Annotated Return Directive

The relevant European (European Court of Human Rights, Court of Justice of the European Union) case-law can be accessed by clicking on each provision

Article 2: Scope

  1. This Directive applies to third-country nationals staying illegally on the territory of a Member State.
  2. Member States may decide not to apply this Directive to third-country nationals who: (a) are subject to a refusal of entry in accordance with Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code, or who are apprehended or intercepted by the competent authorities in connection with the irregular crossing by land, sea or air of the external border of a Member State and who have not subsequently obtained an authorisation or a right to stay in that Member State; (b) are subject to return as a criminal law sanction or as a consequence of a criminal law sanction, according to national law, or who are the subject of extradition procedures.
  3. This Directive shall not apply to persons enjoying the Community right of free movement as defined in Article 2(5) of the Schengen Borders Code.
CJEU

Article 3: Definition

For the purpose of this Directive the following definitions shall apply:

  1. ‘third-country national’ means any person who is not a citizen of the Union within the meaning of Article 17(1) of the Treaty and who is not a person enjoying the Community right of free movement, as defined in Article 2(5) of the Schengen Borders Code;
  2. ‘illegal stay’ means the presence on the territory of a Member State, of a third-country national who does not fulfil, or no longer fulfils the conditions of entry as set out in Article 5 of the Schengen Borders Code or other conditions for entry, stay or residence in that Member State;
  3. ‘return’ means the process of a third-country national going back — whether in voluntary compliance with an obligation to return, or enforced — to: — his or her country of origin, or — a country of transit in accordance with Community or bilateral readmission agreements or other arrangements, or — another third country, to which the third-country national concerned voluntarily decides to return and in which he or she will be accepted;
  4. return decision’ means an administrative or judicial decision or act, stating or declaring the stay of a third-country national to be illegal and imposing or stating an obligation to return;
  5. ‘removal’ means the enforcement of the obligation to return, namely the physical transportation out of the Member State;
  6. ‘entry ban’ means an administrative or judicial decision or act prohibiting entry into and stay on the territory of the Member States for a specified period, accompanying a return decision;
  7. ‘risk of absconding’ means the existence of reasons in an individual case which are based on objective criteria defined by law to believe that a third-country national who is the subject of return procedures may abscond;
  8. ‘voluntary departure’ means compliance with the obligation to return within the time-limit fixed for that purpose in the return decision; 9. ‘vulnerable persons’ means minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence.
CJEU

Article 4: More favourable conditions

  1. This Directive shall be without prejudice to more favourable provisions of: (a) bilateral or multilateral agreements between the Community or the Community and its Member States and one or more third countries; (b) bilateral or multilateral agreements between one or more Member States and one or more third countries.
  2. This Directive shall be without prejudice to any provision which may be more favourable for the third-country national, laid down in the Community acquis relating to immigration and asylum.
  3. This Directive shall be without prejudice to the right of the Member States to adopt or maintain provisions that are more favourable to persons to whom it applies provided that such provisions are compatible with this Directive.
  4. With regard to third-country nationals excluded from the scope of this Directive in accordance with Article 2(2)(a), Member States shall: (a) ensure that their treatment and level of protection are no less favourable than as set out in Article 8(4) and (5) (limitations on use of coercive measures), Article 9(2)(a) (postponement of removal), Article 14(1) (b) and (d) (emergency health care and taking into account needs of vulnerable persons), and Articles 16 and 17 (detention conditions) and (b) respect the principle of non-refoulement.
CJEU

Article 5: Non-refoulement, best interests of the child, family life and state of health

