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Immigration Developments from the EU

The Court of Justice of the European Union has given its ruling in a case brought by the European Commission against the UK over its policy of refusing access to certain benefits to non-British EU citizens.

The Court sets the background to the case by explaining that regulation on the coordination of social security systems lays down a series of common principles to be observed by Member States so that the various national systems do not disadvantage people who exercise their right of freedom of movement and of residence within the EU.

One of the common principles that the Member States must observe is the principle of equality. In relation to social security, this principle takes the form of prohibiting any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

The Commission had received numerous complaints from non-British EU citizens resident in the UK over the UK authorities’ refusal to grant them certain social benefits because they did not have a right to reside in the UK. Since the Commission took the view that the UK legislation does not comply with the regulation, it brought an action for failure to fulfil obligations against the UK.

The Commission stated that under UK legislation it must be verified that people claiming certain social benefits are lawfully resident in the UK. According to the Commission, that condition is discriminatory and contrary to the spirit of the regulation since the regulation has regard only to the claimant’s habitual residence.

In response, the UK claimed that a host State may lawfully require that social benefits be granted only to Union citizens who fulfil the conditions for possessing a right to reside in its territory, conditions which are, essentially, laid down in an EU directive.

In addition, while acknowledging that the conditions conferring entitlement to the social benefits at issue are more easily satisfied by its own nationals (as they have, by definition, a right of residence), the UK maintained that in each case the condition requiring a right of residence is a proportionate measure for ensuring that the benefits are paid to people sufficiently integrated in the UK.

The Court of Justice dismissed the Commission’s action and ruled that the UK can require recipients of child benefit and child tax credit to have a right to reside in the UK. It says that although such a condition can amount to indirect indiscrimination, it is justified by the need to protect the finances of the host Member State.

In another recent European development, the Council of Europe has called on European countries to do more to prioritise migrant integration.

The Commissioner for Human Rights has published guidance for governments and parliaments to design and implement successful integration policies.

In particular, it highlights the European standards which govern this field and sets forth a number of concrete recommendations to ease migrants’ integration, with a focus on family reunification, residence rights, language and integration courses, access to the labour market and quality education, effective protection from discrimination and political participation.

“Migrants are not a threat, but an opportunity,” said Commissioner Muižnieks. “European countries should face up to the challenge of successful integration and see it as a long-term investment in their stable and secure future.”

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