10 July 2015

On 9 July, The Court of Justice of the EU ruled on the conditions that must be met for a non-EU national to be allowed to join an EU citizen family member, in the EU Directive on Family Reunification.

Dutch law required third country nationals to take a civic integration exam at the embassy in their country of residence, testing their Dutch language skills and knowledge of Netherlands society as part of their application for family reunification. K, an Azerberjaini national, and A, a Nigerian national, had their applications refused, despite requesting exemption from the exam on health grounds, in line with a ‘hardship clause’ in the legislation.  

The Court noted that, unless the applicant was a family of a refugee, it was possible for Member States to impose integration measures on applicants for family reunion before entry. It considered that a basic civic integration exam was ‘undeniably useful’ for establishing connections with the Member State, and did not in principle undermine the aim of the Directive to facilitate family reunification.  However, any measure imposed should be aimed at facilitating integration rather than acting as a filter, or obstacle to make family reunification impossible or excessively difficult. This meant that proportionality, and specific individual circumstances such as age, level of education and health should be taken into account.

The Court found that in this case the ‘hardship clause’ in Dutch law was too narrow. In addition, the fee for the preparation course (EUR 110) and for taking the exam (EUR 350) also had the effect of making family reunification impossible or excessively difficult, especially as the person had to pay to travel to the closest Dutch embassy and for the course fee each time they took the exam. 

Professor Steve Peers notes that “this judgment will be particularly useful to those migrants who have lower incomes and those who come from developing countries, where the level of education is not always as high”. He adds that “in significantly limiting States’ ability to insist that people pass an integration test before they can live with their loved ones, the Court has made the right choice.”

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 10 July 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.