The European Commission has published compulsory legislation and voluntary guidelines for fast-track visas to allow citizens from non-European Union countries to undertake research in any member state.
The proposals are designed to increase the number of researchers in the EU to help attain the target of 700,000 additional research positions by 2010, which was set by the 2002 Barcelona European Council.
A commission memorandum says: "Admitting a large number of researchers from outside the EU would make it possible greatly to extend its scientific cooperation and partnership networks all over the world."
Because the directive may take at least a year to be approved and longer to come into force, the commission has also tabled non-binding formal recommendations that would come into effect sooner.
They advise EU governments, for instance, to exempt non-EU researchers from work-permit requirements, to rule on residence-permit applications within 30 days and to allow researchers' family members to live with them while they study in Europe.
A special set of guidelines has been proposed for granting short-stay visas to researchers. These suggest that they are granted multiple-entry visas to allow them to travel around the EU and that administrative fees are waived.
The guidelines adopt a harmonised EU system for assessing these visa applications.
The concept of a "hosting agreement" - a legal contract that requires researchers to agree to complete a project and research organisations to accept responsibility for the student - is at the heart of the new system.
The agreement covers all aspects of a project, including how a researcher will be paid.
EU member countries would be bound to issue a residence permit to anyone securing such an agreement with a valid passport as long as their funding is adequate and the research topic is compatible with "public policy, public security or public health", according to the memorandum.
The residence permits would be valid for at least one year. Governments could issue visas for longer periods if they chose.
Researchers would be allowed to travel around the EU to carry out project-related work, and they would be permitted to lecture on their study area.
The legislation excludes doctoral students working on their theses because of concerns that allowing them into the system might lead to abuse of the directive by those with little inclination for academic work.
That said, the legislation would allow EU member states to be more liberal in their own territories regarding researcher visa applications.