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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Family Reunification in the EU

The European Commission is holding a consultation and they would like you to join in.  The topic is a very emotional one and quite dangerous politically:  What rights should migrants have to bring their families to their host country?

Why has this topic come to the fore?  Because the EU directive on family reunification for third-country nationals is not being honored by many member-states.

The relevant legislation, passed in 2003 as Directive 2003/86/EC firmly lays down the EU's position: "Family reunification is a necessary way of making family life possible. It helps to create sociocultural stability facilitating the integration of third country nationals in the Member State, which also serves to promote economic and social cohesion, a fundamental Community objective stated in the Treaty."

Of course the devil is always in the details.  As I read the directive, legal migrants have the absolute right to bring members of their nuclear family (spouse and minor children) to live with them in the host country provided that they are not a threat to public order or safety.  Member-states may, if they wish,  extend the definition of family to include "relatives in the direct ascending line, adult unmarried children, unmarried or registered partners as well as, in the event of a polygamous marriage, minor children of a further spouse and the sponsor."  However other states are not obliged to grant these people (let's call this the "extended family") the right to reside in their state if their laws contradict the laws of the original receiving state.

In times past many EU states went above and beyond these minimum requirements but in recent years a few have passed more onerous entry requirements (Denmark, for example) and other states are taking note and considering similar actions.  It is reported that both the U.K. and the Netherlands are looking closely at Danish policy.  What kind of changes are being proposed?  Education and income requirements, pre-entry tests (designed to measure the capacity of the person to assimilate), long waits for processing, application fees and "proof of attachment" to the host country are all possibilities.

As the 2011 IOM report so clearly states this is a subject on which public perceptions and reality simply do not correspond.  In a webinar on this topic with  MIPEX Policy Analyst, Thomas Huddleston (I was a participant), he reported that only 1 in 6 immigrants to France comes in under a family reunification program.  According to the European Commission this form of immigration has already fallen sharply, from 50% of all migrants in the year 2000 to about 30% today. In Europe overall, almost all those who enter any EU country this way are spouses and children.  Mostly children.

What is the EU's intent in holding this consultation?  They say they want to hear from all the stakeholders in this policy before they take action.  Migrants and migrant rights organizations, family-members of legal residents wishing to come to the EU, member-states and even other states outside the EU.  Yes, the last have an interest in this too.  Countries of origin sometimes see other state's liberal family reunification policies as quite dangerous to their interests - it can diminish remittances,  help migrants to  integrate in the host country (not necessarily a good thing from their point of view), and reduce the likelihood that their people will one day return to the home country.

To have your say before the deadline of March 1, 2012 (and I strongly urge everyone with an interest in this to reply) contact details are here.  It appears that they accept contributions via both email and regular mail.

Once the EU has all the feedback and closed the consultation, it intends to hold public hearings on this matter.  I'll be keeping an eye on it and I will keep you posted.

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