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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Which countries in Europe impose language tests for residency permits?

Certain countries across Europe demand foreign citizens pass a language test to qualify for certain residency permits. But how does each country compare and what level of language do they require?

Which countries in Europe impose language tests for residency permits?
More and more countries in Europe are talking about making language tests compulsory for residency permit applicants. Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Germany

Germany requires people to have a certain standard of the language to gain permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis / unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis).

When it comes to language skills, the current rules require German at level B1 on the six-level scale of competence laid down in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

This involves taking a test at a language school recognised by authorities. The test includes reading, listening, writing and spoken sections. B1 level on the CEFR scale is defined as being able to “understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.”

Other residency permits, such as the Blue Card, do not generally have formal language requirements.

German citizenship has a B1 language requirement. Note that both citizenship and permanent residency have several other requirements, such as living in Germany legally for a certain period of time.

READ ALSO:

France

At present there is no formal language requirement for residency permits, although for certain groups the Office français de l’immigration et de l’integration (OFII) can require people to attend French classes. The classes are provided for free in most circumstances.

This could change, however, as the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has outlined a plan to make French test compulsory for certain types of long-term residency permit.

At this stage his plan has little detail, so we don’t know what level of French will be required, but it seems to be targeted only at those who are seeking a long-term residency permit, so new arrivals will not be required to have mastered French in advance. The plan does not affect people applying for visas.

READ ALSO French language tests for the carte de séjour: What we know so far

Only French citizenship has a formal language requirement at present – those applying for citizenship through residency need to present a certificate, no more than two years old, to show that they have passed writing, reading, listening and speaking tests at B1 level. A previous exemption for over 60s was scrapped in 2020. 

TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

Spain

Spain doesn’t currently have any language level requirements to obtain residency, and there is no evidence that this is or has ever been considered. 

The country does however expect foreigners applying for Spanish citizenship to prove some command of the Spanish language by obtaining an A2 DELE qualification (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) if they’re not originally from a Spanish speaking country. 

The A2 level is still fairly basic however, it’s the second lowest and equates to being a high-level beginner capable of understanding and putting together everyday sentences.

There’s also a language requirement for foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries who want to have their qualifications recognised to work in regulated professions in Spain (homologación) – a B2 – equal to a high intermediate.

Even though proving a good command of Spanish isn’t a requirement for residency, learning the language is a must for foreigners. Unlike in other European countries such as the Netherlands or Scandinavian nations, Spaniards don’t generally speak English, so learning at least some Spanish is essential for everyday tasks, unless foreigners only want to stay in so-called ‘expat bubbles’.

Switzerland

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration, which includes speaking at least one of Switzerland’s languages. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency to get a standard residency permit. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

Permanent residents however will need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

More information about language requirements – including what you need for Swiss citizenship – is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

Norway

Residence permits in Norway come in two forms, permanent and temporary. There are no language requirements or tests for temporary permits, nor are there any plans in the works to bring them in. 

Permanent residence does come with language requirements, however. Depending on where you are from, the type of temporary permit you have held, whether you were granted residency to live with somebody in Norway, and their situation, you will need to complete between 250550 hours of Norwegian language tuition and complete a social studies course.

In some situations, you can get around the language tuition by proving that you have adequate knowledge of Norwegian. For example, if you have passed all four parts of the Norwegian exam at a minimum of level A2: oral, listening, reading and written presentation, you do not need to meet the tuition requirements. 

Similarly, when applying for citizenship, you will need to meet language requirements. EU and non-EU citizens must pass an oral Norwegian language test at either A2 or B1 level. A2 refers to an elementary level of Norwegian, and B1 is considered semi-fluent. For citizenship, some residents will need to have also completed tuition in the language also.  

The change to the language requirement from A2 to B1 will apply from autumn 2022 at the earliest, according to the UDI

Italy

For most types of Italian residency permit, applicants are not required to sit a language test.

But if you’re a non-EU citizen applying for a permesso di soggiorno per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (long-stay residency permit) based on being resident for five years or more, there is a requirement to prove at least A2 level competency in Italian.

The A2 level is still fairly basic: it’s the second-lowest on the the six-level scale of competence laid down in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and equates to being a higher-level beginner able to understand and put together simple sentences.

