At least, almost 3 million residence permits were issued throughout the European Union (EU) to people from non-member countries during 2019.

By way of introduction and to facilitate understanding, it is important to note that a residence permit is an authorization issued by the competent national authorities allowing a third-country national to stay for at least three months on their territory.

During 2019, around 3 million residence permits have been issued throughout the EU. Now then... what have been the main reasons for people to obtain a first residence permit? Let's see below.

According to the data consulted, the main reasons or grounds for issuing first residence permits in the EU were the following:

  • Employment.
  • Family reunification.
  • Education.
  • Other reasons, such as a residual category.

For example, the main reason for the issuance of a first residence permit in the EU was employment (1.2 million). And if we look at it by nationalities, 757,000 residence permits were issued to citizens of Ukraine, a figure 5.7 times higher than permits issued to citizens of Morocco (133,000); who occupied the second position in residence permits issued.

An increase in the number of residence permits issued in the various EU member states was observed in 2019. Why?

This increase, I believe, reflects the diversity of national migration systems and the impact of European immigration policy. I also believe that other important factors have influenced it, such as

  • Characteristics of third country nationals.
  • Legal framework.
  • Characteristics of the countries involved in the immigration process, such as their geographical proximity or linguistic links.


During 2019, almost 3 million first residence permits were issued to citizens of third countries in the 27 EU member states. According to data collected over the last decade (2009-2019, this is the highest figure on record).

It can be seen that the number of first residence permits granted increased significantly by 5.8%, or 163,000 more, compared to 2018, continuing a rising trend. This was the seventh consecutive annual increase. (See Graph #1).

[IMAGE] Chart—1

Graph #1: Number of first residence permits issued in the EU during the period 2009-2019 (thousands) Source: Eurostat.

If we go into the details by country, then we can see that among the member states, Poland issued the largest number (724,000) of first residence permits in 2019 (See Table #1), followed by Germany (460,000), Spain (320,000), France (285,000), Italy (176,000), the Czech Republic (117,000), the Netherlands and Sweden (102,000).

All these countries were the only EU Member States to exceed the first 100,000 residence permits issued. But... to get a better idea of this data, if we put the 8 countries together, then we get that they represent approximately 4 out of 5 (77.4%) residence permits issued in 2019.

[IMAGE] Table #1

Table #1: First residence permits issued by EU member countries, in 2019 Source: Eurostat.

As I mentioned earlier, without a doubt, during 2019, most residence permits issued in the EU-27 are related to employment (1.2 million, or 40.5% of total permits issued), followed by family reasons (810,000, or 27.4%), other reasons (546,000, or 18.5%) and last but not least, educational reasons (400,000, or 13.5%).

However, in 2019 there is an increase in the overall number of first residence permits compared to 2018. What is the reason for this?

According to various analyses, this increase can be attributed almost exclusively to labor reasons (214,000, or 21.7%), in addition to the small increase in the total number of permits issued for educational reasons (3,000, or 0.8%).

However, the number of first leaves issued for family reasons (5,000, or 0.6%) and other reasons (49,000, or 8.2%) decreased.

[IMAGE] Graph #2

Graph #2: Number of first residence permits issued, by reason, EU-27, 2009-2019 (thousands). Source: Eurostat.

For me there is a very interesting trend and that is that in 2019 it is estimated that 6.6 residence permits were issued in the EU-27 for every 1,000 inhabitants. This figure is almost two thirds higher than the equivalent proportion in 2014, when only 4 permits were issued per 1,000 inhabitants (See Graph #3).

[IMAGE] Graph #3

Graph #3: First residence permits issued in relation to population size, 2014 and 2019 (per 1,000 inhabitants) Source: Eurostat.

Within the EU member countries, the highest proportion of residence permits in relation to population size was registered in Malta (42 permits per 1,000 inhabitants), Cyprus (26.4), Poland (19.1), Slovenia (15.1), Luxembourg (13.6), Croatia (12.4) and Ireland (12.0).

In contrast, on the opposite side, less than 2 permits per 1,000 inhabitants were granted in Bulgaria and Romania. Here the lowest rates were recorded, with 1.9 and 1.4 residence permits per 1,000 inhabitants, respectively.

NOTE: The data shown in this article are based on the regulatory framework established in Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on statistics on migration and international protection. Administrative records and national databases have been the main sources consulted for these statistics. Although the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the EU, they have been included on an exceptional basis, contrary to the norm [1].

Get an expert evaluation!

If you need help with your visa or residence permit (non-lucrative, investment, work or study) in Spain, then book a 60-minute online consulting and get useful tips to achieve success.

Book your consultation now