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Germany can't require language skill for family visas, court rules

European UnionInterior PolicyImmigration
Germany's 'no deutsch, no Deutschland' visa policy rejected by European Court of Justice
Right to family reunification outweighs Germany's concerns about language abilities, European court rules

Germany's practice of imposing a language proficiency test on Turks applying for family reunification visas is contrary to European Union values and agreements, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.

The ruling directly applies only to the German government's requirement that family members of German-resident Turks and other non-EU citizens prove they have basic German-language proficiency to qualify for a visa.

But as other countries in the 28-member European Union also impose language-based tests on visas and citizenship, the ruling from Brussels could foreshadow the judges' thinking on laws throughout the bloc that condition legal residency on mastery of the official tongue. Latvia, for instance, requires a test for Latvian language that has resulted in the exclusion of much of its considerable Russian population from citizenship.

The EU already has laws mandating visa-free travel and residency among the member states. But Turkey is not yet a member of the alliance.

About 3 million Turks live and work in Germany and even many longtime residents return to their homeland to marry, then submit the paperwork for their spouses to join them.

Thursday's ruling was based on a challenge brought by Turkish citizen Naime Dogan, who was denied a visa to join her husband in Germany in January 2012 when she couldn't demonstrate basic proficiency in the German language.

German law was amended in 2007 to require the language skill in what was described then as an attempt to combat forced marriages and improve integration.

"The language requirement at issue goes beyond what is necessary in order to attain the objective" and serves to make family reunification more difficult, the court said.

The European Union embraces "multilingualism" as a core value for the continent, according to its agreed policy goals. But people from EU member states as well as those of the European Free Trade Assn. — Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland — are exempt from the language-proficiency test required by Germany. 

Citizens from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States also aren't required to demonstrate German proficiency.

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