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Studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service


Council Directive 2004/114/EC of 13 December 2004 on the conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service.


One of the objectives of Community action in the field of education is to promote Europe as a world centre of excellence for studies and vocational training. Promoting the mobility of third-country nationals to the Community for the purpose of studies is a key factor in that strategy. The approximation of the Member States' national legislation on conditions of entry and residence is part of this.

This Directive determines the rules concerning the procedures for admitting third country nationals to the territory of the Member States, for a period exceeding three months for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service.

The Directive distinguishes four categories of third-country nationals:

  • students;
  • school-pupils;
  • unremunerated trainees;
  • voluntary workers (volunteers).

The admission of students primarily concerns higher education as that is the level at which international mobility is most common.

Apart from determining the specific conditions for admission of each of these four categories, the Directive defines the principal criteria for the admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service, in particular the availability of adequate financial resources and admission to an educational establishment, participation in a pupil exchange scheme, signature of a training agreement or participation in a voluntary service scheme, as the case may be.

Certain categories of people are excluded from the scope of the Directive:

  • asylum-seekers and persons enjoying subsidiary forms of protection or temporary protection schemes;
  • third-country nationals who are family members of Union citizens who have exercised their right to free movement within the Community;
  • third-country nationals who enjoy long-term resident status in a Member State in accordance with Council Directive 2003/109/EC and exercise the corresponding right to reside in another Member State in order to study or receive vocational training.

Admission conditions

The Directive determines the basic conditions for admitting third-country nationals for the purpose of study:

  • the applicant must have been accepted by an establishment of higher education;
  • the applicant must have sufficient resources to cover his/her subsistence, study and return travel costs;
  • the applicant must have sufficient knowledge of the language of the course to be followed (a flexible condition left to the discretion of the Member States);
  • prior payment of the fees charged by the establishment (a flexible condition left to the discretion of the Member States).

As regards the admission of a third-country national already admitted as a student in another Member State, the Directive establishes a right to be admitted to another Member State where he wishes to pursue his studies. To ensure that third-country nationals do not abuse their student status by excessively prolonging their stay in the European Union, the additional course of study must be adequately related to the studies already completed.

For third country nationals who are secondary school pupils, the Directive covers only organised mobility through exchange schemes managed by specialised organisations. The following conditions apply:

  • age limits are set by the Member State concerned;
  • the exchange organisation must be recognised by the Member State concerned;
  • the exchange organisation must accept responsibility for subsistence, study, healthcare and return travel costs;
  • the admission document depends on the choice of host family. The Member State retains some room for manoeuvre to reserve exchanges for third countries that offers exchange possibilities for its own school pupils.

The Directive determines the following conditions for unremunerated trainees:

  • the applicant must have sufficient resources to cover his/her subsistence, training and return travel costs;
  • if the Member State so requires, the applicant must receive basic language training so as to acquire the knowledge needed for the purposes of the placement.

Third-country nationals in the category of unremunerated trainees or volunteers who are considered, by virtue of their activities or the kind of compensation or remuneration received, as workers under national legislation are not covered by this Directive.

The Directive provides for the following conditions where a third-country national applies to be admitted to a voluntary service scheme:

  • age limits are set by the Member State concerned;
  • an agreement giving a description of tasks, the conditions in which the volunteer is supervised in the performance of those tasks, the working hours, and the resources available to cover travel, subsistence and accommodation costs throughout the stay;
  • the organisation responsible for the voluntary service scheme must accept responsibility for the volunteer's activities and for subsistence, healthcare and return travel costs;
  • the volunteer must, if the host Member State specifically requires it, receive a basic introduction to the language, history and political and social structures of that Member State.

Validity and renewal of residence permits

The period of validity of residence permits varies according to the category:

  • students: a residence permit is issued to the student for a period of at least one year and renewable if the holder continues to meet the conditions. Where the duration of the course of study is less than one year, the permit is valid for the duration of the course;
  • school pupils: no more than one year;
  • unremunerated trainees: the duration of the placement is for a maximum of one year. In exceptional cases, it may be renewed, once only and exclusively for such time as is needed to acquire a vocational qualification recognised by a Member State;
  • volunteers: no more than one year. In exceptional cases, if the duration of the relevant programme is longer than one year, the duration of the validity of the residence permit may correspond to the period concerned.

Rights of third-country nationals

The Directive provides that students shall be entitled to be employed and may be entitled to exercise self-employed economic activity. But access to economic activities for the first year of residence may be restricted by the host Member State.

Procedure and transparency

A decision on an application to obtain or renew a residence permit is subject to the following rules of transparency:

  • a decision on a residence permit must be adopted, and the applicant must be notified of it, within a period that does not hamper the pursuit of the relevant studies, whilst leaving the competent authorities sufficient time to process the application;
  • if the information supplied in support of the application is inadequate, processing of the application may be suspended and the competent authorities must inform the applicant of any further information they need;
  • any decision rejecting an application for a residence permit must be notified to the third-country national concerned. The notification must specify the possible redress procedures available;
  • where an application is rejected or a residence permit issued in accordance with this Directive is withdrawn, the person concerned shall have the right to mount a legal challenge before the authorities of the Member State concerned.

The Directive provides for an agreement on a fast-track procedure for issuing residence permits or visas to students and school pupils between the authority of a Member State with responsibility for the entry and residence of third-country nationals and an establishment of higher education or an organisation operating pupil exchange schemes.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2004/114/CE 12.01.2005 11.01.2007 OJ L 375 of 23.12.2004
Last updated: 04.09.2007
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