Jeunesse v. The Netherlands, GC judgment 03/10/2014
“100. The present case concerns essentially a refusal to allow the applicant to reside in the Netherlands on the basis of her family life in the Netherlands. It has not been disputed that there is family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention between the applicant and her husband and their three children. As to the question of compliance with this provision, the Court reiterates that a State is entitled, as a matter of well-established international law and subject to its treaty obligations, to control the entry of aliens into its territory and their residence there. The Convention does not guarantee the right of a foreign national to enter or to reside in a particular country (see, for instance, Nunez, cited above, § 66). The corollary of a State’s right to control immigration is the duty of aliens such as the applicant to submit to immigration controls and procedures and leave the territory of the Contracting State when so ordered if they are lawfully denied entry or residence.
101. The Court notes the applicant’s clear failure to comply with the obligation to obtain a provisional residence visa from abroad before seeking permanent residence rights in the Netherlands. It reiterates that, in principle, Contracting States have the right to require aliens seeking residence on their territory to make the appropriate request from abroad. They are thus under no obligation to allow foreign nationals to await the outcome of immigration proceedings on their territory (see, as a recent authority, Djokaba Lambi Longa v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 33917/12, § 81, 9 October 2012).
102. Although the applicant has been in the Netherlands since March 1997, she has – apart from the initial period when she held a tourist visa valid for 45 days – never held a residence permit issued to her by the Netherlands authorities. Her stay in the Netherlands therefore cannot be equated with a lawful stay where the authorities have granted an alien permission to settle in their country (see Useinov v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 61292/00, 11 April 2006). However, the Court notes that until 22 June 2001 she was under a civil obligation, pursuant to section 6:83 of Book 1 of the Civil Code, to live with her husband (see paragraph 61 above).
103. Where a Contracting State tolerates the presence of an alien in its territory thereby allowing him or her to await a decision on an application for a residence permit, an appeal against such a decision or a fresh application for a residence permit, such a Contracting State enables the alien to take part in the host country’s society, to form relationships and to create a family there. However, this does not automatically entail that the authorities of the Contracting State concerned are, as a result, under an obligation pursuant to Article 8 of the Convention to allow him or her to settle in their country. In a similar vein, confronting the authorities of the host country with family life as a fait accompli does not entail that those authorities are, as a result, under an obligation pursuant to Article 8 of the Convention to allow the applicant to settle in the country. The Court has previously held that, in general, persons in that situation have no entitlement to expect that a right of residence will be conferred upon them (see Chandra and Others v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 53102/99, 13 May 2003; Benamar v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 43786/04, 5 April 2005; Priya v. Denmark (dec.) no. 13594/03, 6 July 2006; Rodrigues da Silva and Hoogkamer v. the Netherlands, no. 50435/99, § 43, ECHR 2006-I; Darren Omoregie and Others v. Norway, no. 265/07, § 64, 31 July 2008; and B.V. v. Sweden (dec.), no. 57442/11, 13 November 2012).
104. The instant case may be distinguished from cases concerning “settled migrants” as this notion has been used in the Court’s case-law, namely, persons who have already been granted formally a right of residence in a host country. A subsequent withdrawal of that right, for instance because the person concerned has been convicted of a criminal offence, will constitute an interference with his or her right to respect for private and/or family life within the meaning of Article 8. In such cases, the Court will examine whether the interference is justified under the second paragraph of Article 8. In this connection, it will have regard to the various criteria which it has identified in its case-law in order to determine whether a fair balance has been struck between the grounds underlying the authorities’ decision to withdraw the right of residence and the Article 8 rights of the individual concerned (see, for instance, Boultif v. Switzerland, no. 54273/00, ECHR 2001‑IX; Üner v. the Netherlands [GC], no. 46410/99, ECHR 2006‑XII; Maslov v. Austria [GC], no. 1638/03, ECHR 2008; Savasci v. Germany (dec.), no. 45971/08, 19 March 2013; and Udeh v. Switzerland, no. 12020/09, 16 April 2013).
105. As the factual and legal situation of a settled migrant and that of an alien seeking admission to a host country – albeit in the applicant’s case after numerous applications for a residence permit and many years of actual residence – are not the same, the criteria developed in the Court’s case-law for assessing whether a withdrawal of a residence permit of a settled migrant is compatible with Article 8 cannot be transposed automatically to the situation of the applicant. Rather, the question to be examined in the present case is whether, having regard to the circumstances as a whole, the Netherlands authorities were under a duty pursuant to Article 8 to grant her a residence permit, thus enabling her to exercise family life on their territory. The instant case thus concerns not only family life but also immigration. For this reason, the case at hand is to be seen as one involving an allegation of failure on the part of the respondent State to comply with a positive obligation under Article 8 of the Convention (see Ahmut v. the Netherlands, 28 November 1996, § 63, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996‑VI). As regards this issue, the Court will have regard to the following principles as stated most recently in the case of Butt v. Norway (no. 47017/09, § 78 with further references, 4 December 2012).
