Two-tier EU citizenship: Disposable Eastern European workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Magdalena Ulceluse*, Felix Bender

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


We argue that the (mis)treatment of Eastern European migrant workers during the pandemic revealed the existence of a two-tier EU citizenship, despite the political discourse of equality within the EU. We show that this two-tier citizenship system was generated by the combined effect of differentiated rights and of prejudicious practices applied to EE citizens. In terms of differentiated rights, we refer specifically to the implementation of transitional arrangements for up to 7 years following the Eastern enlargements in 2004 and 2007, which restricted access to the labour markets and welfare systems of the incumbent member states, de facto undermining the right to free movement for this group of EU citizens. In terms of prejudicious practices, we refer to the instances of exploitation, abuses, de-skilling, exclusion from public services and use of social rights that EE migrant workers have been well documented to experience. We show that the two-tier citizenship system reflects the unequal power relations between Member States and the internal political, economic and social hierarchy present within the European Union.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-459
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Early online date20 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022
Externally publishedYes


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