memorandum by Ms Strik, rapporteur
Languages play a major role as indicators of belonging
for migrants, and poor knowledge of a receiving society’s language
can be a serious impediment to successful integrationNote
basic socialising. This is the foundation on which integration tests
have been introduced, as a means of promoting integration, focusing
in particular on language learning.
2 The origins of many national integration strategies go back
to requirements for naturalisation. A common factor in these earlier
requirements, both inside and outside Europe, was that the level
of linguistic competence was rarely specified, and it was often
possible for would-be citizens to meet the requirements with very
low levels of functional language.
3 In recent years, however, there has been a steady but significant
change in requirements for citizenship as well as an increase of
requirements for residency, family reunification, etc. The main
target group of the tests are family members of residents in the
member States. This is the case for both the pre entry test and
the integration requirements after admission.
Today, in many countries, a specified level of language competence
has become a prerequisite for migrants to obtain not only citizenship
but also permanent residency.Note
The latest phenomenon
is the requirement for long-term migrants to demonstrate their commitment
to integration by showing language competence before leaving for
the destination country. This has led to a proliferation of linguistic
or citizenship “tests”, particularly in European Union member States.
These tests have become increasingly sophisticated with “a
sea change in membership requirements” and “fully defined criteria
with standardised methods of assessment” being introduced.Note
tests have become increasingly formalised across Europe, one of
the side effects has been a reduction in the possibility to take
into account the individual circumstances and capacities of the
persons for whom the tests have been designed.Note
are likely to be other consequences too, including when there are
heavy financial costs involved for those having to take the tests
and undergo the pre-test courses.Note
The lack of flexibility in tests means
that even where language programmes intended to help people pass
them exist, they may not help them achieve anything linked to their
life goals or integration, as the methodology, subject matter or
level of attainment may not be appropriate for this. Pre-entry tests
that are intended to assess someone’s employability may be inappropriate
for someone not intending to work. For those seeking to enter for
marriage, tests may either exclude them or, in the case of arranged
marriages, lead to “matches” that may be less than ideal for the persons
concerned. The costs of preparing for, and taking, tests may be
prohibitive for some and therefore discriminate against those with
low levels of income. Furthermore, the inability to pass, or difficulty
in passing a test for permanent residence or citizenship may reduce
the feeling of being integrated and cause resentment. Additionally,
the need for protracted studies may inhibit the ability to work,
which in itself is a key domain in integration.
6 This report seeks to chart the evolution of these tests and
to uncover the issues around their introduction that should be addressed
by the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly.
7 Therefore, among the many questions we need to look at, the
most important is perhaps to determine whether these tests are a
step forward or a step back and whether they improve the integration
of migrants. It is also necessary to examine some of the other implications
of using such tests in cases of family reunification, permanent
residence and citizenship. Furthermore, the impact of these tests
on people with little or no literacy in their own language, women
or other vulnerable groups such as the aged and the sick needs to
In the preparation of this report, I have been greatly helped
by a number of experts who attended a hearing on the issue in Brussels
in March 2012, the Language Policy Unit of the Council of EuropeNote
also by Mr Christopher Hedges, former Chair of the European Committee
on Migration (CDMG), who assisted me as a consultant.
2 The current
situation in member States
9 It is very evident from the policies and practices
relating to language and citizenship testing that I have examined
in preparing this report that there has been a steady hardening
over time. In order to illustrate this, I propose highlighting the
United Kingdom and Dutch experiences as case studies in order to
show how these integration tests have developed. These case studies
can be found in Appendix 1.
10 It is also evident from many of the studies and reports I
have examined that the Council of Europe “Common European Framework
of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR)”
is extensively used as a basis for assessing someone’s level of
“integration”. Whilst it was not initially envisaged that the CEFR
would be used as an assessment tool in these circumstances, overt
reference in requirements for migrants to the proficiency levels
described in the CEFR provides clear evidence of a steady increase
in levels of language competency required by many States for the
purposes of permanent residence or citizenship. The concern is that
this upward trend will lead to many migrants being denied security
Council of Europe “Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment” (CEFR)Note
This is a reference
tool widely used, amongst other things, in the assessment of language
has a sliding scale of proficiency at a number of levels arranged
in three bands:
A1 and A2: basic user
B1 and B2: independent user
C1 and C2:
One of its advantage is that it can
be used to define “profiles”, for example A2 level for speaking,
but A1 for reading or writing, rather than homogeneous levels (A2
for all competences). A fuller explanation of this tool is provided
in Appendix 2.
