The European Court of Justice has found in the Naime Dogan vs. Germany Case C-138/13 that Germany’s pre-entry language test contravenes the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and constitutes a disproportionate obstacle to family reunification.
In this judgement, the ECJ did not pronounce on the pre-entry test’s compatibility with the Family Reunification Directive (MPG briefing on the Directive). Still, the ECJ will have to address this question soon in response to a request for a preliminary ruling from the Netherlands lodged on 3 April 2014 (Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken; other parties: K and A, Case C-153/14). Still, the ECJ’s judgement does hint at its likely answer on whether such a test can apply to all types of third-country nationals: “the language requirement at issue goes beyond what is necessary in order to attain the objective pursued, in so far as the absence of evidence of sufficient language knowledge automatically leads to the dismissal of the application for family reunification, without account being taken of the specific circumstances of each case“.
The 2007 test was assessed by MIPEX as not yet favourable for integration (scoring 57/100 points), because the test creates as many opportunities as obstacles for learning German. MIPEX monitoring shows that the same or greater obstacles exist in the language tests for family reunification in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, who also submitted observations in this ECJ case, as well as the United Kingdom. The weaknesses of these tests were presented in a 2011 MIPEX blog, later cited by The Guardian. Attaining basic level German and passing the professional test abroad is feasible for many learners, but not for several types of vulnerable learners who are not exempt from the test. Moreover, free German courses and tests are not available in and across several countries. The MIPEX scores predict that the pre-entry test may only be a language learning incentive for spouses abroad who can pay. Only France’s language requirements come out on MIPEX as slightly favourable for language learning because France’s network of migration and language representatives abroad provide free courses for all applicants and provide exemptions for all those cannot access them.
Evaluations by government and independent academics have confirmed that pre-entry language tests and requirements have only marginal effects on language learning and integration, as MPG summarised in its 2011 literature review. The effects on language learning are marginal and often disappear by the time spouses get their visa, move to the country, and enroll in an in-country language course, where language teachers have said that they cannot tell the difference between immigrants who passed a pre-entry test and those who did not. The tests also seem to have little-to-no-effect on the education, labour market integration, or incidence of forced marriages among reuniting spouses. Instead, the introduction of pre-entry tests and other recent integration requirements has clearly had a disproportionate effect on limiting the number of family reunifications, as demonstrated by national statistics and by MPG’s comparative analysis.
Instead of pre-entry tests, high-quality and accessible information sessions and language courses, such as those by the Goethe Institute, British Council, or Alliance Francaise, have been found to improve spouses’ motivation and preparation for their life in their new country of residence. Unfortunately, these courses are often unavailable, inaccessible, low-quality, or expensive in many countries and circumstances. As a result, language courses abroad prior to migration are often much less effective than courses in country after migration. In Germany’s case, spouses who cannot pass the pre-entry test cannot then move to Germany, where they would have learned German rather well through the government’s obligatory German courses. Indeed, Germany’s in-country language courses have been well-evaluated as effective for learning German (Special Feature on Language Courses from European Website on Integration).