MIPEX fact-check: What countries facilitate autonomous permits for spouses?

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group

Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister proposes that reuniting spouses wait two years for an autonomous residence permit; “This is what every other immigrant receiving country — Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the U.S. do, and the only question is why we didn’t do it a while ago?” Is that true?

This week, Jason Kenney — Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister (pictured above) — announced that immigration levels would remain at around 250,000 newcomers per year, following a recent public consultation.

Minister Kenney also proposed that reuniting spouses wait through two years of conditional residency before their residence permit becomes their own, independent of their sponsoring spouse. The minister would also ban reuniting spouses from sponsoring someone for family reunion within their first five years. Currently, the reuniting spouses of permanent residents become permanent residents themselves.

Media reports criticism from NDP immigration critic Don Davies because of high divorce rates in North America — about 50% within the first two to five years.

The new legal regulation, to be discussed next year, is intended to fight fraudulent marriages. The issue has been recently raised in public debate. Marriages of convenience are not allowed under Canada’s immigration law. Indeed, several laws and procedures exist to identify, prevent, and punish them.

As part of his justification for the regulation, Minister Kenney claimed that Canada was unlike any other country of immigration:

“This is what every other immigrant receiving country — Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the U.S. do, and the only question is why we didn’t do it a while ago?”

According to a quick MIPEX fact-check, Minister Kenney is mostly correct.

One MIPEX indicator captures whether reuniting spouses and children reaching the age of majority are granted autonomous residence permits. Under EU law, the maximum conditional residency requirement is 5 years. However the countries below in pink grant these permits immediately or after 3 years or less:

Canada is not the only country today that immediately grants autonomous permits to reuniting family members. Australia grants permanent residence in several cases to the reuniting partners and adult children of permanent residents. They can then become Australian citizens after 4 years in Australia. According to the Australian immigration services, the rest only need to make one application for a temporary and permanent visa. Partner visa applicants will be granted a temporary visa, followed by a permanent visa, if a genuine relationship persists two years after the date of application.

Several countries facilitate these permits after a short conditional residency requirement of 3 years or less, similar to Canada’s new proposal. This list includes Australia, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. Many are new countries attracting migrant workers. Generally, MIPEX finds that the countries that try to attract the migrant workers they need also tend to facilitate the reunification of families. They see having either a job or a family in country as meaningful starting points for integration in society.

Countries like Australia, Austria, and Netherlands provide additional entitlements to autonomous permits for widows, divorcees, separated partners, and victims of physical or emotional violence. Italy, Poland, and Spain also limit the withdrawal of family reunion permits only to grounds like proven fraud or serious policy or security threat.

For more on EU countries’ policies on autonomous permits, check out the 2008 study of the Odysseus Network.