In looking at the comparative situation across member
States I have divided the review into two areas, namely pre-entry
tests and post-entry tests.Note
12 Although many countries have introduced tests for those seeking
entry for employment, the examples given here focus primarily on
the integration of migrant families.
2.1 Pre-entry tests
13 According to one academic study (the PROSINT study),
the introduction of mandatory pre-entry language tests for family
reunification is a clear case of countries learning from and using
the policies of others. The phenomenon started in the Netherlands
in 2006, but was then introduced by Germany (2007), the United Kingdom
and Denmark (2010) and Austria (2011).
France has also introduced a test for family members wishing
to enter the country, examining their knowledge of French and the
French Republic's values, and must demonstrate sufficient proficiency in
French or at least commit to learning it. The difference with other
States is that failing the test does not result in the denial of
admission to France, but only a delay. Family members who fail are
invited to attend courses in the country of origin. They last no
longer than two months (180 hours). If the family member passes
the test a visa is issued, if they do not the visa is still issued,
but further courses may be required once in France.Note
Furthermore, all non-EU migrants
to France have to sign an “integration contract”. In Denmark, by
contrast, the pre-entry test is taken in Denmark itself and applicants
are given a temporary short-term visa to enter the country and to
prepare for and take the test within nine months.
A common factor in all these countries is that the language
level required is set at a low level, namely A1.Note
16 No State-sponsored support is offered by the Netherlands,
the United Kingdom, Germany or Austria; indeed, in Austria, the
post-entry courses that were previously provided were withdrawn
on the basis that new migrants would not need them, as they would
already have started their integration before entry. Germany, however,
has a well-developed infrastructure through the Goethe Institute
that can help potential migrants prepare for the test.
17 There is a distinct blurring of the aim of pre-entry tests
for family reunification purposes between promoting integration
and reducing numbers. This can lead to a degree of cynicism on the
part of those involved and can consequently reduce the effectiveness
of what might be termed “legitimate” integration measures. The Dutch
Government has been most explicit in mentioning the likelihood of
a reduction in such migrants as a goal or side-effect of this policy.
It referred to its pre-entry programme as a “selection criterion” that
would reduce the levels of “migrants incapable of integration” by
something in the region of 25%. It mentioned specifically migrants
from Turkey and Morocco as being problematic in terms of their weak
starting position in the labour market because of their educational
background. None of the other countries explicitly mentions limiting
migration as a direct or indirect goal, although the United Kingdom
has said that it anticipates a reduction of 10% in applications
by spouses or partners. However, the reality of these policies has
been a significantly higher reduction in arrivals of family migrants
than was anticipated in the Netherlands (although in recent years
these have risen again somewhat). In the United Kingdom, the reduction
in the first year following implementation was in the region of
2.2 Post-entry tests
for permanent residence/citizenship
18 Post-entry programmes differ widely in their requirements,
in particular the level of language knowledge, the way of testing
and the obligation to attend courses. The following table gives
an overview of the main language requirements for permanent residence.
Formally no, in practice
A2 within 2 years, B1
after 5 years
Only offered to refugees
A2 within three years
May be imposed by authorities
May be imposed by authorities
Case-by-case basis, Cantonal
Yes, if English is below
B1 or shows progress
up one level in course
2.2.1 Language tests
In a number of countries such as Austria, Germany,
Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom,Note
necessary to take a test offered by a specified test provider. In
Spain and Switzerland, by contrast, the level of language knowledge
is assessed by an interview with a civil servant who has a high
degree of discretion in his/her decision. Language competence can
also be assessed through an interview or conversation with an immigration
officer (this happens in Croatia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta
20 Along with the countries already referred to, others also
requiring a test or language certificate include Bulgaria, Estonia,
Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, Norway,
Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. Thus a large number of States now
have explicit language requirements.
The range of language skills required varies from country
At one time Denmark stood
out as the country with the most restrictive level of language skills.
