(Reuters) - Residence permits issued for the first time in the European Union climbed close to pre-pandemic levels last year, with Poland leading the bloc due mostly to work-related immigration while France largely attracted students, the bloc's statistics office said on Tuesday.
Despite the continuing pandemic, the number of first residence permits issued in the EU to non-EU citizens jumped 31% to 2,952,300 in 2021 from a year earlier, just a touch below the 2,955,300 such permits issued in 2019.
This increase was driven mainly by employment - which accounted for 1.3 million permits in 2021 - and education.
Poland issued nearly one million first residence permits - 33% of the bloc's total - of which 790,100 were work-related, including 666,300 Ukrainians on bilateral agreements.
That was followed by Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Together, the six member states made up about three quarters of all permits issued in the EU in 2021.
Ukrainians received the highest number of new residence permits last year, around 30% of the total issued. Citizens of Morocco and Belarus followed, accounting together for 10%.
France was by far the most common destination for students from non-EU countries, with 90,600 first permits issued in 2021, mainly to Chinese citizens.
The number of permits for Syrians and Brazilians shrank in 2021, by 14% and 2%, respectively.
Geographical proximity, historical and linguistic links or an established migrant network influenced the choice of country for many new immigrants, Eurostat said.
Neighbouring Poland was the primary destination for Ukrainians and Belarusians, while Moroccans, Brazilians and Colombians sought residence in France, Portugal and Spain.
(Reporting by Dina Kartit; editing by Milla Nissi and Bernadette Baum)