Top EU Court Rules Against Britain In Visa Dispute

The European Court of Justice has found the British visa system for family members of EU citizens to be illegal. Current visa regulations breach EU laws on free movement, European judges have ruled.


The European Union’s court said that Britain would no longer require entry visas for non-EU persons who were family members of EU citizens and held a residence permit from an EU member state.

In the case of Helena Patricia McCarthy Rodriguez, a Colombian who holds a Spanish residence permit and is married to a British-Irish national, authorities would have no right to insist on a visa before she went to Britain, the EU supreme court ruled.

“The directive on free movement of union citizens does not allow measures which … preclude family members from entering the territory of a member state without a visa,” said the Luxemburg based court on Thursday.

According to the court’s statement, Britain’s concern about a high number of identity fraud cases did not justify imposing a visa requirement on a whole group of people. However, Britain could refuse the right to visa-free entry on a case to case basis.

UK system ‘fair and lawful’

The European Court of Justice examined the case at the request of British judges, following a complaint from Helena McCarthy and her husband in 2012. McCarthy was required to travel to the British consulate in Madrid twice a year to renew her visa.

The ruling Conservative Party expressed its dissatisfaction with the ruling: “We believe that the UK’s visa system is both fair and lawful and does an important job in meeting this country’s migration needs,” said EU lawmaker Timothy Kirkhope.

“We must have a system robust enough to prevent abuse and flexible enough to assess each case on its merits. Most of all, we need a visa system controlled by the UK and not the EU,” he added.

UKIP attacks David Cameron

Prime minister Cameron is under great pressure to reduce immigration, and is faced with growing euroscepticism in his Conservative party. Many British voters believe their jobs and values are threatened by the influx of foreign nationals.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is pushing for the UK to leave the European Union, is gathering support in local polls. Members of the party attacked the prime minister, calling his efforts to control the immigration “naive or dishonest.”

“Britain will be forced to recognize residence permits issued by any EU member state, even though the system of permits is wide open to abuse and fraud,” lawmaker Steven Woolfe of UKIP said, adding that the ECJ is determined that Britain “never take back control of its borders.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman told reporters his government would wait for a ruling from the British High Court before deciding on a reaction.

– dj/mg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)