2. Relevant principles
106. While the essential object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by the public authorities, there may in addition be positive obligations inherent in effective ‘respect’ for family life. However, the boundaries between the State’s positive and negative obligations under this provision do not lend themselves to precise definition. The applicable principles are, nonetheless, similar. In both contexts regard must be had to the fair balance that has to be struck between the competing interests of the individual and of the community as a whole; and in both contexts the State enjoys a certain margin of appreciation.
107. Where immigration is concerned, Article 8 cannot be considered to impose on a State a general obligation to respect a married couple’s choice of country for their matrimonial residence or to authorise family reunification on its territory. Nevertheless, in a case which concerns family life as well as immigration, the extent of a State’s obligations to admit to its territory relatives of persons residing there will vary according to the particular circumstances of the persons involved and the general interest. Factors to be taken into account in this context are the extent to which family life would effectively be ruptured, the extent of the ties in the Contracting State, whether there are insurmountable obstacles in the way of the family living in the country of origin of the alien concerned and whether there are factors of immigration control (for example, a history of breaches of immigration law) or considerations of public order weighing in favour of exclusion (see Butt v. Norway, cited above, § 78).
108. Another important consideration is whether family life was created at a time when the persons involved were aware that the immigration status of one of them was such that the persistence of that family life within the host State would from the outset be precarious. It is the Court’s well-established case-law that, where this is the case, it is likely only to be in exceptional circumstances that the removal of the non-national family member will constitute a violation of Article 8 (see Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 28 May 1985, Series A no. 94, p. 94, § 68; Mitchell v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 40447/98, 24 November 1998; Ajayi and Others v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 27663/95, 22 June 1999; M. v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 25087/06, 24 June 2008; Rodrigues da Silva and Hoogkamer v. the Netherlands, cited above, § 39; Arvelo Aponte v. the Netherlands, cited above, §§ 57-58; and Butt v. Norway, cited above, § 78).
109. Where children are involved, their best interests must be taken into account (see Tuquabo-Tekle and Others v. the Netherlands, no. 60665/00, § 44, 1 December 2005; mutatis mutandis, Popov v. France, nos. 39472/07 and 39474/07, §§ 139-140, 19 January 2012; Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, cited above, § 135; and X v. Latvia [GC], no. 27853/09, § 96, ECHR 2013). On this particular point, the Court reiterates that there is a broad consensus, including in international law, in support of the idea that in all decisions concerning children, their best interests are of paramount importance (see Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, cited above, § 135, and X v. Latvia, cited above, § 96). Whilst alone they cannot be decisive, such interests certainly must be afforded significant weight. Accordingly, national decision-making bodies should, in principle, advert to and assess evidence in respect of the practicality, feasibility and proportionality of any removal of a non-national parent in order to give effective protection and sufficient weight to the best interests of the children directly affected by it.
3. Relevance of EU law
110. As to the applicant’s reliance on the Ruiz Zambrano judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU (see paragraph 71 above), the Court emphasises that, under the terms of Article 19 and Article 32 § 1 of the Convention, it is not competent to apply or examine alleged violations of EU rules unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention. More generally, it is primarily for the national authorities, notably the courts, to interpret and apply domestic law, if necessary in conformity with EU law, the Court’s role being confined to ascertaining whether the effects of such adjudication are compatible with the Convention (see Ullens de Schooten and Rezabek v. Belgium, nos. 3989/07 and 38353/07, § 54 with further references, 20 September 2011).
111. In the Dereci case (see paragraph 72 above), the Court of Justice of the EU, whilst finding no obligation under EU law to admit the third country national, also held that this finding was without prejudice to the question whether, on the basis of the right to respect for family life, a right of residence could not be refused but that this question had to be considered in the framework of the provisions on the protection of fundamental rights.
112. It is precisely in that latter framework that the Court will now examine the applicant’s case, namely – and as noted above – the alleged failure of the Netherlands authorities to protect the applicant’s fundamental right to respect for family life as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention.
4. Application of the above general considerations and relevant principles to the present case
113. The Court reiterates that the applicant’s presence in the Netherlands has been irregular since she outstayed the 45-day tourist visa granted to her in 1997. It is true that at that time admission to the Netherlands was governed by the Aliens Act 1965 but the applicant’s situation – in view of the reason why her request for a residence permit of 20 October 1997 was not processed (see paragraph 14 above) – is governed by the Aliens Act 2000. Having made numerous attempts to secure regular residence in the Netherlands and having been unsuccessful on each occasion, the applicant was aware – well before she commenced her family life in the Netherlands – of the precariousness of her residence status.
114. Where confronted with a fait accompli the removal of the non-national family member by the authorities would be incompatible with Article 8 only in exceptional circumstances (see paragraph 108 above). The Court must thus examine whether in the applicant’s case there are any exceptional circumstances which warrant a finding that the Netherlands authorities failed to strike a fair balance in denying the applicant residence in the Netherlands.
