(CN) - Families of immigrants already residing in the EU can be made to take integration exams, but failing them shouldn't automatically bar reunification, an EU high court adviser said Thursday.
The opinion for the European Court of Justice is another in a string of recent cases involving how member states deal with the influx of immigrants. Earlier this year, a court adviser said the Netherlands had waited too long to force a pair of legal residents to pass integration exams - and that slapping the women with fines for not completing the tests was out of line with EU law.
The Dutch Council of State recently posed another immigration dilemma to the EU high court, again over its integration tests. In this case, the Dutch court questioned whether requiring families of third-country nationals residing legally in the Netherlands to take the tests as a condition of being reunited with their loved one complied with the EU's family reunification directive.
The test involves demonstrating a basic knowledge of both Dutch language and society. It also costs $350 to take - study guides in 18 languages are available for another $110 - and the test fee applies each time the test is taken until the applicant passes.
In her advisory opinion for the EU high court, Advocate General Juliane Kokott said that in principle the civic integration exams are legal. Learning the language of a country and having a basic knowledge of its social structure is essential to finding a job and staying safe in a new home, she said.
The Dutch requirements may run afoul of EU law, however, in how and when certain exemptions are applied, the adviser said.
Nationals from the United States and Canada are automatically exempt from integration rules. Dutch authorities can also grant a pass in cases of a serious physical or mental disability and when - after multiple tries - the applicant still can't pass the test.
"Failure to pass the civic integration examination ought not to lead automatically to family reunification being refused if there are grounds on which it should be granted in a particular case," Kokott wrote. "In so far as the Netherlands legislation enables those specific matters to be taken into account, particularly through the hardship clause, it is not incompatible with the family reunification directive."
The Dutch court must decide whether that's indeed the case, she added.
As for the $350 testing fee, the adviser to the Luxembourg-based court said that EU law gives member states some latitude in this regard - provided the fees are not a financial burden for the applicant.
"Fees must not, however, have either the object or the effect of creating an obstacle to the exercise of the right to family reunification, as otherwise the objective of that directive would be undermined," Kokott wrote. "If the fees would have a significant financial impact on the persons concerned, they could prevent third-country nationals from claiming the right to family reunification conferred by that directive.
"That risk exists in the present case," she added.
"Fees in the amounts stated can represent a significant financial burden in many parts of the world, in view of the per capita income there. They could, therefore, in individual cases, create a disproportionate obstacle that undermines the objective of the family reunification directive, particularly as the examination fee is payable every time the examination is taken. In such cases, a solution could lie in measures for the granting of a dispensation or deferral," Kokott concluded.
Her opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the case.