• Reunification Rights for Family Members of Naturalised EEA Nationals
  • December 1, 2017
  • Executive Summary

    Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that dependants of naturalised EU citizens have the right to apply under EU law for residence in the EU Member State where the EU citizen is naturalised. In this case, a Spanish national resided and worked in the United Kingdom, became a UK naturalised citizen, and then married a non-European Economic Area (EEA) national. The non-EEA national was denied a residency permit and appealed the decision.

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    The situation

    Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that dependants of naturalised EU citizens have the right to apply under EU rules if they wish to reside and work in the EU Member State where the EU citizen has been exercising Treaty rights in the host state. These rights are conferred directly by the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union.

    A closer look

    • Facts of case. A Spanish national resided and worked in the United Kingdom, became a UK citizen through naturalisation, and then married a non-European Economic Area (EEA) national. The non-EEA national applied for the right to reside in the United Kingdom under EU law.

    • UK position. The non-EEA national dependant was denied a residency permit based on the fact that his spouse could no longer be considered an “EEA national” in the United Kingdom, as she was now also a UK citizen.

    Therefore, EU law was not engaged. He challenged that decision by way of judicial review to the High Court. The High Court held that it was not clear whether the Citizens’ Directive, an EU law that would grant the UK naturalised citizen’s dependant rights of residence, would apply.

    • Procedural posture. The High Court requested that the CJEU, which interprets EU treaties and laws, decide on the correct interpretation of the law in this case.

    • CJEU decision. The CJEU found that family reunification rights in this situation can continue to fall under EU law. The time spent by the Spanish spouse in the United Kingdom as an EU citizen prior to naturalisation could not be disregarded, as this would be contrary to EU law. Crucially, naturalisation was a manifestation of the successful integration of an EU citizen in a host EU Member State. The UK naturalised citizen had spent time in the United Kingdom as a non-UK citizen and was an EU national exercising her rights as an EU citizen. Therefore, she could rely on EU law directly and her non-EEA spouse could rely on derived rights of residence, the conditions for the grant of which must not be stricter than those that would apply under the Citizens’ Directive.

    • Impact on EU Nationals. EU nationals who are naturalised in their host EEA country may benefit from this ruling since it allows them to apply for family reunification based on EU rules, rather than more restrictive individual EU Member States’ law. This judgment has ramifications across the European Union, and will impact EU residents in other countries.

    • Impact post Brexit. The impact for EU nationals in the United Kingdom post-Brexit will depend on the terms of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.