European Court rules on EEA family permits for partners and spouses

18 December 2014

In a landmark ruling based on a case involving a dual British – Irish citizen and his Colombian wife, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has stated that the UK cannot block the entry of non-EU family members of EEA nationals arriving in the UK without a valid EEA family permit or visitor visa. This potentially opens the UK border to large numbers of non-EU nationals and the ruling has attracted some fierce criticism for that reason. The case upon which the ruling is based involved a family with a father of dual Irish and British nationality; his Columbian wife and their two British children who live in Spain. In order to visit the UK with her family, the non-EU wife must apply for a travel permit each time, involving travel from home in Marbella to Madrid. As this permit only lasts for six months, it was considered onerous that constant re-applications had to be made and because it could take months to complete it was necessary to take steps regularly to keep it up to date.

Concerns have been raised in Parliament that, although a majority of non-EU spouses and partners pose no threat to the security of the country, a blanket ‘free pass’ would cause a diminution of the security level of the country as a whole, as not all member states are as rigorous as the UK in allowing residence. The application for and awarding of the travel permit was the only check that the UK could make to ensure that they knew who was entering the country. The government had also recently announced that they would be tightening border controls to stem the tide of immigration from within the EU and this ruling will make it almost impossible to implement. As a result, the UK government is referring the ruling to the Court of Appeal, but Britain is bound by the ruling, at least until this court has passed its judgment. The ruling was made because in the view of the ECJ, the human rights of the individual were being compromised because there was no freedom of movement, due to the restrictions imposed by the need to hold a current travel permit.

There has been comment made by a top immigration charity which welcomes the changes proposed, but is saddened by the fact that because of more stringent financial rules brought in by the UK government in 2012, families are still parted from each other. The spokesman hoped that this new ruling on the travel permit will open the door to other changes, making family life a priority for the UK government when formulating laws to do with immigration of spouses, partners and children of UK citizens.

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