There have been steady increases in difficulty over the years, from
B1 in 2002 to B2 in 2006, with the number of marks required being
raised in 2008. However, Denmark has recently changed its integration
policy and has done away with the points system and the obligation
to sit a test for family reunification, although it intends to strengthen
actions to combat fraud and forced marriages. At the other end of
the spectrum, there are a number of countries that have no formal language
2.2.2 Country knowledge
(also referred to as “knowledge of society” or “citizenship” tests)Note
22 Requirements vary tremendously and besides the practical
knowledge needed to function in a new country, knowledge of topics
such as national social and political institutions, society, facts
about history, the Constitution, democratic values and the parliament
are also routinely examined. States that use these tests include
Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania,
Republic of Moldova, the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom.
It is interesting to note that the percentage of questions that must
be answered correctly and the number of questions asked are generally
higher in Europe than in traditional immigration countries such
as the United States, Canada and Australia.
23 An alternative way of assessing country knowledge is through
an interview (Slovakia and Switzerland being examples). France also
requires (as part of its “integration contract”) a visit to the
local “Mairie” for an introduction to French history and culture.
In Greece, there has been an informal interview assessing language skills
and knowledge of Greek history and culture since 2000. Luxembourg
is unique in that, since 2008, an applicant for citizenship is required
to take three two-hour civics courses on Luxembourgish history and
society as a requirement for naturalisation.
24 It is, however, worth mentioning that the majority of the
countries examined do not have any citizenship knowledge requirement.
3 How effective
are the integration tests?
3.1 Measuring integration
25 The Council of Europe has identified several key
domains of integration which could be used to measure the extent
to which language and civics tests support integration. In its 1988
report “Measurements and Indicators of Integration” the Council
of Europe refers to four key dimensions of integration – economic,
social, cultural and political.
26 It will immediately be apparent that the ability to use the
receiving society's language with a degree of proficiency is important
in all these areas. For example, in terms of economic integration,
the ability to understand the language of the workplace is paramount.
In many countries, the right to vote in national and local elections
is something that comes with the acquisition of citizenship and
it is clearly in the interests of new participants in the electoral
process to understand what they are voting for. The question, however,
is to what extent does language and citizenship testing lead to
better prospects of integration across the above domains?
3.2 What evidence is
there of the effectiveness of tests in promoting integration?
27 There are few studies on this issue. However, among
the research across Europe some examples can be given.
In the United Kingdom, the Centre on Migration, Policy and
Society (COMPAS) at Oxford University has recently finalised a study
on Citizenship and Integration in the UK.Note
aim of the project was to understand the process of integration
and acquisition of citizenship in order to improve the capacity
of the United Kingdom to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate
policies and measures for the integration of migrants.
29 Three key conclusions came out of the research: the first
was that applicants for British citizenship were well integrated
in British society and more likely to be engaged in the labour market,
more active in civic life, feeling more British and more likely
to have friendships across ethnic groups than either the foreign-born population
as a whole or, significantly, the United Kingdom population as a
whole. The second was that those who had had experience of the Life
in the UK learning materials and test, language learning in the
framework of the “path to citizenship” naturalisation measures,
and citizenship ceremonies were broadly satisfied with the experience;
and the third was that integration into British society could not
be understood as a single, one-dimensional process, but rather as
a multi-dimensional set of processes, occurring in different domains
of life, with several possible pathways to integration.
30 Insofar as a general conclusion can be drawn, those involved
in the study felt that the “Life in the UK” learning experience
contributed to a sense of belonging in the United Kingdom, with
legal citizenship and the English language as key foundations for
integration in other areas of life. This suggests that the current
“Life in the UK” system is broadly successful. The report, which
is still to be published, will however emphasise the need to continue
to provide language support as a means of enabling integration.
Recent public expenditure reductions will, however, mean that, in
practice, this recommendation will not be taken forward.
31 Turning to Germany, in 2006, the Federal Ministry of the Interior
commissioned research into how integration courses might be improved.
A key finding of the study was that, even after 600 hours of tuition, approximately
40% of all integration course participants were not able to achieve
competence in German at level B1. A key recommendation from the
report was therefore to introduce a more flexible system with variable teaching
hours, depending on the assessed needs of learners.
32 In the Netherlands, as mentioned earlier in the report, a
first evaluation of the new Civic Integration Act in 2010 highlighted
some serious difficulties in the first year following implementation
of the new Act, but significant improvements were made in 2008 and
2009. Numbers of participants in civic integration courses increased
rapidly, and by December 2009 127 000 migrants had taken the test.
