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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day - Family Reunification in the EU

And a very Happy Valentine's Day to all of you.   It seems appropriate to use this day and this post to talk once again about family reunification policy in the EU.  

Our Franco-American family exists today because of those policies - the right of EU citizens and legal residents to bring those they love to live with them in an EU member state.  Today these rights are being challenged in some countries and have been diminished in others even though the EU 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."

As I wrote in my original post last December, it used to be true that many EU states went above and beyond the minimum requirements to comply with the EU directive but in recent years a few have passed more onerous entry requirements (Denmark, for example).  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.

In response to this flagrant disregard for EU policy the EU is holding a 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 EU citizens or 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 get a good idea for the issues around this topic, have a look at the MIPEX blog and Thomas Huddleston's slides from the webinar they held late last year:

I've heard many complaints about the EU being too bureaucratic and not responsive to the wishes and opinions of EU people.  Well, they do seem serious about getting feedback on this so I strongly urge everyone with an interest in this topic (and I think just about everyone is concerned since you never know who you might fall in love with) to use this opportunity well and wisely.  The deadline is March 1, 2012.   Contact details are here.  They accept contributions via both email and regular mail.


Eric said...

You all in the EU are lucky to have the European Convention on Human Rights. Family reunification in HK is a very touchy topic because of the public opposition to immigration from mainland China. So there's some really weird policies; e.g. a non-permanent resident on a work visa can sponsor mainland dependents to join him in Hong Kong, but a permanent resident cannot, simply to keep the numbers down. There have been several cases (Gurung Deu Kumari, Li Nim Han, and another I can't remember) where applicants argued that immigration controls against family members of permanent residents contravene our Basic Law Article 37 (right to raise a family), citing equivalent European jurisprudence on family rights. But the courts insist on reading Article 37 very narrowly: they say it only guarantees that the mainland one-child policy cannot be applied in Hong Kong.

We're in a rather weird situation because our immigration laws themselves are outlined in both the constitution (Basic Law Article 24) and in international treaties between London and Beijing. The courts have been very aggressive in striking down any legislation which narrows Article 24 rights (Ng Ka Ling v Director of Immigration, Director of Immigration v Chong Fung Yuen, Vallejos v Commissioner of Registration, etc.) But they completely refuse to apply any other constitutional guarantees of human rights to the subject of immigration control. (The ICCPR is of no aid either in these cases because the empowering legislation to enact it in Hong Kong specifically reserves that it does not override the Immigration Ordinance.)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Eric,

"a non-permanent resident on a work visa can sponsor mainland dependents to join him in Hong Kong, but a permanent resident cannot, simply to keep the numbers down."

Thanks for the comment and what you said above is very similar to what you hear in a lot of places. A fellow named Claude Gueant here in France has much the same motivation - keep those numbers down in an election year and beyond.

Aside from the human rights issues, this is never a good idea for the host country. It creates a semi-permanent group who have fewer rights than the rest of the population and who don't have much incentive to integrate or to behave in ways that are of benefit to the host country. Home countries tend to like these policies against family reunification because they want those men and women to be focused on sending money back home (those all important remittances) and they want them back once they've acquired interesting skills or a nest egg.

China has one of the largest diasporas around but I don't have a very good grasp of the relationship between the Chinese state and the millions of Chinese scattered all over the globe. Does the Chinese government offer them any protection? Do they want them back? Do they try to use them to further state interests in their host countries?


Eric said...

The PRC's relationship with the Chinese diaspora didn't exactly get off on the right foot back in 1949 (they started out by forbidding dual nationality and telling them to naturalise where they lived). But they regained a lot of influence in the 1990s simply because Taipei stopped competing with them for it.

There's a cabinet-level department (the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office) which handles diaspora affairs, and in general the foreign ministry gives a certain level of support to diaspora institutions, especially schools in the form of textbooks and funding for teachers. On the other hand they also use them for propaganda purposes (just google "Overseas Chinese oppose Taiwan").

Outside of cultural fields, the level of economic support is far less --- the Chinese government prefers to promote the expansion of its own home-grown state-owned engineering and trading companies. Though informal economic connections pop up in lots of unusual ways (e.g. the "old diaspora" overseas Chinese in Mauritius bringing in new waves of Chinese migrant workers to staff the factories in the export processing zones).