If you’re applying for citizenship, Italy demands proof of having a slightly better command of the language: applicants must show they’ve passed an Italian language exam at the level of B1 or higher.

The B1 level is a lower intermediate level of proficiency, and equates to being able to communicate in most everyday situations. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Italy’s language test for citizenship

For those who simply need to pass the exam in order to get the required paperwork, and don’t need to prove their linguistic competency for any other reasons (such as study or employment), there is a simplified ‘B1 cittadinanza’ (B1 for citizenship) exam created specifically for this purpose. 

For residency and citizenship applications, certificates proving you’ve passed a language test are only valid if issued by a school (in Italy or abroad) which is accredited by one of four Italian language institutes recognised by the Interior Ministry.

Even though you don’t need a particularly high level of Italian to obtain either residency or citizenship, language skills will prove essential for foreign residents. Unlike in some parts of Europe, most Italians don’t speak English – at least outside of the more touristy areas.

Sweden

The Swedish government is currently carrying out an inquiry on a proposal that would require permanent residence applicants to prove basic Swedish proficiency. Right now, there are no language requirements for other short-term residence permits, including study permits and work permits. 

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your Swedish good enough for permanent residency?

Under the proposal, applicants would have to pass a test certifying that they can read, write, listen, and speak at an A1/A2 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. In the Swedish government’s free language classes, known as Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), this corresponds to passing course C, the third of four levels. 

This proposal is still in its inquiry stage, which will end in May 2023. 

Austria

Austria has language requirements for most of its residence permits and German knowledge is expected to increase as people need to renew their cards.

There is no language requirement for the most common work-based permit, the Red-White-Red card, though. However, there is a point-based system to be able to apply for the permit and knowing German or English will give the candidates points – how many and for what level will depend on which group they belong to.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

For example, “very highly qualified workers” will get ten points (they need 70) if they speak German or English at an A2 level. But “skilled workers at shortage occupations” can get 15 points if they can prove German knowledge at a B1 level (ten points for A2 and five for A1) and another ten for English at a B1 level.

The Red-White-Red Card is issued for 24 months and entitles the holder to fixed-term settlement and employment by the employer specified in your application.

READ ALSO: Working in Austria: Why foreigners find it hard to integrate in the workplace

After that, they may apply for the Red-White-Red Plus, which is also the permit for family members of Austrian citizens, Red-White-Red Card workers, and EU citizens.

In many cases, including for spouses of Austrian citizens, but not for family members of EU citizens, there is a language requirement of an A1 level German even before immigration. You can read more about the requirements and exceptions here. The requirement will go up to B1 (which is also the minimum level for naturalisation) as they seek a long-term settlement, with few exceptions.

Denmark

Denmark requires people who are granted residence based on family reunification to pass a language test. This only applies to family reunified spouses (and not, for example, children).

People granted residence in Denmark on the grounds of family reunification with spouses are normally required to pass two tests in Danish, meeting the A1 and then A2 standards. The A2 requirement does not apply to people who applied before July 2018.

The A1 level test must be passed within six months of being granted a residence permit in Denmark, and the A2 level test within nine months.

Passing the language tests reduces the so-called ‘bank guarantee’ (bankgarantien), a sum of money which must be provided by the spouse as security against the granting of their partner’s work permit. More detail on this can be found here.

READ ALSO: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart

There are various ways for non-EU residents to get a Danish work permit based on their profession. A list of different types of work sectors and requirements needed can be found on the website nyidanmark.dk.

These include the Fast-Track Scheme, Pay Limit Scheme and Positive Lists among a series of other routes. Unlike with family reunification, profession-based residence and work permits do not have a language requirement.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between temporary and permanent residency in Denmark?

Elsewhere in Europe

In the Netherlands, the requirements will depend on many factors, including your nationality.

Before getting a residence permit, many people must go through a process to receive a provisional residence permit, the MVV. During this process, there is a Dutch language requirement.

However, citizens of EU and EEA countries, Australia, Canada, the UK, US, Switzerland and other countries do not need the MVV and, therefore, will not need to prove Dutch skills. Furthermore, people who are family members of an EU or EEA citizen (but not Dutch citizens) also don’t need the provisional residence permit and can skip the language requirements in most cases.

