European Commission asks: When is a family not a family?

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

Does the EU Family Reunion Directive reflect how you would define a family? MPG’s analysis of MIPEX and Eurostat statistics reveals that immigrant’s parents, grandparents, and adult children are somehow entitled to reunite in most countries, but few can or do apply.

On 15 November, the European Commission published a Green Paper asking policymakers and stakeholders whether it should renegotiate or better implement the EU Family Reunion Directive 2003/86/EC.
MPG prepared a series of policy briefings to help you respond to this consultation by its deadline — 1 March 2012. The briefings will be discussed in a one-hour online seminar (webinar) on ‘How to Respond to the EU Consultation on Family Reunion‘ on Wednesday 7 December 10:30-11:30 Brussels time. Click here to register.


For example, the Commission asks: Are the rules on eligible family members adequate and broad enough to take into account the  different definitions of family existing other than that of the nuclear family?


The Member States may, by law or regulation, authorise the entry and residence [of]: … first-degree relatives in the direct ascending line  of the sponsor or his or her spouse, where they are dependent on them and do not enjoy proper family support in the country of origin; the adult unmarried children of the sponsor or his or her spouse, where they are objectively unable to provide for their own needs on account of their health. (Directive 2003/86/EC, Chapter II, Art. 4, 2a, b, emphasis added)

MIPEX finds dependent adults somehow entitled in most countries 

The average EU country goes beyond the minimum definition of the family in the Directive. Most adopt slightly inclusive definitions of the family and only basic conditions for acquisition, out of respect for family life. In contrast, countries like Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, and France restrict the eligibility of family members and impose burdensome conditions on sponsors.

Dependent adult family members are someway entitled to join their non-EU sponsor in 18 of the 24 Member States where the Directive applies. Both parents/grandparents and adult children are entitled in 6 EU countries, similar to traditional immigration countries like Canada and Australia. Their entitlements are more limited in 9 more countries. No clear entitlement exists for third country nationals’ parents in Belgium, adult children in Latvia and Luxembourg, or for either group of family members in Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, and Malta.

The maps below show the countries with full (pink), some (blue), and no (black) entitlement for these members of the family in 2010:

Few non-EU immigrants reunite with extended family
In practice, very few other family members like parents and grandparents benefit from family reunion, according to Eurostat’s latest records for 2010. Only the nuclear family is able to reunite in most EU countries, including those countries with more inclusive definitions of the family:
Composition of families reuniting with a non-EU sponsor in 2010 (Click)

Reunions with other family members are most common in Europe’s new countries of immigration like the Czech Republic, Italy, and Portugal. Interestingly they are also rather common in new destinations with restrictive family reunion policies, such as Ireland, Latvia, and Malta. There, the few families that are able to reunite often include other family members.

Not surprisingly, reunions with other family members are least common in countries like Belgium, Denmark, and Greece that most restrict the eligibility for these groups according to MIPEX. However, their numbers are also comparatively small in major destinations for family immigration like Sweden and Spain, where many more spouses and children arrive through family reunion.


Reuniting non-EU family members other than spouses, partners, or children