Italy must grant family benefits to non-EU citizens who are long-term residents, even if their family members are not living in the EU, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on Wednesday.
The court said that this is because Italian citizens in a similar situation would still be eligible for the benefit.
"A Member State may not refuse or reduce the entitlement to a social security benefit to long-term residents on the ground that members of his or her family, or some of them, are not resident in its territory but in a third country, when it grants that benefit to its nationals irrespective of the place of residence of their family members," the ruling said.
Two migrants sued Italy
A Sri Lankan and a Pakistani national -- known only by their initials, WS and VR -- had sued the Italian social-security agency INPS. The agency had rejected their family benefit claims for the period in which their children and wives remained in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, respectively.
The two men are residents of Italy. WS holds a work permit while VR has a long-term stay permit.
The case is currently pending at Italy's highest court, which asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to weigh in on the case. Specifically, they asked the court whether Italian law contravenes the EU principle of equal treatment.
Italian regulations currently state that non-EU workers living in Italy longterm usually only have the right to family benefits for family members living in Italy.
Italy has to change family benefits law
The CJEU judges found that this contradicted EU law, because Italian citizens receive benefits for family members living abroad. Italy will now have to modify its regulations.
The judges noted that while EU member states are left to decide conditions and amounts of social security assistance, long-term residents and residents with work permits must receive the same benefits as Italian citizens.