Of these, 83 000 took part in courses, but a further 44 000 did
not receive any formal support and it was assumed they had prepared
for their integration test in another way. Since January 2010, passing
the test has become a prerequisite for obtaining a permanent or
independent residence permit. This requirement has caused a drop
of 40% in the number of permanent residence permits applied for
and granted. As these numbers are broken down by nationality, one can
conclude that some nationals, like Moroccans and Turks, are more
affected than others. Migrants who don’t manage to obtain permanent
residence rights as a result of the tests have no option other than
to remain on a temporary basis. In addition, as of 2013, family
members are required to pass the test within three years of arrival.
If they fail to do so, their residence permit can be withdrawn and
they can be expelled with the family being separated as a result.
Furthermore, since January 2013, integration courses are no longer
offered by municipalities. It is left to the private market to develop
them. Migrants who lack the financial means to participate can however
be granted a loan of up to 5 000 euros.
33 By the end of 2009, about 20 000 migrants had participated
in civic integration programmes on a voluntary basis. Almost everyone
eventually passed the test and on average about 80% passed at their
first attempt. However, little is known about the long-term effects
on the participation in Dutch society or about the integration of
those who were successful in the tests, whether post-entry and pre-entry.
Again in the Netherlands, a small-scale mainly qualitative
analysis has been made of the effects of integration programmes
on the participation in society of 29 skilled migrants.Note
of this analysis were mixed and very tentative. Some 50% of participants
in the labour market oriented programme achieved sustainable employment
in a reasonable period after completion of the programme. The programme
for parent carers seemed to increase parent involvement with schools
and voluntary organisations.
The report of the INTEC Project (a comparative study of integration
and naturalisation tests and their effects on integration in nine
European Union member States) has also provided some valuable insights.Note
The point is strongly made in this
report that successful integration depends on many other factors
besides knowledge of language and society. Furthermore, knowledge
of the language of the member State is not always necessary to become
integrated, especially if the migrant lives in an environment where
another language, for instance English, is spoken.
A Belgian (Flanders region) evaluation showed that migrants
who had successfully completed an integration course were more likely
to obtain work than those who did not. This perhaps shows the potential
of such programmes, provided they are properly adapted to meet the
needs of participants. Danish researchNote
found that a more efficient municipal
integration policy resulted in more employment participation, but
also highlighted that the necessary support can take different forms.
However, the Belgian evaluation also revealed that participation
in the course did not always result in a substantial improvement
in language skills or in social contacts with Flemish-speaking Belgian
citizens. And according to Austrian respondents, a receptive society is
a crucial factor in their participation and integration in society
and in avoiding a sense of isolation.
37 Some people agree that tests, such as those used in Germany
for example, help women to overcome isolation and to resist being
forced into marriage. The tests also facilitate exchanges and communication between
people who find themselves in the same situation. If the process
is embarked on while migrants are still in their country of origin,
it encourages them to take an interest in the host country and the
national language and thereby improve the conditions in which they
will, in the future, be integrated.
3.3 Some questions
about the appropriateness of the tests
38 Having said this, it is questionable whether such
tests are really appropriate for predicting the degree of integration.
As a rule, according to the INTEC study, tests tend to be an obstacle
to integration rather than an aid. Amongst other things, the study
found that knowledge acquired by migrants before arriving in the
host country is often lost when they finally arrive because the
tests are often held a long time after their arrival. Even a cursory
examination of statistics shows that such tests have led to a drop
in the number of visa requests, particularly in the Netherlands
and Germany. It has also been noted that some people living in rural
areas or areas far from the places where lessons are held have difficulty
in following classes, and that it is often very costly for them
to do so. Tests can often be particularly demanding for older people
or for those who have not had the benefit of higher education.
39 This leads to the question: what is the appropriate level
of competence that should be expected in such tests in order for
them to support integration rather than becoming a barrier to it?
Again, there is very little in the way of empirical research that
can help, although many language experts suggest that, for someone
with little formal education or limited literacy in their own language,
something in the region of A2 in an additional language is the maximum
they will ever be able to attain. Additionally, it is likely that
this level will be reached only in speaking and listening, with
a lower level in reading and writing.