Depending on your purpose of stay, you might not need an MVV or proof of Dutch knowledge. If you need to fulfil language requirements, the level is A2, but the Dutch government intends to increase it to B2.

You can find more information here.

In Portugal, there are no language requirements for long-term residence visas regardless of the applicant’s nationality or purpose of stay.

After five years of legal residency, though, it’s possible to apply for a permanent residence permit, which has an A2 Portuguese level requirement.

In the United Kingdom, most people who are applying for citizenship or settling in the UK (the “indefinite leave to remain”) will need to prove their knowledge of the English language if they are 18 or over.

The requirement is at least a B1 level of English which can be confirmed by submitting a qualification or having a degree taught or researched in English.

You do not need to prove your knowledge of English in certain circumstances.

In Belgium, things can get a little tricky. Anyone who wants to stay in the country for more than 90 days will have their “efforts to integrate into Belgian society controlled”, according to the Foreign Office.

There are several exemptions to this, though, including minors or refugees. You can check all exemptions here.

Those who are not exempt will be required to prove “integration efforts” whenever applying for the renewal of their permits and for a limited period after, depending on the type of permit. The checks also apply to those with permanent residence.

The assessment of the “integration efforts” takes into account several criteria, including if the person is employed, if they attended an integration course, went to school, and if they have knowledge of the local language.

If the efforts are considered non-existent or insufficient, the Foreign Office may “refuse to renew the residence permit or terminate the stay” – though they add that they will consider the nature and strength of family ties in Belgium.

Don’t forget to check the official websites and consult with the embassies and local offices to get information on your specific case.

Member comments

  1. As I understand it, language requirements cannot be imposed on residency permits for those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement

  2. I wished EU regulations would force some administrations to learn the language of a neighbouring country. Especially when two municipalities of different countries have a border in common. You can see the results of this type of language barriers in eastern Germany. Where whole areas are left empty.

    Language requirements are not always a good thing. Many people believe they will get a better job if they speak the language. But some places, English is all you need to earn far more than the average. And with regular jobs you will earn even less or you could even end up in the same poverty loop the locals do.

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BREXIT

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

A large number of British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU rules in 2020 may not have received a reminder from Danish authorities to update their residence status ahead of a Brexit deadline, meaning many missed the deadline and could face having to leave.

Scores of Britons in Denmark may not have received Brexit residency letter

Are you a British national in Denmark facing a situation similar to the one described in this article? If so, you can contact us here — we’d like to hear from you.

British nationals who registered as resident in Denmark under EU rules in 2020 – the last year in which EU free movement was available to UK citizens – may not have been officially notified by Danish authorities’ alerts that they needed to apply for updated residence status by the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

That means that people who moved to Denmark from the UK in the year 2020 are more likely to have missed the deadline.

Those who had been living in Denmark before 2020 were much more likely to have received the official notification by Danish authorities.

The issue has potentially serious consequences: the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) is rejecting applications that were submitted late if the reason for late submission was that the applicant did not receive reminder letters in 2021.

As recently reported by The Local, Phil Russell, a 47-year-old financial services administrator who lives in the western part of Zealand, has received notice he must leave Denmark by early December after missing the deadline to apply for a post-Brexit residence permit.

SIRI sent reminders to UK nationals resident in Denmark to update their residence status under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement prior to a December 31st, 2021 deadline. But Russell did not receive the reminders and eventually discovered he had missed the deadline just four days into January 2022.

READ ALSO: Briton living in Denmark urges authorities to reverse his deportation order

Russell’s situation appears to be far from unique. The Local has spoken with several other UK nationals in Denmark who say they did not receive the information letters. All of the UK nationals moved to Denmark in 2019 or 2020 and all of them registered as resident in the country in 2020.

“I am also a British person in Denmark who did not receive any notifications or reminders regarding the need to apply for new paperwork by the deadline,” a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Local via email.

“I tried to stay oriented to post-Brexit issues but have, to date, received no information regarding what is required of me post-Brexit and have never seen any of the ‘extensive ad campaigns’ which were apparently designed to inform people like me. I only became aware that I did not have the correct paperwork when leaving to visit the UK in June,” they said.

“I have called for updates regarding my application and have been told it is still being processed,” they said.

“It does seem unreasonable that a government agency is seemingly putting the responsibility on the resident to know of any changes that need to be made to government records, especially when SIRI has not contacted those who they are now seemingly penalising for applying late,” they said.