Article 6: Return decision

  1. Member States shall issue a return decision to any third country national staying illegally on their territory, without prejudice to the exceptions referred to in paragraphs 2 to 5.
  2. Third-country nationals staying illegally on the territory of a Member State and holding a valid residence permit or other authorisation offering a right to stay issued by another Member State shall be required to go to the territory of that other Member State immediately. In the event of non-compliance by the third-country national concerned with this requirement, or where the third-country national’s immediate departure is required for reasons of public policy or national security, paragraph 1 shall apply.
  3. Member States may refrain from issuing a return decision to a third-country national staying illegally on their territory if the third-country national concerned is taken back by another Member State under bilateral agreements or arrangements existing on the date of entry into force of this Directive. In such a case the Member State which has taken back the third-country national concerned shall apply paragraph 1.
  4. Member States may at any moment decide to grant an autonomous residence permit or other authorisation offering a right to stay for compassionate, humanitarian or other reasons to a third-country national staying illegally on their territory. In that event no return decision shall be issued. Where a return decision has already been issued, it shall be withdrawn or suspended for the duration of validity of the residence permit or other authorisation offering a right to stay.
  5. If a third-country national staying illegally on the territory of a Member State is the subject of a pending procedure for renewing his or her residence permit or other authorisation offering a right to stay, that Member State shall consider refraining from issuing a return decision, until the pending procedure is finished, without prejudice to paragraph 6.
  6. This Directive shall not prevent Member States from adopting a decision on the ending of a legal stay together with a return decision and/or a decision on a removal and/or entry ban in a single administrative or judicial decision or act as provided for in their national legislation, without prejudice to the procedural safeguards available under Chapter III and under other relevant provisions of Community and national law.
CJEU
ECtHR

Article 7: Voluntary departure

  1. A return decision shall provide for an appropriate period for voluntary departure of between seven and thirty days, without prejudice to the exceptions referred to in paragraphs 2 and 4. Member States may provide in their national legislation that such a period shall be granted only following an application by the third-country national concerned. In such a case, Member States shall inform the third-country nationals concerned of the possibility of submitting such an application. The time period provided for in the first subparagraph shall not exclude the possibility for the third-country nationals concerned to leave earlier.
  2. Member States shall, where necessary, extend the period for voluntary departure by an appropriate period, taking into account the specific circumstances of the individual case, such as the length of stay, the existence of children attending school and the existence of other family and social links.
  3. Certain obligations aimed at avoiding the risk of absconding, such as regular reporting to the authorities, deposit of an adequate financial guarantee, submission of documents or the obligation to stay at a certain place may be imposed for the duration of the period for voluntary departure
  4. If there is a risk of absconding, or if an application for a legal stay has been dismissed as manifestly unfounded or fraudulent, or if the person concerned poses a risk to public policy, public security or national security, Member States may refrain from granting a period for voluntary departure, or may grant a period shorter than seven days.
CJEU
ECtHR

National security and public order

Article 8: Removal

  1. Member States shall take all necessary measures to enforce the return decision if no period for voluntary departure has been granted in accordance with Article 7(4) or if the obligation to return has not been complied with within the period for voluntary departure granted in accordance with Article 7.
  2. If a Member State has granted a period for voluntary departure in accordance with Article 7, the return decision may be enforced only after the period has expired, unless a risk as referred to in Article 7(4) arises during that period.
  3. Member States may adopt a separate administrative or judicial decision or act ordering the removal.
  4. Where Member States use — as a last resort — coercive measures to carry out the removal of a third-country national who resists removal, such measures shall be proportionate and shall not exceed reasonable force. They shall be implemented as provided for in national legislation in accordance with fundamental rights and with due respect for the dignity and physical integrity of the third-country national concerned. 5. In carrying out removals by air, Member States shall take into account the Common Guidelines on security provisions for joint removals by air annexed to Decision 2004/573/EC. 6. Member States shall provide for an effective forced-return monitoring system.
CJEU
ECtHR

Article 9 : Postponement of removal

  1. Member States shall postpone removal: (a) when it would violate the principle of non-refoulement, or (b) for as long as a suspensory effect is granted in accordance with Article 13(2).
  2. Member States may postpone removal for an appropriate period taking into account the specific circumstances of the individual case. Member States shall in particular take into account: (a) the third-country national’s physical state or mental capacity; (b) technical reasons, such as lack of transport capacity, or failure of the removal due to lack of identification.
  3. If a removal is postponed as provided for in paragraphs 1 and 2, the obligations set out in Article 7(3) may be imposed on the third-country national concerned.
CJEU
ECtHR