40 In the United Kingdom, some language experts have reported
a phenomenon they call “course blocking”. This is where students
who have little or no formal literacy in their mother tongue cannot
progress beyond approximately A2 in speaking and listening or A1
in reading and writing (namely the lowest levels), despite being
very motivated to learn and attending classes regularly. The inevitable
conclusion from these admittedly non-scientific reports is that,
even where mandatory attendance and/or appropriate financial support is
in place, some migrants may never achieve the required level. This
in turn suggests that a scaled test is better than a one-level test,
and that writing should be omitted or at least the level required
should be basic.
During the preparation of this
report, researchers have provided some case studies that were collected
and published by the Goethe Institute in Germany. I will cite two
of these to indicate the practical difficulties that these tests
The first example involved a Thai woman who
wanted to marry a German man. The woman had to rent a flat in Bangkok
to attend a course, organise all the administrative matters and
pass the test. Although the woman had worked as a hotel manager
in Ireland she had severe learning problems and especially with
the A1 test, which was very time-consuming. She finally passed the
test but in total it cost her in the region of €2 000.
second concerned a woman from Cameroon. The woman had had only four
years of schooling and had never learnt a foreign language before.
In order to attend a course, which was only available in the capital,
she had to leave her home town and her two children. She lived in
the house of a friend, but for that she had to help on their farm.
In order to save electricity she was only allowed to do her learning
and homework during daytime.
3.4 What are the alternatives
41 It is interesting to note that some countries have
taken a different approach and the level of linguistic competence
required for permanent residence or citizenship in some is still
fairly low. In Spain and Switzerland eligibility for citizenship
is determined on the basis of an interview and the level of linguistic
competence required is determined on a case-by-case basis. If the
abilities of a particular individual are deemed to be too low, then
the authorities might require that person to attend a language development
42 In the United States – one of the largest recipients of inward
migrants over the last century – knowledge of English is still tested
fairly subjectively. Although the level of competence is not defined
in US Citizenship legislation it is accepted to be somewhere at
or below the level of A1. As in Spain and Switzerland, the applicant’s
ability to speak English is determined by a US Citizenship and Immigration
Service officer during an interview. To be successful, the applicant
has to read one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate an
ability to read in English. To pass the writing test, the applicant
must write one out of three sentences correctly. Also, during the
interview, the officer will ask the applicant 10 questions on civic
issues, of which they must answer six correctly. Of interest, however,
is the fact that all the sentences and questions are available for
applicants to study and memorise. Yet despite this apparently simple
test, new US citizens are fiercely loyal to their adopted country
and recent examples of “home-grown” terrorists there have generated
considerable shock. One way of reading the testing experience in
the United States is that it has contributed to a sense of achievement
and belonging as opposed to a hurdle and form of exclusion.
43 Another alternative is that provided for in France, where
the failure to pass the test does not lead to a denial of admission,
but rather a delay in admission. This reduces the adverse impact
on family life of the person failing the test and their families.
3.5 Can conclusions
be drawn about the effectiveness of integration tests?
44 Whilst there are success stories, there are also
stories of failure and of persons who have simply given up before
starting. For many, the pressure of courses and tests prior to and
after entry is often an insurmountable barrier that they cannot
overcome. It is worth emphasising that the minimum level for citizenship
in many countries – B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
– is a secondary school leaving level for second languages in many
European countries. In some countries it is also the case that many
native citizens would struggle to pass a test at this level in their
45 As there is such limited information available it is difficult
to reach any conclusions about the long-term effects of integration
measures and tests on the four key domains of integration identified
by the Council of Europe – economic, social, cultural and political.
Such evaluations as are available are relatively short-term and
tend to show mixed results. They do however highlight the need for
a flexible, tailored approach in order to better meet the needs
as well as match the capabilities of participants. Whilst participants
are generally grateful for support, particularly in learning a new
language, there is a degree of resentment when that support has
to be self-financed. The inevitable conclusion is therefore that,
if tests are to continue into the future, there is a pressing need
for further comparative evaluation studies into their long-term
effectiveness as a tool for efficient, sustainable and user-friendly
pre- and post-entry integration measures. A list of questions will
need to be addressed, including those contained in Appendix 3 of
4 Effects of the
tests: are human rights at stake?
46 Alongside the question of the effectiveness of the
tests it is also necessary to look at the human rights implications
of these tests, some of which have already been brought up earlier
in the report.
