Cross-border Impact Assessment 2017

Dossier 4: (Im)mobility of Third Country Students

Entire dossier

The entire dossier is available here in Dutch only.

Cross-border (im)mobility of students from third countries in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine

dr. Alexander Hoogenboom

Julia Reinold


The internationalization of higher education is currently at the centre of attention of scholars and policy-makers. With a view to make the EU higher education area more attractive for persons coming from outside the EU, specific legislation was adopted already in 2004 in the form of Council Directive 2004/114. This Directive, in turn, is set to be replaced by Directive 2016/801, meant to address some of the shortcomings of the previous Directive.[2][3] This dossier adds to the existing literature and debate regarding the analysis and evaluation of the student migration policy of the EU and the Member States by taking a Euregional perspective. It was specifically triggered by the adoption of the Pilot huisvesting Akense niet-EU studenten by the Netherlands in April 2016.[4] This Pilot calls attention to the possible existence of a ‘border region penalty’ for students from third countries as a result of certain assumptions underlying EU, Dutch and German legislation: the concept that frontier migrants are worse off – in the sense of encountering more legal hurdles – than migrants who study, work and live in one and the same Member State, in an otherwise comparable situation.


To establish if such a border region penalty exists, the dossier uses a combination of sociological and legal research methods including desk research, stakeholder interviews and a survey among international students. Combining legal and sociological research methods helps to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the current situation regarding the cross-border mobility of students from third countries as well as related challenges and opportunities. The Euregio Meuse-Rhine (EMR), is chosen as the geographical area to be studied, with a focus on the Dutch and German sub-regions. This is because the Pilot huisvesting Akense niet-EU studenten is implemented in this region and because the EMR hosts many higher education institutions which are located close to the border and increasingly attract international students from third countries.

Accordingly, it is specified that TCN students in a cross-border situation either live in the Dutch part of the EMR and seek to study in the German part, or vice versa. This is important since education matters are the main responsibility of the German Länder rather than central government. The German sub-region of the EMR belongs to the Land NRW (NRW) and relevant legislation includes the NRW Hochschulgesetz,[5] the Aufenthaltsgesetz,[6] and the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz.[7] For the Netherlands, the relevant legislation is found in the Wet op het Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschap (WHW)[8] as well as the Vreemdelingenwet 2000,[9] the Wet arbeid vreemdelingen[10] and the Wet Studiefinanciering 2000[11] (and the regulations based on these instruments).


Overall, the ‘cross-border student’ is worse off, legally speaking, when it comes to both residence and work opportunities when compared to a student who studies, resides and works in one and the same Member State (the single state student). Put differently, the applicable EU and national legal framework assumes the single state student paradigm, and creates a set of right and opportunities tailored to that situation, as a result of which the cross-border student misses out. There is, for example, no clear EU admission route for a TCN student seeking to live in one Member State but study in another. Instead, the cross-border student would have to rely on national initiatives to plug the gap, which either may not exist (e.g. in Germany) or may be very limited in scope (such as the Pilot huisvesting Akense studenten in the Netherlands). Similarly, the cross-border student enjoys much more limited access rights to employment than the single state student: the appropriate authorities will always perform a full labour market test in case of cross-border employment. Hence, the analysis supports the finding that a border-region penalty for TCN students exists.

This has negative effects on European integration, socioeconomic development and Euregional cohesion. Indeed, the surveys undertaken as part of this dossier show that third country national students are interested in living in a neighbouring countries, but that visa and residence permit limitations prevent them from doing so. Similarly, where it concerned work across the border, TCN students cited work permit issues as a major factor for not pursuing such opportunities.

Introducing more flexible arrangements for TCN students especially access to the Euregional housing and labour market could convert the negative experiences with ‘borders’ into positive effects for the students involved, but also for the EMR more generally with regard to short- and long-term socio-economic development. By increasing cross-border mobility, TCN students become more familiar with the region and what it has to offer. This can increase the region’s attractiveness for students and graduates, who are important sources of human capital in today’s knowledge-based economy. The EMR could thus boost its competitiveness and mitigate the effects of negative population developments and demographic change.


[1] The authors would like to express their gratitude to all the stakeholders who took time to speak with us and share their knowledge, to the international students who shared their experiences living in a border region by filling in the online survey and to those who helped us implement the survey. Finally, we extend our gratitude to Prof. Melissa Siegel and Martin Unfried for their support along the way and for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this dossier. We would also like to acknowledge the valuable research assistance provided by Alexandra Rodriguez.

[2] See for instance EMN 2012 or European Commission 2013 Report on application of directive 2004/114

[3] Following these assessments, Directive 2004/114 is soon to be replaced by Directive 2016/801, which must be implemented by 23 May 2018 at the latest.

[4] See B11/2.4 Vreemdelingencirculaire 2000.

[5] Gesetz über die Hochschulen des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (Hochschulgesetz – HG), GV. NRW. S. 547, as amended.

[6] BGBl. I S. 162, as amended.

[7] BGBl. I S. 1952; 2012 I S. 197, as amended.

[8] Stb. 1992, 593, as amended.

[9] Stb. 2000, 495, as amended.

[10] Stb. 1994, 959, as amended.

[11] Stb. 2000, 286.