What does freedom of movement in the EU mean?

Free movement of workers is a fundamental principle of the EU. Citizens of EU Member States are entitled to:

  • look for a job in another EU country
  • work there without needing a work permit
  • reside there for that purpose
  • stay there even after employment has finished
  • enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages

Free movement rights may differ somewhat for people who plan to be self-employed, students, and retired or otherwise economically non-active people; although in practice the UK makes no attempt to enforce any restrictions on these groups. However, Member States are entitled to deny entry on security grounds. Free movement of workers also applies, in general terms, to the countries in the European Economic Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

When countries join the EU, existing Member States have in general been permitted to allow “transitional” restrictions on the free movement rights of the citizens of the new Member States; so for example, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007, but their citizens didn’t acquire full rights to work in the UK until 2014.

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