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Status of Non-EU Member Country nationals who are long-term residents


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-EU Member Country nationals, the Directive approximates the laws of the Member States and ensures equal treatment throughout the Union, whatever the Member State of residence.

For the purposes of the Directive, the following definitions apply:

  • Non-EU Member Country national: any person who is not a citizen of one of the Member States of the European Union;
  • long-term resident: any Non-EU Member Country national who has the status provided for in the Directive;
  • first Member State: the Member State which for the first time granted long-term resident status;
  • second Member State: any Member State other than the one which for the first time granted long-term resident status to a Non-EU Member Country national and in which that long-term resident exercises the right of residence;
  • family members: persons defined as family members by the Directive on the right to family reunification;
  • refugee: any person enjoying refugee status within the meaning of the Geneva Convention;
  • long-term resident's EC residence permit: the permit issued by a Member State upon the acquisition of long-term resident status.

The Directive applies to all Non-EU Member Country nationals residing legally in the territory of a Member State. Some categories of individual 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, persons residing in order to pursue studies or vocational training).

The Member States must apply the Directive in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination pursuant to Article 13 of the EC Treaty and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Long-term resident status

Member States must recognise long-term resident status after five years' continuous legal residence. Absences from the Member State 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 Member Country nationals must prove that they have:

  • stable resources sufficient to live without recourse to the social assistance system of the Member State concerned and
  • sickness insurance

for themselves and their family (if dependent).

Member States may require Non-EU Member Country nationals to comply with further integration conditions (such as sufficient knowledge of a national language of the Member State concerned).

Member States 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 resident permit which is standard for all Member States, permanent and renewable automatically.

Long-term resident status may be withdrawn only on certain grounds which are set out in the Directive (absence from the territory of the European Community for more than twelve consecutive months, fraudulent acquisition of the status, 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, access to goods and services;
  • freedom of association and union membership; freedom to represent a union or association.
  • free access to the entire territory of the Member State concerned.

In certain cases, Member States 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 social protection, Member States may limit equal treatment to core benefits. They are nevertheless free to add to the list of areas in which they grant equal treatment with nationals or the list of benefits they provide for their nationals.

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. The Member States 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 Member States 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 Member States.

Right of residence in the other Member States

A long-term resident may exercise the right of residence, for a period exceeding three months, in a Member State other than the one which granted him the status, subject to compliance with certain conditions laid down in this proposal, including:

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

However, a Member State may limit the number of residence permits if, at the time of the adoption of this Directive, limitations for the admission of Non-EU Member Country nationals are already set out in existing national law. At the same time, for reasons of labour market policy, Member States 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 Member State 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 to the second Member State or join him there on condition that they already formed a family in the first Member State. If this is not the case, Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification applies.

The second Member State 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 Member States 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. It 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 Member State, long-term residents enjoy all the benefits which they enjoyed in the first Member State under the same conditions as nationals.

Long-term residents living in the second Member State will retain their status in the first Member State until they have acquired the same status in the second Member State. If they so wish, they may, after being legally resident in the second Member State for five years, apply to be considered as long-term residents in that Member State.

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

Final provisions

The Member States must take the necessary measures to implement this Directive by 23 January 2006 at the latest. No more than five years after that date, the Commission will report to the European Parliament and Council on implementation, proposing such amendments as may be necessary.

This Directive will enter into force on the day of its publication in the Official Journal.

Historical background

At the Tampere European Council (15-16 October 1999), the Member States emphasised the need to give equitable treatment to Non-EU Member Country nationals legally resident in the European Union. In particular, all Non-EU Member Country nationals who have been resident in a Member State for a given period of time should be granted a set of uniform rights which 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 63(4) of the EC Treaty by setting out the rights of Non-EU Member Country nationals residing legally in a Member State to reside in the other Member States.


Act Entry into force - Date of expiry Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2003/109/EC [adoption: consultation CNS/2001/0074] 12.2.2004 23.1.2006 OJ L 16, 23.1.2004


Proposal for a Council Directive of 6 June 2007 amending Directive 2003/109/EC to extend its scope to beneficiaries of international protection [COM(2007) 298 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

This proposal is designed to extend the legal system for Non-EU Member Country nationals with long-term resident status to include persons with international protection. Following a study carried out, the Commission has decided that such persons, who initially were not covered by Directive 2003/109/EC, may be granted the rights under long-term resident status after a period of five years' legal residence. The Commission points out that the beneficiaries targeted are refugees under the terms of the Geneva Convention and persons enjoying subsidiary protection within the meaning of Directive 2004/83/EC.

Last updated: 24.09.2007
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