First and foremost, there is a strong argument that the very
existence of pre-entry tests for people seeking family reunification
can breach their human rights.Note
Whilst people migrating for the purposes
of marriage of course have a choice as to where they can live, often
that choice is restricted by practical considerations. For example,
would it be right to oblige a woman who had made a successful career
to return to famine or poverty in her country of origin simply because
of her desire to marry a particular man who could not pass a test?
Effectively, in such a situation, the parties concerned are being
denied the right to family life. This right, enshrined in Article
8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5), is to
be protected. States Parties to the Convention are only allowed
to limit this right if this is strictly necessary in a democratic society.
An even stronger, subjective right to family reunification is established
in the Family Reunification Directive, adopted by most of the European
Union member States in 2003.
right to family reunification
subject of family reunification is topical in that the EU Directive
on the issue is currently being reconsidered by the European Commission.
It has also been of long-term concern to the Council of Europe,
whose stance is that family reunification must be considered as
a fundamental right. The right to family life is of course enshrined
in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the
right to marry in Article 12. Family reunification is also an essential
component of successful integration. It has often been argued that
the introduction of restrictions on inward migration, including
tests that have to be passed, inhibit these fundamental rights.
At the very least, such restrictions reduce the freedom of choice
as to where families might wish to live. The application of pre-entry
tests might also affect traditional patterns of marriage and could
lead to resentment amongst existing long-term migrants. And on a
practical level, integration is made easier when migrants do not
have to worry about their family in another country.
November 2011, the European Union issued a Green Paper (COM(2011)735)
on the right to family reunification of third-country nationals
living in the European Union. One of the questions asked in this
paper concerned the optional clause (Article 7.2), which enables
member States to require third-country nationals to comply with
integration measures. This was one of the most controversial and
debated requirements during negotiations on the present directive,
and in its current form it does not give any precise indication
what these integration measures should entail or how they should
be applied. However, in the Green Paper the point is made that the
admissibility of integration measures should depend on whether they
serve the purpose of facilitating integration and whether they respect
the principles of proportionality and of subsidiarity. Decisions
on the application for family reunification in relation to passing
tests should take into account whether there are available facilities
(translated materials, courses) to prepare for them and whether
they are accessible (location, fees). Specific individual circumstances
(such as proven illiteracy, medical conditions) should also be taken
The summary of stakeholder responses
to the Green Paper highlights widely differing views and practices
across member States ranging from no integration measures at all
to compulsory participation in pre- and post-entry classes and the
passing of tests.
A worrying trend is that some member
States suggested changes to the rules on this issue with a view
to giving member States the flexibility to introduce even more restrictive
provisions (Austria, Germany and the Netherlands for example). I
am quite sure that Austria and Germany wanted to make sure they
could maintain their pre-entry test, but that they did not want
the possibility to make them more restrictive. The Netherlands did.
Other member States favoured a less restrictive approach with several
opposing compulsory integration measures (Belgium, Finland, Portugal,
Romania and Slovakia, as well as Turkey).
remain unanswered and further research is necessary. A list of some
of these questions is contained in Appendix 3.
the basis of this consultation round, Commissioner Malmström announced
that she would not propose amendments to the directive, but would
advocate the design interpretative guidelines for member States
on how to apply the provisions. Furthermore, she announced that
infringement procedures would be started vis-a-vis member States
that did not comply with the directive.
pre-entry tests, however, the Commission has already clearly expressed
its view. In 2011, the European Commission took the position in
a procedure before the Court of Justice that a pre-entry test is
not in accordance with the Family Reunification Directive if the
requirement implies that family reunification can be denied for
the sole reason that the applicant has failed the test.Note According to the
Commission, Article 7.2 aims to promote integration, but cannot
be used to undermine the objective of the directive to promote family
reunification.Note This position does
not leave any room for member States to maintain these tests. The
Commission’s view has already had an impact in national courts.
