A Foreign Born Spouse (“FBS”) is an accompanying person who originally comes from a country different from the one represented by his/her civil servant spouse, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Officer (even if he/she subsequently obtained the partner’s nationality). There are three categories: the first is an European Union (EU) national, the second has European Economic Area (EEA) nationality and the third is a citizen of a country falling outside the EU and EEA.
WHY “FBS” ARE ONE OF EUFASA’s CONCERNS
High number of Foreign Born Spouses in diplomatic service
FBS constitute a sizeable proportion of the total number of spouses in the EU Foreign Services. Nearly a quarter of spouses are of foreign origin. In Belgium, for example, this percentage is as high as fifty percent. Some of these FBS have EU citizenship while others do not. However, the majority of FBS, totalling two-thirds, are from non-EU/EEA countries.
Obstacles facing Foreign Born Spouse
FBS face a number of obstacles regarding their career and lifelong employability. First, problems with citizenship of the “home country” and work permit could block the non-EU citizens from finding a job. Second, even though approximately a third of foreign born spouses are EU citizens, some may not have the language skills required and/or diplomas recognised in their adopted home country. Third, health cover insurance for the FBS and his/her children is often affected when he/she takes up employment. Finally, problems facing a FBS in case of divorce and loss of pension rights are of concern to all other spouses regardless of nationality.
WHAT EUFASA HAS DONE ABOUT THIS CONCERN
- Reports on FBS were produced already during the EUFASA Conferences in Paris, 1995 and in Bonn, 1999. More recently:
- Report: “Challenges facing FBS”, EUFASA Conference, Lisbon 2000. Report: “FBS, Statistics & Special problems” EUFASA Conference, Dublin 2004.
- Report: “Foreign Born Spouses” EUFASA Conference, Paris 2008.
Most member states do not assist spouses in finding a job; but there are some exceptions. The following are examples of what some MFAs are doing to help spouses with their careers:
- MFA training department organises a “Job Day” for spouses (France).
- MFA Personnel Department has a coordinator who assists the spouses in their job search (France).
- MFA offers a pre-posting training session to answer questions about employment (France). At post, the Embassy assists in job search and supplies lists of available jobs (France, Germany).
- MFA subsidises a job service that organises job search seminars, language courses, assists in contacts with the national employment agency and a career network, and keeps track of job openings (Austria).
- MFA provides language training at post (The Netherlands).
- MFA provides language training in Dutch for FBS (The Netherlands).
- MFA provides contact with career network (Belgium, UK).
- MFA organises seminars to encourage and prepare spouses to work (Germany).
- MFA provides a budget to assist spouses in training for portable careers (UK).
- MFA pays subscriptions to job databanks for spouses (UK, France).
RECOMMENDATIONS FROM EUFASA
In recent years MFAs of the member states and the European Commission have recognised that families with a spouse holding down a secure job are reluctant to leave for postings abroad, making it more difficult to attract/convince competent MFA employees to apply for/accept a posting abroad. It is therefore important that the MFAs adopt policies which would facilitate and assist spouses who would like to work. Below are some recommendations made at the EUFASA Conference Paris 2008:
- Negotiate recognition of foreign diplomas or qualifications.
- Provide language training.
- Grant nationality without the residency requirement (or with shorter time requirement than a resident).
- A reasonable income limit should be set (for example €12,000/annum) before the spouse loses the right to the MFA Officer’s health insurance.
- Children should not be removed from the health insurance of the MFA Officer.
- MFAs should adopt policies which would compensate spouses for pension rights when they are not able to work while accompanying their spouses on a posting.
- MFAs should provide pension contributions for the first year back in the home country so that continuity is maintained for a spouse’s pension payments while she/he is trying to re-enter the job market. Policies regarding granting of citizenship, training, and assistance in finding jobs differ greatly within member states and the European Commission. It is therefore highly recommended that all member states and the European Commission apply existing good practice.