EU countries may restrict equal treatment with nationals with respect to access to employment and to education (e.g. by requiring proof of appropriate language proficiency). In the field of social assistance and protection, EU countries may limit equal treatment to core benefits. They are nevertheless free to add to the list of benefits in which they grant equal treatment with nationals as well as to provide equal treatment in additional areas.

Long-term residents enjoy enhanced protection against expulsion. The conduct on which expulsion decisions are based must constitute an actual and sufficiently serious threat to public policy or public security. Such decisions may not be founded on economic considerations. EU countries undertake to consider specific factors before taking a decision to expel a long-term resident (age of the person concerned, duration of residence, etc.).

The provisions of the directive do not prevent EU countries from issuing permanent residence permits on terms that are more favourable than those set out in the directive. Nevertheless, such residence permits do not confer the right of residence in the other EU countries.

Right of residence in the other EU countries

A long-term resident may exercise the right of residence, for a period exceeding three months, in an EU country other than the one which granted him/her the status, subject to compliance with certain conditions, including:

  • exercise of an economic activity in an employed or self-employed capacity;
  • pursuit of studies or vocational training;
  • other purposes.

However, an EU country may limit the number of residence permits if, at the time of the adoption of this directive, limitations for the admission of non-EU nationals are already set out in existing national law. At the same time, for reasons of labour market policy, EU countries may give preference to Union citizens.

The above conditions do not concern employees posted for the purpose of cross-border provision of services or providers of cross-border services.

When the application for a residence permit is lodged, the competent authorities in the second EU country * may require the presentation of certain documents (such as the long-term residence permit, an identity document, an employment contract, documentation with regard to appropriate accommodation, etc.) and evidence of stable and regular resources and medical insurance.

The family members * of the long-term resident may accompany him/her to the second EU country or join him/her there on condition that they already formed a family in the first EU country *. If this is not the case, Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification applies.

The second EU country may refuse applications for residence only where there is an actual threat to public policy, public security or public health. In the case of public health, the directive allows EU countries to require a medical examination in order to certify that the persons in question do not suffer from any diseases that are the subject of protective provisions in the host country. The directive also provides for a series of procedural guarantees, such as the statutory period for examining applications for residence permits, the arrangements for notifying interested parties, redress procedures and the conditions governing expulsion.

As soon as they enter the second EU country, long-term residents enjoy all the benefits that they enjoyed in the first EU country under the same conditions as nationals.

Long-term residents living in the second EU country will retain their status in the first EU country until they have acquired the same status in the second EU country. If they so wish, they may apply to be considered as long-term residents in the second EU country after having legally resided there for a period of five years.

As a general rule, the first EU country is obliged to readmit, together with their family members, long-term residents whose residence permits have been withdrawn by the second EU country.


At the Tampere European Council of 15-16 October 1999, EU countries emphasised the need to give equitable treatment to non-EU nationals legally resident in the EU. In particular, all non-EU nationals who have resided in an EU country for a given period of time should be granted a set of uniform rights that are as near as possible to those enjoyed by EU citizens (point 21 of the Tampere conclusions). The directive is also designed to give full effect to Article 79 TFEU by setting out the rights of non-EU nationals legally residing in an EU country to reside in the other EU countries.

Key terms used in the act

  • Non-EU national: any person who is not a citizen of the EU.
  • Long-term resident: any non-EU national who has long-term resident status as provided for in the directive.
  • First EU country: the EU country which for the first time granted long-term resident status.
  • Second EU country: any EU country other than the one which for the first time granted long-term resident status to a non-EU national and in which that long-term resident exercises the right of residence.
  • Family members: persons defined as family members by Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/109/EC



OJ L 16, 23.1.2004

Last updated: 05.05.2011