European free movement law is structured to ensure that the EU citizen has a clear path to move to another EU country. (Many of the ECJ court decisions enabling free movement rights for family members are justified, in large part, because restricting the rights of family to accompany the EU citizen will discourage the EU citizen from exercising their free movement right).
The non-EU family have a right to be with their on-the-move EU family members, and have the same rights to work or study or access the resources of the host member state.
When free movement is the topic, the law centres around the EU citizen.
- Family members can get a free visa, to be issued “as soon as possible and on the basis of an accelerated process”, as long as they will be travelling with or joining the EU citizen.
- Family members can enter without a required visa as long as they are travelling with the EU citizen and are carrying proof of the relationship.
- Family members are entitled to a Residence Card when the EU citizen is exercising treaty rights.
- After a period in another host member state, family members can move back with their EU citizen family member to the EU citizen’s home country.
- they are smart
- they have been successful
- they are working
- they are rich or are paid lots
- they are beautiful
- they play chess well
- of their age / sex / race / nationality
These things may or may not be important within a specific family, but they play no role in any free movement decision under EU law.
The SINGLE thing that qualifies non-EU family members to have free movement rights is that they are the family member of an EU citizen whom they will be travelling with.
Exception 1: The non-EU family member retains, in some situations, right of residence if the EU citizen dies or there is a divorce in a long-standing relationship.
Exception 2: the family member (and also the EU citizen!) can in theory be refused if they individually are a very specific threat to national security or to big public policy. But this is rare and there is a high barrier for this being used to exclude people.
See also: What does the EU citizen need to do?