This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 320294


Pre-language tests: means of integration or barrier to family reunification?

September 14, 2015

Author: Gracy Pelacani, University of Trento, Italy



Language is a means to participate in society. Even more for migrants, the knowledge of the language of the host state is a fundamental instrument to attain integration. European Union member states seem to have fully comprehended its importance, and, in 2012, language has been the ambit with the most important expenditure related to migrants’ integration. However, what are the possible consequences on individual rights when language proficiency is transformed in a requirement to be fulfilled in order to be allowed to migrate, i.e. in an admission condition? The question arises as regard language and civic tests which use is spreading across EU member states. The employment of integration-from-abroad instruments, in fact, risks to be discriminatory, especially in relation to the most vulnerable among would-be migrants, such as women, minors or illiterate persons.

The EU and the CoE guidelines on integration, and on admission schemes in particular, suggest to adopt a needs-based approach and tailor-made courses, recommendations which are not always followed in the use of pre-admission language tests. Therefore, it appears that more as an integration instrument, they are utilised as tools to select and curb the entry of undesirable third-country nationals. Eventually, the responsibility for integration is put on migrants’ shoulders, and this demonstrates that member states demand integration to be an ex-ante result rather than a two-way process.

Particularly in the case of family reunification, pre-language tests could turn into a disproportionate obstacle in the exercise of a right which fundamental nature has been extensively recognised. The contrariety of such a requirement to EU law on family reunification and rights of EU citizens have been acknowledged by the European Commission and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Recently, the Court of Justice of the European Union has found the German pre-language test to put a disproportionate obstacle to family reunification in a case regarding a Turkish citizen, and a decision is awaited on a similar provision in Dutch legislation.

The paper aims to enter into details of the case-law just mentioned in order to describe the most problematic aspects of the matter that have been brought recently to the Court of Justice attention.


Download the full paper: Gracy Pelacani