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When I was transferring this morning at Schipol, the staff directed non-EU citizens with Schengen area residence permits to the "EU" line at passport control. Is this always allowed for people with residence permits, or was it just because the lines had become particularly unbalanced?

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    Laxity, I think. At Roissy, I was once directed into a EU/EEA lane even though I had a non-EU passport and nothing of the kind of a residence permit. And the officer didn't even take care to find the visa, just stamped the first page and waved me through. – ach Aug 17 '15 at 5:54
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    @AndreyChernyakhovskiy That's actually allowed by article 8 of the Schengen Borders code when “unforeseeable events lead to traffic of such intensity that the waiting time at the border crossing point becomes excessive”, only the stamping should never be abandoned. – Relaxed Aug 17 '15 at 6:50
  • FWIW, at least half the time, I don't get stamped in either direction. – Louis Aug 18 '15 at 9:08
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No, it isn't generally allowed but it is indeed foreseen by the Schengen regulation when the queues are particularly unbalanced. When it does happen, whether third-country nationals (i.e. non-EU/EEA/Swiss) are allowed to use other lanes is up to the border guards.

The rules about this are defined in article 9 of the Schengen Borders code.

2. (a) Persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law are entitled to use the lanes indicated by the sign in part A (‘EU, EEA, CH’) of Annex III. They may also use the lanes indicated by the sign in part B1 (‘visa not required’) and part B2 (‘all passports’) of Annex III.

Third-country nationals who are not obliged to possess a visa when crossing the external borders of the Member States in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 and third-country nationals who hold a valid residence permit or long-stay visa may use the lanes indicated by the sign in part B1 (‘visa not required’) of Annex III to this Regulation. They may also use the lanes indicated by the sign in part B2 (‘all passports’) of Annex III to this Regulation.

(b) All other persons shall use the lanes indicated by the sign in part B2 (‘all passports’) of Annex III.

“Persons enjoying the right of free movement” means EU citizens but also members of their family travelling with them or joining them, even if they are not themselves EU citizens. Note that residence permit holders are also mentioned and can use the ‘visa not required’ lanes (because they do not, in fact, require a visa) but not the ‘EU, EEA, CH citizens’ lanes. Everybody may use the ‘all passports’ lane, all the time.

The same regulation also (kind of) provides for what you noticed:

  1. In the event of a temporary imbalance in traffic flows at a particular border crossing point, the rules relating to the use of the different lanes may be waived by the competent authorities for the time necessary to eliminate such imbalance.

(Without this, it would not legally be up to the border guards to ignore the rules, even temporarily.)

Why they would specifically invite residence permit holders to use the EU citizens lane is not clear to me. In principle, they should be subjected to the exact same ‘thorough’ check than visa holders, including the stamping of their travel documents, so why not allow everybody to switch lanes? The regulation does not provide for any distinction between residence permit holders and other third-country citizens.

Maybe Dutch border guards think residence permit holders are somehow easier to deal with or less likely to need secondary evaluation and be refused entry but it seems questionable from a legal standpoint (it's either follow the rules detailed above or waive them completely, there is no mention of any possibility to allow specific people to use the EU citizen lane).

The only exception to that principle are holders of residence permits as “family members of an EU citizen”, who are also generally people enjoying the right of free movement and therefore liable for a lighter check (with no stamps) than other residence permit holders and allowed to use the “EU/EEA/Swiss citizens” lane at all times.

  • +1, very comprehensive, well supported with the appropriate authorities linked – Gayot Fow Aug 16 '15 at 20:29
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    The Schengen Border Code, Article 5, §4(a) allows for a less strict check of residence permit holders. For all practical purposes, they are usually not required to justify the purpose of stay or prove means of substinence when entering the Schengen area, since this has already per se been acknowledged by the residence permit. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Aug 16 '15 at 23:37
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo In practice, even a “thorough check” for visa-holders does not always involve a very extensive examination of these conditions and border guards can easily relax or forgo that if they are oveloaded. And the entry check for residence permit holders might still involve a database lookup (cf. “unless their names are on the national list of alerts”) and stamping so definitely not a “minimum check”. – Relaxed Aug 17 '15 at 6:49
  • But if we want to be perfectly accurate, legally speaking, the possibility to waive some conditions for residence permit holders is presented as an exception for the purpose of transit so what has been acknowledged is not that they fulfill the conditions for a short-stay but that they might cross the border for another purpose (namely reaching the country where they live). So I don't see how this small nuance justifies making a distinction between residence permit holders and other third-country nationals on either a practical or formal level. – Relaxed Aug 17 '15 at 6:52
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    +1 but one correction: Schengen residence permit holders don't get a stamp upon entering Schengen. – downhand Aug 18 '15 at 9:57

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