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Documentation of Expert meeting on Right to Family Reunification

Mother and Child - Family Reunification

[31. 10. 2012] On the occasion of the current European debate, experts from politics, administration,
associations and research discussed the European Directive on family reunification
from the family point of view. Results and overall documentation of the meeting are out now.




Content of overall documentation:

  • Background
  • Results and Conclusion
  • Family Reunification in Germany
  • Family Reunification in Austria and the Netherlands
  • The European Consultation Process


The parts of the documentation containing the background of the topic and the results of the meeting can be read underneith. The complete documentation can be downloaded here:


Extracts of documentation:




Families whose members come from non EU Member States are subject to the European regulations on family reunification. The relevant EU Directive stipulates under what conditions the reunification of family members from third countries can take place. They pursue the goals of facilitating family reunification in the EU and maintaining existing family ties. Thereby, not only is socio- cultural stability created and the integration into the country of immigration facilitated, but as well as that a family life is made possible, something which goes without saying for most families. The Directive on the right to family reunification applies to: l Non EU citizens, („third-country nationals“), who legally reside in a Member State and wish for their non EU-citizen family members to join them, as well as l Citizens of certain EU Member States, who have not already exercised their right to freedom of movement but wish to reunite with their family members from third countries. Family reasons form a core aspect of immigration. One of the most important reasons behind immigration to Germany is immigration which takes place via family reunification. Over 23 percent of total immigration results directly from family reunification. However, this trend is declining, due not least to parallel developments such as the expansion of the EU laws governing freedom of movement. In 2007, based on the European provisions in force, Germany’s Immigration laws were revised. The then introduced German language exam places great hurdles in front of many families. As a result thereof, couples are forced to live long periods separated from each other, even in situations where they have children. Indeed, for grandparents from non EU Member States it is nigh on impossible to take care of their grandchildren residing in Germany, or to be cared for themselves in the periphery of their children. According to the German legal position, grandparents do not belong to the core family and as a result, can rarely join their families. In other states, too, the national rules for family reunification are severely criticised as being a massive interference with the unalienable right to family life. Many governments of the Member States are, vice versa, demanding more restrictive European regulation. The EU Commission appealed for a discussion on the Directive, not only due to the above but also because the European Directive is being differently interpreted between the Member States themselves. The framework of this discussion provided the opportunity for, not just the Member States, but also NGOs and further stakeholders to state and explain their positions. The AGF expert discussion on family reunification followed up on this debate. Representatives from politics, administration, academia, as well as from European associations discussed the application of family reunification in the Member States, its consequences for families and the necessary action required.


Results of Expert meeting


Family perspectives need to be in the foreground.
Families have a right to family reunification. A self determined life should be made possible for them. Therefore, their perspectives need to be placed in the foreground.

Increase in restrictive regulations
On the whole, there is a trend towards further restrictions among the Member States. Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are its pioneers. Family reunification is being further connected with immigration control and integration policy.

Apprehensions in relation to quantity and integration
Family reunification is often seen as being difficult to control and therefore problematic immigration. Above all, the quantity of family members to join with their family is a subject up for discussion, as well as the suspected integration problems and socio-economic attributes of the immigrating family members.

Negative, individual cases as benchmark for restrictions
The subtle fears in terms of possible fraud lead to generalisation of individual, distinct cases - which further burdens the families. Studies, however, show that actual abuse of the system is very limited.

Narrow definition of „family“
The definition of „family“ continues to be narrowed, to the extent that siblings, grandparents and grandchildren are excluded from family reunification. The continued expansion of the domestic family definitions does not find an equivalent in immigration law.

Couples are forced to marry and then being suspected of a „fake“ marriage
The realities of family constellations are hardly taken into account. Cohabitation without a marriage certificate, as well as other forms of family are not considered. Instead, marriage is a requirement for reunification, which in turn forces couples to marry. Subsequently, such couples are then exposed to the suspicion of having a „marriage of convenience“.
Certain prejudices towards families are produced and strengthened via reunification measures
Traditional family roles and images as well as intra family dependencies are partially facilitated by the implementation of the national regulations, while at the same time, immigrants themselves are being accused of such practices.

Women in particular are placed at a disadvantage
Women in particular are placed at a disadvantage via the restrictive regulations. A lack of day-care facilities for children creates further difficulties for female migrants to participate in the required integration and language courses. In this respect, a gender specific analysis is clearly necessary.

Pre-entry-language tests are completely controversial
Compulsory pre-entry-language tests are used by Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Great Britain. They are legally and politically the most controversial measures. Integration courses after arrival are, on the other hand, basically accepted.

Further inquiries are necessary
Further research regarding sensible and functional sanctions for infringements is needed, as well as regarding the violations themselves in detail. Altogether, the motives behind the restrictive application of the Directive need to be thoroughly investigated and increasingly addressed by the NGOs themselves.

Interpreting the Directive rather than renegotiating
In the European debate a strong tendency stands out in clear opposition of a new discussion on the EU Directive, but, on the other hand in support of interpretative guidelines.