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ECJ rules non-discrimination of non-EU foreign students

In a recent judgement, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has reiterated the principle for which non-EU nationals who want to study in Europe must be treated in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. The issue was brought up by Mohamed Ali Ben Alaya, a Tunisian citizen who was offered a place at the Technical University (TU) of Dortmund, Germany, but he was refused the residence permit from German authorities. 

The case was brought to the Administrative Court of Berlin, which referred it to the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. The question was whether national authorities were still allowed to refuse the visa even if the applicant fulfils all of the minimum requirements laid out by the European Directive 2004/114/EC on the conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service. The ECJ stressed that no biased evaluation of applications from non-EU citizens can be considered as grounds for refusing to issue student residence permits or visas. The only two exceptions admitted are threats to national security or public health.

This judgement of the ECJ is a step towards a situation of indiscriminative mobility and it could have implications for all foreign students, as well as for unpaid trainees and volunteers. The European Directive to which the ECJ referred, was issued “in the context of a strategy designed to promote Europe as a whole as a world centre of excellence for studies and vocational training.” As a key aim of the Bologna Process is to enhance the competitiveness of European higher education globally, it is considered that simpler administrative immigration procedures can have an impact of the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area and increase the participation and mobility of non-EU countries. 

EUR-Lex - Judgment of the Court (Third Chamber) case C-491/13 Mohamed Ali Ben Alaya v. Germany of 10 September 2014
EUR-Lex - Council Directive 2004/114/EC of 13 December 2004