Family Reunion

Most immigrants in Europe and North America have a legal right to family reunion that is slightly favourable for them and their families’ integration. Countries with restrictive definitions of the family tend to also impose burdensome conditions on the sponsor. Those with inclusive definitions often limit conditions out of respect for family life. Applicants must prove a ‘stable and sufficient’ income, often vague and higher than what nationals need to live on social assistance. Few countries impose language or integration conditions. But as more do, they are extending these to spouses before arrival. Families tend to acquire both a secure residence permit and equal rights, but, to get an autonomous residence permit, they face significant waiting periods and conditions.

A secure family life is the starting point for integration in North America, the Nordics, Northwest Europe and new countries of labour migration. Among these, the definitions of the family and conditions are more inclusive in CA than US; SE and FI than NO; and ES and PT than IT. Favourable conditions in law in Central Europe are applied through highly discretionary procedures.

Best Case Add to MyPdf 

This is a composite of national policies found in May 2010 in at least one of the 31 countries.

Families who are successfully reunited together have the socio-cultural stability to participate in society. In Europe, a non-EU family has the same rights and responsibilities as an EU family moving from one country to another. Upon arrival, a newcomer applies for her spouse/partner and children, and dependent parents and grandparents. The procedure is free and short. Authorities have no reason to reject her application if it’s not fraudulent and poses no security threat. The state facilitates the family’s integration by helping them access schools, jobs and social programmes.

Worst Case Add to MyPdf 

This is a composite of national policies found in May 2010 in at least one of the 31 countries.

A migrant who is kept apart from his family has few prospects to integrate in the community where he lives. He has to wait years to become a longterm resident. Even then, the law only recognises the traditional nuclear family. Sponsors must pass difficult conditions without government support. Only those with high incomes, stable jobs and high scores on language/integration tests can live with their family. Procedures are long, expensive and discretionary. The law forces reunited family members to be dependent on him since they cannot work or use public benefits. They are not entitled to an autonomous residence permit, even if he dies, divorces, or abuses them.

Changes & Trends Add to MyPdf 

Since 2007, little changed for non-EU families reuniting in Europe, whose future remains unclear. Procedures became more favourable in 5, but less in 11. Countries (recently GR, LU, ES) now provide basic rights and residence security, often to comply with EU law. Because these are minimum standards, few go back on them, but fewer go any further. Decision-makers mostly disagree on how to apply conditions to family reunion. Countries with favourable policies (BE, PT, SE) try to set income or housing requirements based on what all residents are expected to meet in society. But increasingly, established countries of immigration are asking immigrants to fulfil conditions that many nationals could not: higher marriage ages (UK), higher incomes (AT), more tests (NL), also for spouses abroad (NL, DE, FR, DK), mostly with higher fees but little support. Conditions that are not promoting family reunion and facilitating integration in practice could be unjustified under EU law (2003/86/ EC). Immigrants have started to bring evidence to national courts and the European Court of Justice (e.g. NL Chakroun case).