Immigration Europe – Family reunification

Immigration Europe – Family reunification


Family reunification

For the past 20 years, family reunification has been one of the main reasons for immigration to the EU. Without it, family life is impossible for some immigrants. Reunification also helps to create socio-cultural stability, facilitating the integration of non-EU nationals within EU States, thus promoting economic and social cohesion – a fundamental EU objective.

The right to family reunification, recognised throughout the EU

The Directive on the right to family reunification establishes common rules for exercising the right to family reunification in 25 EU Member States. This Directive determines the conditions under which family reunification is granted, as well as the rights of the family members concerned. On the basis of this legislative instrument, legally residing non-EU nationals can bring their spouse, under-age children and the children of their spouse to the EU State in which they are residing. EU States may also authorise reunification with an unmarried partner, adult dependant children, or dependant older relatives. Once in the EU, eligible family members receive a residence permit and obtain access to education, employment and to vocational training on the same basis as other non-EU nationals. After a maximum of five years of residence, family members may apply for autonomous status if the family links still exist.

Some restrictions

The right to family reunification is also subject to respect for public order and public security. EU States may also choose to impose other conditions: they may require the non-EU national to have adequate accommodation, sufficient resources and health insurance, and may impose a qualifying period of no more than two years. Family reunification can also be refused for spouses who are under 21 years of age. Moreover, polygamy is not recognised – only one spouse can benefit from the right to family reunification. EU states may also ask foreigners to comply with integration measures. Penalties in the event of fraud or marriages of convenience are also foreseen.

The Family Reunification Directive only applies to legally residing non-EU nationals who reunite with non-EU national family members. Other rules apply to the family reunification of EU citizens with non-EU family members (more information on family members of EU citizens who accompany or join them in another EU country than that of their nationality can be found here).

However, as made clear by the European Court of Justice (Case C-540/03), EU States must apply the Directive’s rules in a manner consistent with the protection of fundamental rights, notably regarding family life and the principle of the best interests of the child.

A general debate on family reunification

The first report on the implementation of the Directive, issued in October 2008, has shown a low impact, partly due to the degree of discretion given to EU States when setting certain requirements. In 2011-2012, a broad public consultation on family reunification took place to gather opinions from stakeholders and decide on the policy follow-up. As a result, in April 2014, the Commission adopted a Communication on guidance for application of Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification.