On Wednesday 10 May, the Court of Justice of the EU (the Court) delivered its much anticipated ruling in Chavez-Vilchez. In the judgment, the Court decided on the question of whether the third-country national parent of a minor child with EU citizenship must be allowed to remain in the EU, if the denial of the parent’s residence would force the child to leave EU territory with this parent, and would prevent the child from exercising its rights as an EU citizen. The case concerns the question of under what circumstances would this occur, in cases in which one of the parents is a third-country national and the other parent is an EU citizen. The ruling offers a clarification of the earlier judgement in Ruiz Zambrano, in which the issue of families in which one of the parents is an EU citizen was not discussed. For more information on that ruling, see my earlier blog post.
The preliminary reference concerns eight different cases in which eight third-country national mothers, without a valid residence permit in the Netherlands, rely on the EU citizenship of their minor child(ren) in order to claim that they have a derived right of residence in a social security dispute. Interestingly, the case before the national courts was about eligibility for child benefit and income support allowances, but the importance of the judgment is related to the residence rights of third-country parents and the determination of the interests of the child, as primary considerations in the assessment. In immigration law proceedings, their claims to a right of residence were all rejected. The mothers claimed that their EU citizen children would be forced to leave the territory of the EU, even though they have a father who is a Dutch citizen. Why the father cannot take care of the children is different in each of the cases. For instance, in one case, the Dutch father has declared that he does not want to take care of his child. In another case, the Dutch father cannot take care of his child by himself because he works full time.
The Court ruled that, when determining whether a child would be forced to leave EU territory if a derived right of residence were to be denied to a third-country national parent, it should be determined whether that parent is the actual caregiver to the child, and to what extent the child is dependent on that parent. In this context, the national authorities should take into account the right to respect for family life and the best interests of the child, as laid down in Article 7 and 24(2) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In this determination, it is not sufficient to establish that the child could live with the parent who is an EU citizen. This is a relevant factor, but should be considered in combination with other individual factors. The Court mentions the age of the child, the physical and emotional development of the child, the strength of the affective bond between the child and both of its parents, and the risks to the development and wellbeing of the child if it is separated from the third-country national parent, as factors which should be taken into account in the assessment.
The case is very interesting from two perspectives. From the perspective of the development of the rights associated with the status of EU citizenship, it is a clarification of how to determine whether a derived right of residence exists. From a doctrinal perspective, Chavez-Vilchez clarifies Ruiz Zambrano, but does not essentially change its interpretation. It was already clear that minor EU citizens may not be forced to leave the territory of the EU; Chavez-Vilchez merely clarifies how to determine whether this is the case. However, from the perspective of the application of national immigration law, the ruling can have major implications. In the Netherlands, based on the Council of State’s rather restrictive approach regarding the best interests of the child in immigration law, it is required that the third-country national parent substantiates that the Dutch-national parent is not able to take care of the child. In practice this is big hurdle to overcome, as it is assumed that the Dutch-national parent will ask for external help to make it possible to take care of the child. This ruling means that this line can no longer be followed. But the implications of Chavez-Vilchez may be more far-reaching. I would argue that, when determining compliance with the right to respect for family life, it can no longer be used as an argument against the applicant that family life can be exercised in the country of origin of the third-country national parent. In Dutch immigration law practice, this is one of the state’s key considerations in cases concerning family life with a third-country national, who does not have legal residence status or whose permit has been revoked because they do not comply with the substantive requirements for a residence permit based on family ties.
In Chaves-Vilchez, the Court has included fundamental rights and children’s rights in determining whether a right of residence for a third-country national parent can be derived from the EU citizenship of a child. It remains to be seen what the implications of this ruling will be for the application of national immigration law.
Lastly, on the first page of the ruling it is mentioned that Tomas Weterings acted as the representative of one of the applicants. Tomas sadly passed away in 2016. He was a passionate lawyer who fought like a lion for his clients and was an active follower of the case law after Ruiz Zambrano. This Court ruling would have but a big smile on his face…