(CN) — In knocking down a piece of Austria's tough immigration regime, the European Union's highest court on Thursday said Viennese officials were wrong to not renew a Kazakh man's long-term residency permit simply because he didn't spend much time in the Alpine nation.
The European Court of Justice ruled in a case involving a man from Kazakhstan who had his application to renew his long-term residency rejected by Austria in 2018 because it was found that he'd only lived in the country for a few days each year.
He appealed to Vienna's Administrative Court and that court asked the EU high court in Luxembourg to determine whether Austria's residency requirements for non-EU citizens are too restrictive.
Austria has long had one of Europe's toughest stances toward foreigners and it saw one of the continent's first far-right anti-immigrant political parties – the Freedom Party – become part of a coalition government in 1999 under the leadership of Jorg Haider.
The Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or FPO, as the party is known in German, was founded by former members of Austria's Nazi party. It picked up about 27% of the national vote in the 1999 elections and stunned the European political world with its strong nationalistic views and screeds against immigrants and Muslims.
The Freedom Party continues to play a key role in Austrian politics and once again became part of a coalition government in 2017 when it again joined forces with the mainstream conservative party, the Austrian People's Party, and once again stunning European politics.
The coalition fell apart in 2019 after the Freedom Party's leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was caught on video attempting to trade government contracts for campaign support from a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch.
The acceptance of the Freedom Party into Austria's government was feared because many saw the views of far-right parties becoming acceptable in the mainstream. At the same time, other extreme parties were seizing power across Europe, such as in Italy with the League, the Law and Justice party in Poland and the Fidesz party in Hungary.
Thursday's ruling by the Court of Justice provides non-EU citizens who have gained residency in the EU a clear victory and confirms the high court's mostly generous attitude toward asylum seekers, refugees and legal immigrants.
In its ruling, the court said EU laws say third-country nationals, such as the Kazakh man in Austria, need to be treated similarly to EU nationals in most areas and that they shouldn't lose their residency as long as they spend a little bit of time in the country where they have been granted residency.
“The objective pursued [by EU law] … is clear,” the ruling states. “Its objective is the integration of third-country nationals who are settled lawfully and on a long-term basis in the member states and, for that purpose, bringing the rights of those third-country nationals closer to those enjoyed by EU citizens.”
The court said non-EU citizens gain residency only once they have become settled in the EU and that they should be allowed to travel outside the bloc for long periods of time without fear of losing their residency.
Under EU law, member states are supposed to grant long-term resident status to third-country nationals who apply for it and who have resided lawfully and continuously for five years in an EU country. Applicants must show that they have the financial resources to meet their needs and those of family members without recourse to a country's social welfare system.
The court said that as long as such foreigners return every year, even for just a few days, they should be allowed to keep their residency.
“The importance thus attached to the principle of legal certainty as regards the acquisition of that status must necessarily also apply in respect of the loss of that status, since the loss invalidates that acquisition,” the ruling states.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @cainburdeau
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