(CN) - The Netherlands cannot discourage immigration from outside the European Union by overcharging for resident permits, the EU's highest court ruled Thursday.
Under EU law, a member state must grant residency status to third-country nationals who have resided legally and continuously within its territory for five years. The same law also dictates that member states grant residence permits to third-country nationals who have already established residency in another member state and to members of their families.
The Dutch government charges residents who emigrated from outside the EU residency a permit fee ranging from about $235 to more than $1000.
Believing those charges to be excessive, the European Commission brought charges. EU law mandates the fees be "reasonable and fair and must not discourage third-country nationals from exercising their right of residence," according to the executive body.
The Court of Justice in Luxembourg found that the Dutch government had levied charges 7 to 27 times higher for third-country nationals than EU-based immigrants.
EU law allows each country to set its own fee schedule for immigration documents, but the Netherlands' fees are excessive and disproportionate, the court ruled.
"While it is open to the Kingdom of the Netherlands to make the issue of residence permits under [EU law] subject to the levying of charges, the level at which those charges are set must not have either the object or the effect of creating an obstacle to the obtaining of the long-term resident status conferred by that directive, otherwise both the objective and the spirit of that directive would be undermined," the decision states.
"Charges which have a significant financial impact on third-country nationals who satisfy the conditions laid down by [the law] for the grant of those residence permits could prevent them from claiming the rights conferred by that directive."
The Netherlands fails to fulfill its obligations under EU law with its current fee schedule, the court concluded.
Interestingly, the Dutch law that set the fee schedule for residency permits - adopted in 2000 and documented in the Court of Justice decision - provides waivers for immigrants who demonstrate they do not have the resources to pay for the documents.
The Netherlands included the waiver language so the law would adhere to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in 1950.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.