For example, in October 2012, the Administrative Court of Berlin
asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) whether
the language test foreseen in the EEC-Turkey Association Law should
be allowed and whether it was in compliance with Article 7.2 of
the Family Reunification Directive.Note Shortly
after this, the Dutch District Court fully endorsed the Commission’s
position before the Court of Justice, indicating that a preliminary
ruling was not necessary as the interpretation of the Commission
was crystal clear.Note
The revised European Social Charter also protects
the right to family reunion for migrants under Article 19.6, and
the European Committee of Social Rights has looked at the issue
of test requirements linked to integration policies. This examination
has prompted the committee to state that a requirement that members of
a migrant worker's family sit language and/or integration tests
to be allowed to enter the country, or pass these tests once they
are in the country in order to be granted leave to remain, discourages
applications for family reunion because of its particularly stringent
nature. As a result, it undermines the substance of the obligation
laid down in Article 19.6 of the Charter. Such requirements are
therefore, in the opinion of the committee, not in conformity with
49 A further consideration is the fact that tests require a specified
level of knowledge and skills. The effect of this is that they can
be used as a means to exclude poorly educated migrants, resulting
in discrimination against those who have not received the necessary
level of education, even though they might be useful and productive
members of society.
50 There is also the issue of access to rights and benefits in
receiving societies. There is an increasing risk that many migrants
will be left in a state of limbo. They may have to renew their periods
of temporary residence as an alternative to a permanent stay which,
in many countries, will be an expensive process. This may cause all
sorts of anxiety and the question has to be asked: is it fair and
reasonable to subject someone who has been working for many years,
and has been productive and honest, to the uncertainty of a temporary
and insecure situation? If migrants retain their temporary residence
permits because they cannot meet the requirements for permanent
residence, they will in general have fewer opportunities for integration.
Migrants with a temporary residence permit, depending on the member
State where they live, may be barred from full access to the labour market,
from social benefits or from voting in local elections.
51 The most important consequence of not obtaining the right
to permanent residence is the continuation of insecurity regarding
the right to residency. If, for instance, an income requirement
is no longer met, migrants may face withdrawal of their permit or
expulsion. Undoubtedly, this uncertainty will affect their prospects
for integration. Although the conditions set by member States are
meant to promote integration, the opposite effect can be produced
in the case of migrants who are willing to integrate but who lack
the capacity to pass the tests. Furthermore, in some member States
they may even lose their temporary residence permits if they do
not fulfil the integration requirements (for example in Austria
and the Netherlands). So, ultimately, is it appropriate to deny
residence to someone who, measured against the Council of Europe
domains of integration, is well integrated, simply because they
cannot pass a test?
52 There are also particular issues in respect of refugees. According
to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it has to
be borne in mind that persons who are forced to leave their home
and their country do not always have all the documents they need
in their possession, and that the trauma and pressure they undergo
may have an impact on their ability to learn a new language, despite
their efforts and their willingness to do so. Also, language tests
and examinations concerning the history and culture of the host country
may be more difficult for certain categories of refugees and non-forced
migrants, in particular the elderly or those with low levels of
education or literacy. But the consequences of insecurity about
a permanent stay are arguably greatest for refugees or migrants
who have been granted a residence permit on humanitarian grounds.
For them, there will be the constant fear of expulsion to a country
where they risk persecution or arbitrary violence which has perhaps
caused them physical and/or mental trauma in the past, and the memory of
which they would rather put behind them.
53 Much more work needs to be done on examining the human rights
implications of these tests, and, as with other parts of this report,
some of these questions are included in Appendix 3.
54 Tests were instigated by a small number of countries
but have now been embraced by a significant number of States. That
being the case, it is right and proper that their use and effectiveness
should be critically examined, particularly where there are concerns
that they breach human rights, where they have unintended consequences,
where they exclude persons with a legitimate claim to entry, permanent
residence or citizenship, and where they are actually functioning
as control measures disguised as integration initiatives. The fundamental
dilemma for Europe is therefore the extent to which tests promote
integration and the point at which they become a barrier and actually
begin to inhibit it.
55 There may be circumstances in which it is appropriate to start
the process of integration prior to arrival. It is not unreasonable,
and may indeed be beneficial, to give intending migrants some clear
ideas about the reality of life in the country to which they aspire
to migrate. Often contacts and indeed well-intentioned relatives and
friends can paint a completely unrealistic picture of life in another
country. Providing accurate and honest guidance can therefore go
some way towards managing expectations and promoting integration.
It could also be argued that some form of testing to ensure that
individuals have actually learnt from the orientation and training
that has been provided is also legitimate.
