Spaniards, Greeks, cut off from German benefits

People from Mediterranean states have been cut off from basic German state benefits, in a move seen as an attempt to prevent immigration from struggling EU economies.

Spaniards, Greeks, cut off from German benefits
Photo: DPA

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper has seen a leaked directive from the Labour Ministry to the Federal Employment Agency – dated February 23 – which bars people who move to Germany from 14 EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Turkey, from claiming the basic unemployment benefit known as Hartz IV.

The European Union countries banned include Greece, Spain and Portugal, which has led the German media to interpret the move as an attempt to head off people moving to Germany before they have found work.

Up until now, immigrants from the 17 signatories to the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance (EFA), signed in 1953, were entitled to claim unemployment benefit in each other’s countries while they looked for work. The ministry has effectively unilaterally ended this agreement, justifying the move by saying that all EU immigrants should be entitled to equal benefit rights.

EU immigrants have only been able to claim benefits in Germany since October 2010, when a French man used the EFA agreement to claim the right in a federal court. Since then, the German job centre has had to pay benefits to immigrants from EFA signatories even if they have come to Germany exclusively to look for work.

“To give EU citizens entitlement to Hartz IV from day one does run the risk of abuse, since anyone can say they are looking for a job,” Ferdinand Wollenschläger, a European law professor from the University of Augsburg told the paper. “But you have to ask how realistic it is that young, educated Spanish people leave their home country to live on Hartz IV in Germany.”

The opposition said it was mystified by the ministry’s decision. “The number of immigrants that start claiming Hartz IV as soon as they arrive is almost zero,” Elke Ferner, deputy parliamentary chairwoman of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) told the Frankfurter Rundschau.

The Federal Employment Office also said that the directive would have little effect on its work, since immigrants heading straight into the social security system were seen “only in individual cases.” They described the Labour Ministry’s move as a “preventative measure.”

The Local/bk

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REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system.