“I had not ever moved to a different country before this and I’ve certainly never needed to negotiate the complicated nature of Brexit before. I do not know what is normal or not when it comes to residency documents, so if something is required, I would expect to be contacted directly,” said the person, who was granted residency in Denmark in September 2020 under EU rules.

“I have felt failed by SIRI since I found out I had not been contacted at all, let alone three times. Had I known that I needed to reapply, I would have done so straight away,” they said, adding that they experience “daily anxiety knowing there is the possibility of my application being rejected due to its late submission”.

“If there has been a technical error on SIRI’s part, that they should not penalise residents for this,” they said.

READ ALSO: How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

Two other people, who both registered as resident in Denmark in 2020 under EU rules, also said they had not received SIRI’s information letters.

“While I received my new permit, I also did not receive the letters about renewing,” Danny Maiorca, who moved to Denmark in September 2020 and registered as a resident the following month, told The Local via email.

Maiorca said the only reason he knew to apply for the updated residence permit was by regularly checking SIRI’s website in 2021.

After initially moving to Denmark in 2019, Alex Stuart registered as a resident under EU rules in 2020. He told The Local he also had not received all of SIRI’s information letters in 2021 and had submitted his post-Brexit residence application after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

“SIRI hasn’t said anything to me yet, just that they are reviewing my case. But now that I see what they are saying to others I expect my answer won’t be very different,” he said.

The Local has contacted SIRI on repeated occasions to ask whether its information letters failed to reach all persons from the UK who moved to Denmark in 2020. We also asked whether it made sense to revoke the residency status of persons who submitted late applications after not receiving the letters.

The agency has yet to provide an answer but said it intends to respond to our questions. We will update this article or publish a new one once we receive a response.

In an internal record from SIRI which has been seen by The Local, the agency concludes that its information letters were a “supplementary service and part of an information campaign.”

The letters were also available on the agency’s website.

Not receiving the letters was therefore not to be considered an extenuating circumstance in an appeal against a rejected, late application, the agency notes in the internal memo, dated March this year.

SIRI has previously confirmed that as of September 30th, it had received 290 applications for post-Brexit continued residency status after the December 31st, 2021 deadline. Some 17,811 applications were received before the deadline.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

In a written comment, the British Embassy in Copenhagen said it “is aware that a number of UK nationals residing in Denmark submitted applications for residency after the relevant deadline.”

“The Embassy has been working closely with the Danish authorities on implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and regularising the stay of those UK nationals who have chosen to make Denmark their home,” it said.

British Ambassador to Denmark Emma Hopkins has requested a meeting with the Danish authorities to discuss the application of the rules to UK nationals, the embassy added.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said that “anyone who applied before the deadline [December 31st, 2021, ed.] will have their rights protected, even if their application has yet to conclude. The Danish authorities will accept late applications if there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.”

The Facebook group British in Denmark, which seeks to provide advice and support for UK nationals who live in Denmark, said that of the group’s 1,400 members, only two who moved to Denmark in 2020 have confirmed they received the SIRI information letters.

While some subsequently applied to update their residence status after the deadline, others were able to meet the deadline because they found out about it through the group or via their personal network, a spokesperson from the group said.

“The problem is that if they arrived in 2020, a lot of people didn’t have that network,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s been left up to the specific countries to decide how they’re going to deal with the late applications. So it’s not written in the Withdrawal Agreement,” she noted.

“Each country can interpret it as long as you’re complying with the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement,” she said.

The citizens’ rights section of the Withdrawal Agreement states that “where the deadline for submitting the application… is not respected by the persons concerned, the competent authorities shall assess all the circumstances and reasons for not respecting the deadline and shall allow those persons to submit an application within a reasonable further period of time if there are reasonable grounds for the failure to respect the deadline”.

The text of the agreement states that anyone living in an EU member state before the end of the transition period has the right to remain.

“In the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement, everyone was sent a letter. But the people of 2020 didn’t get a letter,” the British in Denmark spokesperson said.

“We really want as many late applicants as possible to join our group. We’ve got people together to provide support for each other and the late applicants who are in there have found it really, really useful,” she added.

“There are devastating potential consequences for them to be facing this alone with their families,” she said.

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