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What EU Companies Need to Know About Hiring Non-European Union Nationals

December 20, 2016 business / Travel


Hiring Non EU Residents: EU Employment Law and Regulations

EU companies frequently need to hire talented people from outside of the European Union. And many third-country nationals are all too happy to embrace an opportunity to live and work in Europe.

Getting the two together can sometimes be difficult, though, usually because of legislation designed to protect jobs for domestic and EU citizens.

We’ve taken a look at a some of the rules governing migrant work and residence permits in an ever-changing world.

EU Residence Permits for Non EU Citizens

Hiring a non-EU national is certainly not as simple as hiring a worker from a member nation of the EU, who can just pick up and move to other EU countries and work there without obtaining a permit. The European Commission lays out all of these rules, which apply to EU citizens as well as nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which belong to the European Economic Area (EEA).

It should be noted, however, that Liechtenstein has imposed a quota system, limiting the number of people who can live and work there, whether they are residents of EU member countries, Iceland or Norway.

But there are various considerations when non-EU nationals wish to work in an EU country.

In most cases, the Swedish Migration Agency writes, non-EU citizens need work permits to work in Sweden or other EU countries. It is that person’s responsibility to apply for and obtain the permit before moving to the country in question.

A certain amount of responsibility falls to the employers of non-EU nationals,in that the employers are required to confirm a candidate’s right to reside and work in the EU-member country.

Employers must understand how much time it can take to hire a foreign worker from outside the EU, writes lawyer Katrina Cooper at Management Today.

A sponsor licence is needed, and you must show that the skillset you require for your business is not available from within the EU, she points out. There are strict advertising rules you must adhere to, as well as a cap on the number of new employer-sponsored skilled workers. The higher the salary offered, the more likely it is that your application will be granted.

“If you do not have a sponsor licence it can take four to six months before the migrant worker is on the ground working,” Cooper explains. “Even if you do have a sponsor licence it can still take between three to four months.”


Navigating Immigration, Country By Country

Each EU country has its own procedures and requirements employers and non-EU/EEA nationals must follow, and we’ve provided a brief overview for several. Hurdles include minimum salary thresholds, proof that the position cannot be otherwise filled, and yearly surcharges.

United Kingdom

As of April 2017, UK employers will be required to pay a 1,000 GBP “immigration skills charge” to the government when employing migrants from outside the EU/EEA under the Tier 2 visa regime.

This fee is per employee, per year, with reduced rates for small businesses and some exemptions. The UK law firm of Birketts writes that the fee “is designed to cut down on the number of businesses taking on migrant workers and incentivise training British staff to fill those jobs.”

The fee is in addition to higher minimum salary thresholds, which was 25,000 GBP in 2016 and will increase to 30,000 GBP in April 2017. This means that non-EU/non-EEA residents earning less than the minimum salary can be deported, reports The Guardian. The people affected not only have to meet the salary threshold, but must also have lived in the UK for less than 10 years.

Business is pushing back.

“At a time when we need strong links globally to seize new opportunities after the [EU] referendum, being seen as open to the best and brightest is vital,” Josh Hardie, deputy director-general for the Confederation of British Industry, tells The Wall Street Journal. “And we should be clear that business does not see immigration and training as an either/or choice. We need both.”

And it’s not much easier to hire non-EU nationals in other European Union member countries.


If a national from outside the EU/EEA plans to work in Norway for less than three months, a residence permit may not be necessary. Some of the occupations that fall under this category, according to The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), include researchers and lecturers, technical experts, medical practitioners, and journalists not employed by a Norwegian business.

Workers who wish to apply for a residence permit for work purposes must have a firm offer of employment, and in many cases the employer can apply for the permit on behalf of the worker.


Most non-EU/EEA workers and Swiss nationals hired to work in Belgium require work permits. There are exceptions, according to Expatica, and these depend on the job itself as well as the residence status of the applicant. Anyone with permanent residence status does not require a work permit, nor do experts such as scientific researchers.

The specific work permit (A, B or C) depends on which country the worker is from, whether the work is highly skilled or not, whether it’s a temporary assignment, and so on. B permits require that an employer sponsor the worker for a specific job, with a term of up to 12 months.

If a non-EU/EEA/Swiss national wishes to start a business in Belgium, he can apply for a professional card.



In Estonia, for example, there are two options for residents of non-EU/EEA countries to obtain the right to work there, according to the Work in Estonia website:

  • register for short-term employment, or
  • obtain a residence permit for employment

It’s not just the foreign applicant whose background is checked. The employer is also examined, and a permit can be refused if the employer does not offer a salary deemed appropriate, or has tax arrears.