Article 10: Return and removal of unaccompanied minors

  1. Before deciding to issue a return decision in respect of an unaccompanied minor, assistance by appropriate bodies other than the authorities enforcing return shall be granted with due consideration being given to the best interests of the child.
  2. Before removing an unaccompanied minor from the territory of a Member State, the authorities of that Member State shall be satisfied that he or she will be returned to a member of his or her family, a nominated guardian or adequate reception facilities in the State of return.
ECtHR

Article 11: Entry ban accompanying return decision

  1. Return decisions shall be accompanied by an entry ban: (a) if no period for voluntary departure has been granted, or (b) if the obligation to return has not been complied with. In other cases return decisions may be accompanied by an entry ban.
  2. The length of the entry ban shall be determined with due regard to all relevant circumstances of the individual case and shall not in principle exceed five years. It may however exceed five years if the third-country national represents a serious threat to public policy, public security or national security.
  3. Member States shall consider withdrawing or suspending an entry ban where a third-country national who is the subject of an entry ban issued in accordance with paragraph 1, second subparagraph, can demonstrate that he or she has left the territory of a Member State in full compliance with a return decision.
    Victims of trafficking in human beings who have been granted a residence permit pursuant to Council Directive 2004/81/EC of 29 April 2004 on the residence permit issued to third-country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or who have been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration, who cooperate with the competent authorities (1) shall not be subject of an entry ban without prejudice to paragraph 1, first subparagraph, point (b), and provided that the third-country national concerned does not represent a threat to public policy, public security or national security. Member States may refrain from issuing, withdraw or suspend an entry ban in individual cases for humanitarian reasons. Member States may withdraw or suspend an entry ban in individual cases or certain categories of cases for other reasons.
  4. Where a Member State is considering issuing a residence permit or other authorisation offering a right to stay to a third country national who is the subject of an entry ban issued by another Member State, it shall first consult the Member State having issued the entry ban and shall take account of its interests in accordance with Article 25 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement (2).
  5. Paragraphs 1 to 4 shall apply without prejudice to the right to international protection, as defined in Article 2(a) of Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted (3), in the Member States.
CJEU
ECtHR

National security (See also Article 7 RD)

Article 12: Procedural safeguards

  1. Return decisions and, if issued, entry-ban decisions and decisions on removal shall be issued in writing and give reasons in fact and in law as well as information about available legal remedies.
    The information on reasons in fact may be limited where national law allows for the right to information to be restricted, in particular in order to safeguard national security, defence, public security and for the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences.
  2. Member States shall provide, upon request, a written or oral translation of the main elements of decisions related to return, as referred to in paragraph 1, including information on the available legal remedies in a language the third-country.
CJEU
ECtHR

Article 13: Remedies

  1. The third-country national concerned shall be afforded an effective remedy to appeal against or seek review of decisions related to return, as referred to in Article 12(1), before a competent judicial or administrative authority or a competent body composed of members who are impartial and who enjoy safeguards of independence.
  2. The authority or body mentioned in paragraph 1 shall have the power to review decisions related to return, as referred to in Article 12(1), including the possibility of temporarily suspending their enforcement, unless a temporary suspension is already applicable under national legislation.
  3. The third-country national concerned shall have the possibility to obtain legal advice, representation and, where necessary, linguistic assistance.
  4. Member States shall ensure that the necessary legal assistance and/or representation is granted on request free of charge in accordance with relevant national legislation or rules regarding legal aid, and may provide that such free legal assistance and/or representation is subject to conditions as set out in Article 15(3) to (6) of Directive 2005/85/EC.
CJEU
ECtHR

Effectiveness

Suspensive effect

The extent of the judicial review

Legal aid/representation

Article 14: Safeguards pending return

  1. Member States shall, with the exception of the situation covered in Articles 16 and 17, ensure that the following principles are taken into account as far as possible in relation to third-country nationals during the period for voluntary departure granted in accordance with Article 7 and during periods for which removal has been postponed in accordance with Article 9:
    1. family unity with family members present in their territory is maintained;
    2. emergency health care and essential treatment of illness are provided;
    3. minors are granted access to the basic education system subject to the length of their stay;
    4. Special needs of vulnerable persons are taken into account.
  2. Member States shall provide the persons referred to in paragraph 1 with a written confirmation in accordance with national legislation that the period for voluntary departure has been extended in accordance with Article 7(2) or that the return decision will temporarily not be enforced.
CJEU
ECtHR
ECSR

