27th Sep 2023

Court gives backing to foreign spouses of EU citizens

Non-EU nationals married to EU citizens are entitled to live in their spouse's country, the European Union's highest court ruled on Friday (25 July).

The case concerned four couples living in Ireland who appealed a decision by the Irish government to deport them because their spouses - the husband in each case - was not an EU citizen and had never lived lawfully in another EU member state.

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  • Under EU law, EU citizens can work, study and live in any of the 27 member states (Photo: European Commission)

Under Irish law a spouse from outside the European Union must have lived in another member state first in order to get residency rights.

However the court ruled that this is in breach of EU law on the free movement of citizens.

"The right of a national of a non-member country who is a family member of a Union citizen to accompany or join that citizen cannot be made conditional on prior lawful residence in another member state," said the court ruling.

"The [EU law] applies to all Union citizens who move to or reside in a member state other than that of which they are a national, and to their family members who accompany them or join them in that member state."

The court also said that a non-EU citizen can benefit from the law on rights of spouses "irrespective of when and where their marriage took place and of how that spouse entered the host member state."

The bloc's rulebook says that all EU citizens can work, study and live in any of the 27 member states.

This also applies to their family members – even if they are from outside the European Union - so long as they have a residency permit issued by a member state.

The case against the Irish justice ministry was taken by four African men who had been denied residency in Ireland.

One of the cases concerned Cameroon national Blaise Metock, who in 2006 came to Ireland and married fellow Cameroonian Ngo Ikeng. Ms Ikeng was living in Ireland and had British citizenship.

Another case concerned Roland Chinedu from Nigeria. In 2006, he married German national Marlene Babucke, who was living in Ireland but was refused residency rights.

But the ruling is set to make the rights of member states on their immigration policies clearer.

It states that the host member state "is, however, entitled to impose penalties, in compliance with the directive, for entry into and residence in its territory in breach of the national rules on immigration."

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