Costly language and cultural exams for non-EU residents in the Netherlands

12 Jun

CJEU European Union Court of Justice

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.

Reference: ECRE Weekly Bulletin

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