Article 15: Detention

  1. Unless other sufficient but less coercive measures can be applied effectively in a specific case, Member States may only keep in detention a third-country national who is the subject of return procedures in order to prepare the return and/or carry out the removal process, in particular when: (a) there is a risk of absconding or (b) the third-country national concerned avoids or hampers the preparation of return or the removal process. Any detention shall be for as short a period as possible and only maintained as long as removal arrangements are in progress and executed with due diligence.
  2. Detention shall be ordered by administrative or judicial authorities. Detention shall be ordered in writing with reasons being given in fact and in law. When detention has been ordered by administrative authorities, Member States shall: (a) either provide for a speedy judicial review of the lawfulness of detention to be decided on as speedily as possible from the beginning of detention; (b) or grant the third-country national concerned the right to take proceedings by means of which the lawfulness of detention shall be subject to a speedy judicial review to be decided on as speedily as possible after the launch of the relevant proceedings. In such a case Member States shall immediately inform the third-country national concerned about the possibility of taking such proceedings. The third-country national concerned shall be released immediately if the detention is not lawful.
  3. In every case, detention shall be reviewed at reasonable intervals of time either on application by the third-country national concerned or ex officio. In the case of prolonged detention periods, reviews shall be subject to the supervision of a judicial authority.
  4. When it appears that a reasonable prospect of removal no longer exists for legal or other considerations or the conditions laid down in paragraph 1 no longer exist, detention ceases to be justified and the person concerned shall be released immediately.
  5. Detention shall be maintained for as long a period as the conditions laid down in paragraph 1 are fulfilled and it is necessary to ensure successful removal. Each Member State shall set a limited period of detention, which may not exceed six months. 6. Member States may not extend the period referred to in paragraph 5 except for a limited period not exceeding a further twelve months in accordance with national law in cases where regardless of all their reasonable efforts the removal operation is likely to last longer owing to: (a) a lack of cooperation by the third-country national concerned, or (b) delays in obtaining the necessary documentation from third countries.

Specific case-law on pre-removal detention can be found on CONTENTION website

Article 16: Conditions of detention

  1. Detention shall take place as a rule in specialised detention facilities. Where a Member State cannot provide accommodation in a specialised detention facility and is obliged to resort to prison accommodation, the third-country nationals in detention shall be kept separated from ordinary prisoners.
  2. Third-country nationals in detention shall be allowed — on request — to establish in due time contact with legal representatives, family members and competent consular authorities.
  3. Particular attention shall be paid to the situation of vulnerable persons. Emergency health care and essential treatment of illness shall be provided. 24.12.2008 Official Journal of the European Union L 348/105 EN.
  4. Relevant and competent national, international and nongovernmental organisations and bodies shall have the possibility to visit detention facilities, as referred to in paragraph 1, to the extent that they are being used for detaining third-country nationals in accordance with this Chapter. Such visits may be subject to authorisation.
  5. Third-country nationals kept in detention shall be systematically provided with information which explains the rules applied in the facility and sets out their rights and obligations. Such information shall include information on their entitlement under national law to contact the organisations and bodies referred to in paragraph 4.
CJEU
ECtHR

Article 17: Detention of minors and families

  1. Unaccompanied minors and families with minors shall only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
  2. Families detained pending removal shall be provided with separate accommodation guaranteeing adequate privacy.
  3. Minors in detention shall have the possibility to engage in leisure activities, including play and recreational activities appropriate to their age, and shall have, depending on the length of their stay, access to education.
  4. Unaccompanied minors shall as far as possible be provided with accommodation in institutions provided with personnel and facilities which take into account the needs of persons of their age.
  5. The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in the context of the detention of minors pending removal.
ECtHR