The benefit of the short-term employment option is it is usually faster to obtain, allowing the candidate to start work quickly.

There’s a third option, too: e-residency.

Ben Hammersley at Wired got his Estonian e-residency in March 2015. The immediate benefit is that “once you have your card, you can go online from wherever you are on the planet, log on to the government portal with your card and PIN, and use it to form your Estonian company, then register with an Estonian bank and start trading.”

The goal is to link tax offices around the world to those in Estonia. Once that happens, entrepreneurs can run their companies through the Estonian system, seamlessly paying taxes to the appropriate country. And what the country hopes is that, when its tax offices are linked with those from around the globe, entrepreneurs will run their companies through the Estonian system, with taxes being paid to the nation that has jurisdiction.

“A UK-based entrepreneur,” Hammersley offers as an example, “will decide to open her business in Estonia, use an Estonian bank and pay for some Estonian services, even if the company was only going to be trading in the UK, because she would find Estonia’s national infrastructure far easier to deal with than the UK’s.”


Non-EU citizens wishing to work in Finland must obtain a residence permit for an employed person (which is different from a permit for a self-employed person), according to Expat-Finland.

Like other EU member countries, Finland looks at a number of considerations before granting a combined residence/work permit, including the needs of the labour market, availability of the workforce and the applicant’s own means of support. Priority is always given to EU citizens and legally equivalent persons (citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

The Netherlands

The requirements for foreign nationals from outside the EEA and Switzerland are similar in the Netherlands as in Norway. On the official site for the Government of the Netherlands, it confirms that a combined residence and employment permit is necessary for foreign nationals who wish to work in the Netherlands for longer than three months, and that the permit can be applied for by the foreign national or his employer.

The work permit is specific to that employer and expires when the employee leaves the job, the I am Expat team writes. Work permits for short-term assignments are usually waived, and cover work such as visiting lecturers and musicians.

It should be noted that an employer who wishes to apply for a permit on behalf of a foreign national must first “show that efforts have taken place to recruit a suitable employee in the Netherlands and European Union,” the I am Expat teams writes. “Only after these recruitment efforts have not led to a suitable candidate can an employer start looking for employees outside the EU.”


There are several types of work permits available for France; however, the first step is to get hired, whereby the French employer provides the local French Ministry of Labour Office with a work contract.

If the contract is approved, the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles states, it is endorsed and transmitted to the appropriate consulate so that the applicant can apply for a visa.

A permit that is not usually mentioned is one for self-employed people who wish to work in France. If you are considering this work permit, The Riviera Reporter says to keep two things in mind:

  • “You need to prove your employment efforts in France will not take work away from a French person.
  • “Due to the non flexible work contracts in France, French companies are not going to hire, nor apply for a visa, on your behalf as it’s too costly.”



Similar rules apply when expats from outside the internal market wish to work in Italy. An employer must obtain clearance from the local immigration office, the team at Expat Arrivals writes, submitting a signed employment contract and various other documents from the applicant. Once approved, the actual process of applying for a residence permit can begin.

While the work permits in Italy are position-specific, losing one’s job does not automatically revoke the expat’s residence permit. “Instead,” Expat Arrivals writes, “it is possible to register as being unemployed and stay for as long as the permit allows.”


The international research facility European XFEL has great information for their non-EU national candidates, which starts with reminding them to obtain a “D Visa/National Visa, as this is the only one which can be converted into a residence permit.”

Non-EU/EEA nationals should be aware that many German businesses use temporary agencies to find workers. The problem with this, How to Germany writes, is that when a person obtains employment through an agency, it likely is not going to lead to a residence permit. “However, those that already have a residence permit with permission to work may be permitted to work as ‘temps.’”

Tia Robin, co-founder of Expath, outlines with immigration lawyer Anne Glinka at Heureka the various methods in which highly-skilled expatriates can work and live in Berlin. For instance, university graduates are allowed to stay in the city for six months while looking for a job, and can apply for a work permit once they secure an offer.

Like other EU countries hiring outside of the European Union, Germany requires proof that you bring unique or high-level skills into the country. “This could be formal education or your unique language, artistic or technical skills, for example,” Robin and Glinka write, “and means you can forget about getting a work permit as a tour guide or bartender, as those jobs can easily be done by EU nationals.”

images by: Clem Onojeghuo, Jacqueline Macou, Mathijs Lemmers, Jace Grandinette

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