Family Reunification: a Barrier or Facilitator of Integration? A Comparative Study

This study, coordinated by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and supported by the European Integration Fund, answers the question to what extent certain family reunification policies hinder or promote reunification with TCN family members and also their integration

The study concludes that the restrictive measures on the admission and residence of family members have not furthered integration and in many cases may have actually impeded it.

Based on this, the study  recommends that further research is undertaken on the ‘dark numbers’ and the effects for family members who are excluded by the family reunification rules. As it emerges that the national policies, copied by other Member States, lead to exclusion and obstacles to integration, the policies should be evaluated more precisely. Alternatives for measures safeguarding inclusion and integration should be studied.

Other main conclusions include the following points:

  • Throughout most of the Member States, family reunification policies have changed rapidly during the last ten years. Most of the changes have narrowed down the right to family reunification for TCNs and own nationals with TCN family members. The main restrictions concern strengthened income requirements, introduced pre-entry tests, raised or introduced age-limits and procedural and financial thresholds, for instance with regard to fees and visas.
  • During this period the number of applications and granted permits for family reunification have dropped dramatically. This downward trend is expected to continue.
  • These developments, however, are not applicable to all groups. The restrictive trend for TCNs and own nationals on the one hand, and the parallel liberalization towards Union citizens on the other hand, has further widened the gap in the right to family reunification between these two categories. This result contradicts the aim the European leaders formulated at their Tampere Conference in 1999, to approximate the legal position of Union citizens and TCNs by strengthening the legal rights of the latter.
  • During the last ten years, the position of own nationals has been weakened by the loss of their privileged position, sometimes even with the argument of equal treatment with TCNs.The tendency to minimize the application of certain granted rights creates more and more different categories, leading to a further fragmentation of the family reunification rights in the European Union.
  • Member States have intensified their assessments of the applications, focusing on the verification of family members’ identity or relationship or the genuineness of the marriage or partnership. Again, these methods, applied on the basis of a wide range of indicative criteria, cause delays, and also frustration amongst the applicants.
  • Admission rules actually lead to selective effects.The most vulnerable groups have the most difficulty reuniting with their family: older, illiterate or low educated family members, nationals from certain countries and female sponsors. The income requirement and the pre-entry test are the main obstacles for them. Thus, although the conditions are formulated neutrally, their impact is not neutral.
  • Migrants have developed five strategies - behavioral adhustements - in response to the difficulties mentioned. More research should be done to find out about these strategies and their effects.
  • Obstacles not only occur at the moment of admission. Sponsors and family members keep on adjusting their lives in order to secure their family life. oftenThey  described their lives during the application procedure as being on hold.

Authors: Tineke Strik - Betty de Hart - Ellen Nissen

Publication Date:
Tue 12 Mar 2013
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