On 7 November, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered its judgment in cases C-484/17 and C-257/17 regarding the conformity of integration requirements for residence permit applicants in Dutch law with Article 15 of Directive 2003/86, regarding autonomous residence permits.

The cases concerned, inter alia, the applications of third-country nationals for extended residence permits by amendment of their existing residence permits, which were based on their residence with their spouses. After being denied the granting of such permits, the applicants brought the cases before the Dutch Council of State, which decided to refer a question of conformity of national legislation with the provisions of Directive 2003/86 to the CJEU.

The Court started by reiterating the Directive’s provision for autonomous residence permits for family members after five years of residence, noting that according to 15 (4) the conditions for such residence qualification are to be defined by national law. Having the Directive’s explicit provisions in mind, the judges reaffirmed that, in principle, it cannot be excluded that such a residence permit may be dependent on the successful completion of a civic integration examination on the language and society of that Member State. Specifically regarding the second case, the Court followed the aforementioned line of reasoning to add that EU law does not preclude national legislation which provides that an autonomous residence permit cannot be issued earlier than the date on which it was applied for.

On the civic integration requirements for residence permits, however, the Court observed that the connection of residence permits with integration frameworks cannot go beyond what is necessary for the objective of facilitating integration of third-country nationals, which is an issue for the national court to verify. In its consideration on the need for proportionality, the Court largely relied on its previous judgment in case C-153/14 (K & A), adding that the national court must ensure that the knowledge requirements and cost of the exam are not unreasonably high, effectively preventing willing applicants from succeeding. Moreover, individual circumstances, such as age, level of education, health and financial situation, should also be taken into account, leading the authorities to provide for exemption from the examination requirement when needed.

The Court, thus, concluded that the rejection of a residence permit due to failure to pass an integration procedure is lawful under EU law, as long as the aforementioned individual considerations are kept in balance.