Cutting off free movement air of EU citizens living abroad

There are many EU citizens who live outside the EU.   A Migration Policy Institute article says four million EU citizens were living just in the USA in 2014.  Millions more live in Canada, Singapore, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, India…


Distribution of Europeans living in the US

The European Commission and the British government are presently proposing to dramatically reduce the fee movement rights of those EU citizens who are married to non-EU citizens and who live outside the EU.

These EU citizens work, buy houses, get married (usually to non-Europeans, since most people around them are not European), have children: just normal daily life.   Often they stay forever in their new home, and sometimes they decide to move back to Europe for any of a thousand good reasons.

Presently, European Free Movement law allows them to trivially move to any European country (apart from their natural home country of European citizenship).   Their move, and that of their family, is hassle free, and they can easily do it even for short periods.

Some examples I personally know of people moving/working in Europe on the basis of EU free movement law:

  • Swiss computer engineer with Vietnamese wife (married 6 years) and two children  recently moved to work in the UK from Singapore
  • French musician and US husband (married 21 years) live in Seattle and both perform together in UK folk music venues (mostly music clubs and pubs)
  • British citizen professor lives in Canada with Canadian wife (married 11 years) and child do a sabbatical year in Paris

These examples can happen because the non-EU spouses is not required to satisfy restrictive local member state immigration laws.  Since the spouse can come along easily, these EU citizens have been able to use their free movement rights.

What are the Commission and British government proposing?

The Commission intends to adopt a proposal to complement Directive 2004/38 on free movement of Union citizens in order to exclude, from the scope of free movement rights, third country nationals who had no prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying a Union citizen

This is proposed in a Commission document addressing “abuse of the right of free movement of persons, but the exclusion is not limited to cases where is abuse.   It would apply to each of the example families mentioned above, because none of the spouses  had ever resided in Europe before marrying their (EU-citizen) spouses.

As Steve Peers points out, the wording says that “lawful residence” must have happened before the start of the marriage.  If it was not there when the couple married, there is nothing which can change the situation.  Not 20 years of marriage, and not a subsequent period of lawful residence in Europe.

Is this really an attempt to tackle abuse?  It seems to be simply a ploy to reduce the number of Europeans who can take advantage of their treaty right of free movement.

Why is this important?

It is generally hard to convince European citizens to take advantage of their free movement rights.  They tend to prefer not to  move away from their home country, and language is an issue.

Europeans who already live outside Europe have demonstrated that they are willing to live in a different country (and even continent!), to adapt, to work.   They tend to be better educated, and bring valuable experience back to Europe if they return.

Why is the European Commission proposing to dramatically restrict the right of free movement of these Europeans?   Why would member states agree to this being imposed on their citizens?

What to do?

Pause for a few minutes of amazement that the UK and the European Commission are even proposing this.

Reach out to the European Commission and tell them that this will have a disproportionate impact.

Most important is to reach out NOW to the embassies and foreign ministries of  your European member state.  If you are German, call the Auswärtigen Amts and your local embassy.  Same if you are French, or Polish, or Hungarian.   Let them know that you care, and want to maintain your right of free movement even if you have married a non-European.

Reach out to journalists you know and let them know about these proposed changes.

And reach out to your friends and family who might have an interest in this.  Know a European citizen who lives outside the EU?   This will affect them or their children!

Decisions are being made this week, and there will be little chance to influence the outcome after Thursday Feb 18..

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  • Manuel (@milincheta)  On February 17, 2016 at 15:58

    This makes no sense, what are the chances that the commission approves this?
    Any idea about time lines? of course it doesn´t change the status of families actually living in the UK, right?

  • Kevin Carter  On February 17, 2016 at 16:11

    i am a british citizen and my trinidadian wife and i have just entered our application which is today received by the processing centre in sheffield. i am a lecturer in electronic enegineering and my wife previously studied in france and spain for her masters in conference interpreting in french and spanish (no residency rights anymore).

    this proposal by the eu to restrict our rights to free movement amounts to a sabotage on our plans to live a free and productive life in both the UK and the EU.

    if this proposal is passed, i seriously expect to move to a country outside of the UK and the EU and conduct our business where it is more welcome. there will be nearly zero benefit for us to move our whole family life to the uk with this rule in place.

    like the families in this article we are too highly qualified to have arbitrary rules imposed on our international family which have the effect of limiting our prosperity. shame on EU.

  • jarldelange  On February 17, 2016 at 17:39

    I am a Dutch national living in Uganda, married to a Ugandan. I have used my rights of free movement from ’88 to ’92. Worked in Spain, Portugal, Italy, UK and Belgium. February 2015 my family-members applied for short stay visas Directive 2004/38/EC at the German Embassy Kampala. Denied. Appeal denied again. They say we want to use Germany to go to Netherlands.
    Since I have already used my Freedom of Movement rights and the position of the Germans I decided to go back to Netherlands. Applied in December 2015. Denied. Appeal IND denied. I am now waiting for their last decision.
    SOLVIT is useless. When it becomes difficult they stop. EC only works on general infringements, not for one person. The same goes for the EU Ombudsman. They just close your case.
    European Parliament is still in process, but takes long.
    Any advice??? So for the EC and UK to prepare those restricting rules. Don’t worry. They are already in place!! Member State Embassy’s in third countries are doing everything possible to BLOCK third country family-members to enter Europe by using the Directive 2004/38/EC.

  • Joyce @localgirlforeignland  On February 17, 2016 at 21:37

    This is a crazy way to express xenophobia…

  • British people  On February 17, 2016 at 22:13

    This is indeed a bad thing. Eroding our rights to a family life for the sake of crunching numbers. Don’t sit by and let this happen, this petition is a good place to start…

  • rioburton  On February 18, 2016 at 02:42

    I’m not surprised. After all the laws already created that have torn apart families within the UK. It’s disgusting.

  • Elissa Jane McCleary  On February 18, 2016 at 20:34

    would this affect the people who are already living and working in an eu state. my husband is british and i am american . Maybe there will be some kind of claw that will allow the ones that are in a eu member state with out having to worry about there families breaking apart . My husband and i have been married for almost 2 years and we are happy we have not done anything wrong as my husband is has become self employed as a stone wall mason tradtional stone walling

  • Phil  On February 19, 2016 at 17:31

    The above makes quite frightening reading for me, let me explain:

    I am a UK citizen, living and working in Germany as an engineer, I have been here for just over 8 months now, and prior to that I was in Norway for almost 9 years.

    I have known my fiancé for about a year, she is Kenyan, and is currently working in Qatar. Her work there finishes at the end of this month, and she is coming to Germany for 5 weeks holiday, we intend to get married while she is here.
    She has a job to return to in Bahrain if she needs too, but we hope to be able to apply for her to stay with me as a direct family member.

    We do not intend at the moment to live in the UK for the foreseeable future, though you can never be absolutely certain as to what the future may bring, but we would like to occasionally visit my relatives and friends. I was led to believe that as we would be living in another member state, and not my home one, the EU Freedom of Movement Law meant that she would be allowed to travel with me to the UK without having to apply for a visa, and that should I need to return to the UK permanently at any time in the future, she would be able to come with me under the same law.

    Am I right in this belief, and if so, I have two questions:

    Firstly, if this proposal does become law, how do you think we might stand on our rights to visit my relatives, and will we maybe have to apply for a visa for her whenever we want to visit the UK?

    And secondly, if I ever did need to permanently return to the UK, would we then have to go through the crazy situation that a lot of couple are already experiencing, where we might be split up as a family for quite a long time while I apply for her to come and live with me?

  • Lorem  On February 20, 2016 at 20:00

    This seems to be in contravention of free movement. However, since the EU Commission has already accepted the proposals I would assume that the likely scenario is:

    – UK votes to stay in EU (53% are in favor at the moment)
    – EU parliament passes the updates to the EU laws regarding free movement restricting rights of Non-EU national spouses.
    – …Eventually sometime in the future someone challenges this in the CJEU and if they find it restricts free movement, they overthrow it.

    So am I right in assuming that Article 10 residence cards will soon be a thing of the past? Especially for non-EU spouses who have not resided before in an EU country.

    Should we be prepared for this? I was personally planning to move to Germany with my spouse at the end of this year. Should I now move sooner before my derived rights of free movement are restricted by national law?

  • Pere  On February 20, 2016 at 22:06

    what was the outcome of the negotiation? Did it go through? It is a terrible proposal

  • Rahul  On February 27, 2016 at 04:53

    Does anyone know what decision was finally taken? Will non-EU spouses still be allowed to reside and work in Europe under the right to free movement law?

  • Andreas Moser  On March 10, 2016 at 19:57

    What a ****ing bloody mess!
    I hope the UK will vote NO, so we don’t have to deal with all of these changes.

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