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EU promises easier access for international students

The European Commission proposes to make it easier for non-EU students and researchers to enter and stay in the European community states, in the face of growing competition from host destinations such as the US, Australia and Japan. One key tenet of the directive is that there would be procedural guarantees of visa turnaround within 60 days.

Cecilia Malmström of the European Commission proposes a 60-day visa processing guarantee

Students could work for 20 hours per week while post-study work rights were extended to 12 months

Subject to member state agreement, new legislation would from 2016 improve the student visa process, access to the labour market and academic mobility between states. Speaking at a press conference this week, Cecilia Malmström, member of the EC in charge of Home Affairs, said the reforms were vital to the EU’s economic future.

A 60-day time limit will be set for all member states to decide on an application for a visa or residence permit

“Unfortunately this risks becoming a lose lose situation, because there are so many hurdles that these people face [coming to the EU],” she said. “The students or the researchers risk missing out on important professional and career opportunities. And the EU’s economies risk being deprived of new talent, skills and ideas.”

The directive needs to be discussed and agreed by the European Parliament.

Among the proposals – which apply to 24 member states and exclude Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom – the Commission would also seek to standardise criteria for approving student visas. These vary wildly between states and can result in seemingly arbitrary refusals.

The 60-day time limit would be set for all member states to decide on an application for a visa or residence permit. “Today member states can take unlimited time to take a decision on an application, and this can leave applicants in a difficult situation,” said Malmström.

Students would also be allowed to work for a minimum of 20 hours per week, while post-study work rights would be extended to 12 months—although granting work permits would “remain a national responsibility”. Meanwhile there would be “simpler and more flexible” rules to allow researchers, students and trainees to move within the EU.

Outgoing President of the European Association of International Education, Gudrun Paulsdottir told The PIE News that the proposals were important at both a national and university level, suggesting many institutions were considering closing closes due to a shortage of local students.

However, she warned that action was needed before 2016. “More and more countries outside of EU are introducing measures to facilitate for entry as well as for work, both during and after studies and a research period… But by 2016 the streams of students and researchers will have found, to some extent at least, other places to go to.”

“By then the streams of students and researchers will have found other places to go to”

Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU), welcomed the proposals, saying that “only a few countries have made significant progress in removing bureaucratic obstacles in the past years, such as visas and residence permits”.

But she said financial support could remain a major obstacle. “In a recent study conducted by ESU we found that 23 out of 26 countries do have special tuition fees installed for non-EU citizens. A lot of work still needs to be done in that area.”

Malmstrom said that the measures were likely to increase non-EU student numbers, benefitting countries which had seen enrolment fall in recent years.

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