European Commission asks: How long should families wait to reunite?

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

Most EU countries require immigrants who want to sponsor their family to hold any type of legal residence permit for one year or less. According to the European Commission, long residence requirements and long lists of excluded permits may create implementation problems and delays, which undermine immigrants’ right to family reunion, enshrined in EU law. The OECD suggests that families who can reunite quickly will catch up more quickly in learning the language and adjusting to their new society.

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.

The Commission asks: Should immigrants who want to sponsor their family have “reasonable prospects for permanent residence” and wait 1-to-2 years?

This Directive shall apply where the sponsor is holding a residence permit issued by a Member State for a period of validity of one year or more who has reasonable prospects of obtaining the right of permanent residence…Member States may require the sponsor to have stayed lawfully in their territory for a period not exceeding two years, before having his/her family members join him/her. By way of derogation, where the legislation of a Member State relating to family reunification in force on the date of adoption of this Directive takes into account its reception capacity, the Member State may provide for a waiting period of no more than three years between submission of the application for family reunification and the issue of a residence permit to the family members. (Directive 2003/86/EC, Chapter IV, Articles 3 & 8, emphasis added).

Most countries require sponsors have legal residence permit of one year or less 

As of May 2010, the majority of EU Member States where the EU Directive applies (15 out of 24) allow immigrants to apply as family reunion sponsors with a one-year residence permit or after one-year’s legal residence. These countries are highlighted below in pink:

This group of countries includes traditional immigration countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States. Since the 2010 MIPEX III, Slovenia has removed these restrictions on eligibility.

Further legal delays are imposed in Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Poland (in black) and — to some extent — Czech Republic and France (in blue). The European Commission found that long residence requirements created “implementation problems” and “delays” in particular countries like Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, and Lithuania, which raise concerns over the countries’ proper implementation of the EU family reunion directive.

A similar majority (16) allows sponsors to apply with any legal residence permit (see countries below in pink). The other countries restrict the definition of “reasonable prospects of obtaining the right to permanent residence” to certain residence permits (in blue) or to permanent residence permits (in black):

The European Commission singled out Cyprus for its problematic general rule of a four-year-maximum residence, which seems to exclude third-country nationals from the right to apply for family reunion. In 2010, only 741 family members were able to join the 43,839 non-EU citizens living legally in Cyprus.

Effects on family reunion & integration

Countries that lengthen the waiting period and exclude different permit-holders can discourage the reunion and delay the integration of immigrant families in the country.

Faced with these restrictions, many sponsors may not choose a different partner or let their family abroad break up. Instead, their family life becomes harder or even impossible through “enforced separation.” Some may give up altogether on the idea of living together, while others may delay their family reunion application or their wedding day. This burden falls particularly hard on cases of family reunification, poor and working-class families, middle-aged and elderly people, and residents living far from the border.

The OECD, the inter-governmental economic think-tank, analysed its PISA data on student performance and found that every extra year that child spends in country of origin and not in country of destination has a negative impact on their language learning and societal adjustment as children age. Their conclusion is that family reunification should be facilitated as soon as possible.