56 There are some good examples in which countries provide subsidised
or free pre-entry training in the language and knowledge of the
receiving society for the applicant. This practice should be encouraged
as it clearly supports integration. However, if such programmes
are linked to a formal test, this should serve only to indicate
what further support might be needed post-entry and should not be
the sole means of excluding migrants who fulfil all the other criteria
57 A related issue is the level of competence required to pass
pre-entry language tests. The levels should be attainable and there
should be strong support for learners. There should be alternatives
to formal tests for those who do not have the necessary levels of
literacy to take them, and under no circumstances should migrants
who have failed tests despite their best efforts be denied family
reunification. This means that making an effort should be a requirement
but achieving a given competence level should not.
58 Turning to post-entry tests, these were originally used to
check that persons seeking citizenship had adequate knowledge of
the language (and latterly country knowledge) of the receiving society.
There are some examples of good practice, where tests have been
set at an appropriate level, with alternatives also available, and
where effective support is offered to those preparing for them.
However, these examples are increasingly rare, and of even more
concern is the fact that some countries that had good models are
now changing them and introducing tougher measures.
59 Of greater concern is the fact that tests originally intended
for citizenship are increasingly being used to determine whether
or not someone should be granted permanent residence. It is very
clear that uncertainty about their future status and security of
residence will inhibit the ability and motivation of migrants to
invest in their integration. Furthermore, a temporary residence
permit can undermine opportunities to integrate, for instance because
of poorer prospects in the labour market, lack of access to social
benefits or to a mortgage in order to buy a house, etc.
60 It is equally clear that setting levels of competence that
for some are unattainable will prevent access to the full range
of rights and responsibilities that these migrants should enjoy.
The most vulnerable groups in this respect include older people
and those with low literacy or little education.
61 Whilst countries have every right to seek to reduce or manage
migration, using means that are described as integration measures
in order to do so will surely devalue genuine and well-intentioned
A particular problem occurs in relation to family reunification.
Tests that result in excluding persons who otherwise fulfil the
requirements for entry or that have the potential to breach the
human rights of the persons concerned should not be permitted.Note
We should also take steps to ensure that
failure in a post-entry test does not exclude the person concerned
from access to services, rights and benefits that they would otherwise
63 Further research into the effectiveness of tests in promoting
integration is required, for example to ascertain what the appropriate
level of language competence should be and identify the best ways
in which this level of competence can be developed. There should
also be an exploration of the levels of competence that can reasonably
be achieved by persons with limited literacy.
In 2012, the Council of Europe launched a website devoted
to the Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants (LIAM).Note
Its main aims are to offer a platform
that enables member States to exchange experiences and reflect on
policy and practice in this area; to provide assistance to them
in developing coherent and effective policies (or in reviewing them)
in keeping with shared Council of Europe values and principles;
to provide practical support (including tools) for the effective
implementation of policy and for assessment; and to encourage good practice
and quality assurance in language teaching and testing.
The work already undertaken by the Council of Europe’s Language
Policy Unit is therefore an invaluable tool in aiding member States
to design language policies, courses and tests appropriate to the
needs of migrants and indeed of society. Using the guiding principles
outlined on the LIAM website, member States should be encouraged
- define required proficiency
levels in a realistic and flexible manner that reflects the actual
needs and capacities of individual migrants;
- ensure that formal tests, where used, conform to accepted
standards of quality and are not misused to exclude migrants from
- devise effective incentives rather than ineffective sanctions;
these could include tangible rewards for language learning, such
as speedier access to employment or social benefits in order to
- consider the advantages and disadvantages of different
types of testing and focus on “best practice” in test design;
- ensure that tests are taken under conditions which are
equally fair for all.
66 Member States should be encouraged to look at alternatives
to tests that might be fairer and less discriminatory for all or
for specific groups of migrants. There is a pressing need for further
comparative evaluation studies of the long-term effectiveness of
tests as a tool for efficient, sustainable and user-friendly pre-
and post-entry integration. In particular, this research should
examine the extent to which the mode of entry (work, family reunion,
asylum) should be taken into account. We should consider asking
the Language Policy Unit of the Council of Europe to join in this
work. The unit is well placed to advise on this and could also be
asked to consider whether further work might be undertaken based
on the CEFR to make it a more suitable aid to generic language testing,
and to pilot some processes the unit has already developed.
67 Last, but by no means least, there should be a comprehensive,
open and honest examination of the risks posed to integration by
allowing certain migrants to reside only on a temporary basis because
of their inability to pass a linguistic or integration test.