• 2009-11-26

Dear TBT,

Would The Baltic Times and its readers be interested in a story in which EU laws and norms are being flagrantly violated by incompetent Latvian officials who have improperly annulled the residence permit of an American citizen married to a Latvian and residing in Riga since March 2006?

My wife and I have attempted to settle the matter amicably for the last twenty months, but all of our letters, appeals, and even court cases have been rebuffed. Archaic Latvian Immigration Law 35.13 does not allow for the absence of a third-country national (non-EU Citizen) from the territory of the Republic of Latvia for more than 90 days in a row, or six months in total within a year for ANY reason other than having been unemployed for more than nine months prior to the absence. Due to the fact that my wife is a professional musician and I do contract work all over Europe, we both have a modern travel diary that means we regularly are away from our only home in Riga for extended periods, arranging our schedules so that we may meet or travel together.

When I went to re-register my long-term residence permit in February 2008 PMLP (Pilsonibas un migracijas lietu parvalde/Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs) informed me that I had been out of Latvia too long and thus my residence permit would be annulled. We appealed their decision numerous times, even pointing out that EU Directive 2004/38/EC provides for the free movement of EU citizens and their family members throughout the EU and EEA and thus Latvian Immigration law 35.13 must be dis-applied whenever there is a conflict between a Member State’s national law and that of the EU (see Costa vs ENOL 1996 ECJ). The EU Commission has confirmed to the PMLP that Directive 2004/38/EC even applies to Latvian citizens and their family members who have always resided in Latvia, if they have exercised their treaty rights by providing services in another EU/EEA Member State, as my wife and I both have.

Unfortunately our appeals were rejected out of hand, Mr. Vilnis Jekabsons, the head of the PMLP even writing that he had provided me with a residence permit to live and work in Latvia, not all over Europe. As I had previously been resident in the UK since 1996 and had provided contract work for a Swiss firm since 1998 working all over Europe without revocation of my UK residence permit I knew his argument to be groundless.

In desperation, we turned not only to writing to the president of Latvia and the Minister of Interior, but also to the EU Parliament and to a local office of the EU Commission called SOLVIT. The president’s office and the Minister of the Interior were polite enough to reply, but indicated that as we had a case lodged with the Latvian courts it needed to be decided there. On Oct. 13, our final appeal to the top administrative court was rejected.

However, the EU Parliament accepted our case and asked Latvian officials (Mr. Vilnis Jekabsons) to restore my residence permit already in January 2009, they too were rebuffed by him. The EU Commission’s office in Latvia, SOLVIT, also wrote an official letter in the summer informing the PMLP that they were not only violating EU Directive 2004/38/EC but also violating our human rights as the State was coming between my wife and I by refusing to restore my residence permit. They too were rebuffed and received a curt reply that stated that they were not violating EU laws or International Human Rights Laws as I could re-apply for my residence permit. This argument is disingenuous as our respective arduous travel schedules would result in annulment after annulment of my residence permit ad infinitum if present Latvian Immigration Law 35.13 were to continue to be enforced, as we believe PMLP would jealously continue to do as they have with us in past.

We are now at a crossroads as pressing our case further may result in significant economic damages to the Republic of Latvia’s already bruised coffers. By pressing forth with an appeal directly to the EU Commission it may result in enforcement action by the EU Commission, including bringing the Republic of Latvia to court in the European Court of Justice and consequent punitive fines, not to mention our eligibility to lodge a case directly with the European Court of Human Rights which also awards compensatory damages.

Despite the tremendously unpleasant and costly experience we have endured due to one Latvian official’s incompetence, we are reluctant to proceed. We have personally witnessed the suffering at hand to my wife’s family and our extended friends due to the incompetence and arrogance displayed by some poorly educated Latvian officials that have made unwise decisions in past that now auger poorly for the country’s future. However, if we are unable to obtain some resolution through the restoration of my improperly annulled residence permit- then we must proceed, as my wife and I will never forfeit our human rights so that an incompetent Latvian official may save his face.

Mr & Mrs Daniel R Barrow, Riga


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