EU Targets Residency Condition on School Aid

     (CN) – Europe’s highest court dealt another blow to the attempts of member states to bolster residency requirements for students receiving subsidized higher education.
     On the heels of a June decision finding that Luxembourg improperly barred nonresidents from receiving financial aid, the Court of Justice of the European Union took Germany to task Thursday for its student grant residency requirement.
     Germany gives students a one-year grant for college studies in another EU statem but students that want to extend the grant for more than the first year must prove they lived in Germany for at least three years without interruption before they began their studies.
     Germany used the law against two of its own nationals who left Germany as children with their parents, and returned a few months shy of the three-year requirement.
     The German government argued that its scheme guarantees financial aid only for students who have sufficiently integrated themselves into German society, saving the country from unnecessary financial burden.
     The Luxembourg-based court found Thursday, however, that it also infringes on citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of movement.
     “Such a condition is likely to dissuade nationals, such as the applicants in the main proceedings, from exercising their right to freedom of movement and residence in another member state, given the impact that exercising that freedom is likely to have on the right to the education or training grant,” the decision states.
     And while EU law allows countries to justify some infringements in the event of an unreasonable burden to the state, Germany’s residency requirement proves “too general and exclusive, and goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives pursued and cannot be regarded as proportionate,” according to the ruling.
     “Although the existence of a certain level of integration may be regarded as established by the finding that a student has resided in the member state where he may apply for an education or training grant for a certain period, a sole condition of residence risks excluding from funding students who, despite not having resided for an uninterrupted period of three years in Germany immediately prior to studying abroad, are nevertheless sufficiently connected to German society,” the justices wrote. “That may be the case where the student is a national of the state concerned and was educated there for a significant period or on account of other factors such as his family, employment, language skills or the existence of other social and economic factors. Furthermore, other provisions of the legislation at issue in the main proceedings themselves permit factors distinct from the place of residence of the applicant for the grant to be relevant, both in order to establish the centre of family interests of the person concerned and to determine whether the conditions for the award of the grant are fulfilled in the case of home-country nationals who have established their permanent residence abroad.”
     The EU high court handed the cases back to the German national court “to carry out the necessary checks in order to determine whether the persons concerned can prove a sufficient level of connection with German society capable of demonstrating their integration into that society,” rather than relying solely on a stringent three-year residency requirement.

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