115. The Court first and foremost takes into consideration the fact that all members of the applicant’s family with the exception of herself are Netherlands nationals and that the applicant’s spouse and their three children have a right to enjoy their family life with each other in the Netherlands. The Court further notes that the applicant held Netherlands nationality at birth. She subsequently lost her nationality when Suriname became independent. She then became a Surinamese national, not by her own choice but pursuant to Article 3 of the Agreement between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Suriname concerning the assignment of nationality (see paragraph 62 above). Consequently, her position cannot be simply considered to be on a par with that of other potential immigrants who have never held Netherlands nationality.
116. The Court considers that a second important feature of the instant case is the fact that the applicant has been in the Netherlands for more than sixteen years and that she has no criminal record. Although she failed to comply with the obligation to leave the Netherlands, her presence was nevertheless tolerated for a considerable period of time by the Netherlands authorities, while she repeatedly submitted residence requests and awaited the outcome of appeals. The tolerance of her presence for such a lengthy period of time, during which for a large part it was open to the authorities to remove her, in effect enabled the applicant to establish and develop strong family, social and cultural ties in the Netherlands. The applicant’s address, where she has been living for the last fifteen years, has always been known to the Netherlands authorities.
117. Thirdly, the Court accepts, given the common background of the applicant and her husband and the relatively young age of their children, that there would appear to be no insurmountable obstacles for them to settle in Suriname. However, it is likely that the applicant and her family would experience a degree of hardship if they were forced to do so. When assessing the compliance of State authorities with their obligations under Article 8, it is necessary to take due account of the situation of all members of the family, as this provision guarantees protection to the whole family.
118. The Court fourthly considers that the impact of the Netherlands authorities’ decision on the applicant’s three children is another important feature of this case. The Court observes that the best interests of the applicant’s children must be taken into account in this balancing exercise (see above § 109). On this particular point, the Court reiterates that there is a broad consensus, including in international law, in support of the idea that in all decisions concerning children, their best interests are of paramount importance (see Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, cited above, § 135, and X v. Latvia, cited above, § 96). Whilst alone they cannot be decisive, such interests certainly must be afforded significant weight. For that purpose, in cases concerning family reunification, the Court pays particular attention to the circumstances of the minor children concerned, especially their age, their situation in the country or countries concerned and the extent to which they are dependent on their parents (see Tuquabo-Tekle and Others v. the Netherlands, cited above, § 44).
119. Noting that the applicant takes care of the children on a daily basis, it is obvious that their interests are best served by not disrupting their present circumstances by a forced relocation of their mother from the Netherlands to Suriname or by a rupturing of their relationship with her as a result of future separation. In this connection, the Court observes that the applicant’s husband provides for the family by working full-time in a job that includes shift work. He is, consequently, absent from the home on some evenings. The applicant – being the mother and homemaker – is the primary and constant carer of the children who are deeply rooted in the Netherlands of which country – like their father – they are nationals. The materials in the case file do not disclose a direct link between the applicant’s children and Suriname, a country where they have never been.
120. In examining whether there were insurmountable obstacles for the applicant and her family to settle in Suriname, the domestic authorities had some regard for the situation of the applicant’s children (see paragraphs 23 (under 2.19 and 2.21), 28 and 34 (under 2.4.5) above). However, the Court considers that they fell short of what is required in such cases and it reiterates that national decision-making bodies should, in principle, advert to and assess evidence in respect of the practicality, feasibility and proportionality of any such removal in order to give effective protection and sufficient weight to the best interests of the children directly affected by it (see above § 109). The Court is not convinced that actual evidence on such matters was considered and assessed by the domestic authorities. Accordingly, it must conclude that insufficient weight was given to the best interests of the applicant’s children in the decision of the domestic authorities to refuse the applicant’s request for a residence permit.
121. The central issue in this case is whether, bearing in mind the margin of appreciation afforded to States in immigration matters, a fair balance has been struck between the competing interests at stake, namely the personal interests of the applicant, her husband and their children in maintaining their family life in the Netherlands on the one hand and, on the other, the public order interests of the respondent Government in controlling immigration. In view of the particular circumstances of the case, it is questionable whether general immigration policy considerations of themselves can be regarded as sufficient justification for refusing the applicant residence in the Netherlands.
122. The Court, whilst confirming the relevant principles set out above (see paragraphs 106-109), finds that, on the basis of the above considerations (see paragraphs 115-120) and viewing the relevant factors cumulatively, the circumstances of the applicant’s case must be regarded as exceptional. Accordingly, the Court concludes that a fair balance has not been struck between the competing interests involved. There has thus been a failure by the Netherlands authorities to secure the applicant’s right to respect for her family life as protected by Article 8 of the Convention.
123. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.”