12 June 2015

The Court of Justice of the EU has given a judgment which clarifies the ability of EU Member States to set integration requirements for non-EU long term residents. The case related to a complaint by two long-term residents in the Netherlands, who were required by national law to take a course, and pass an exam, testing their knowledge of Dutch society and language skills.

The Court was concerned about the high registration fee for the exam in Dutch law, along with a system of fines for failing, or not sitting, the exam before a deadline. The fine could be imposed multiple times for ‘repeat offences’. The Court found that these aspects of the exams infringed EU law by undermining the objective of integration.

The Court emphasised the importance of integration measures, which encourage communication, interaction and social life between long-term residents and the local community; as well as making it easier for them to access the labour market.

As a result, it found that integration requirements, such as exams, are compatible with EU law in principle, but there are limits to avoid them becoming so burdensome that they result in become barriers to integration. To justify these limits, factors such as the level of knowledge required, the availability of preparation courses, the amount of fees, and the approach to individual circumstances such as age and level of education should be considered.

The Advocate General, in his separate opinion, was more critical and was against the idea of a compulsory exam testing language skills, or knowledge of society, which he believed did not assist people to integrate into society.

“The Court has struck a good balance between ensuring that immigrants fit into society and the need to prevent integration tests forming a disguised means of excluding migrants from ever really fitting in despite their genuine efforts”, commented Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law at the University of Essex.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 12 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.