Family reunification

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Family reunification is a recognized reason for immigration in many countries because of the presence of one or more family members in a certain country, therefore, enables the rest of the divided family or only specific members of the family to immigrate to that country as well.

Family reunification laws try to balance the right of a family to live together with the country's right to control immigration. However, how this balance looks like, e.g. which members of the family can be reunited, differs largely between countries.

A sub-case of family reunification is marriage migration, where one spouse immigrates to the country of the other spouse. Marriage migration can take place before marriage, in which case it falls under its own special category, or it can take place after marriage, in which case it falls under family reunification laws. Some countries allow family reunification for unmarried partners, provided they can prove an ongoing intimate relationship that also lasted longer than a certain period of time.

In recent years, there have been several cases of minors sent out on hazardous journeys in order to apply for political asylum status which, once granted, would enable the rest of the family to join them. However, in some countries only over 18 years old can apply for family reunification and it is only possible to be reunited with dependant children under 16 or partners, and not for parents or siblings.

In Europe[edit]

A major part of immigrants to Europe do so through family reunification laws. Many countries in Europe have passed laws in recent years to limit people's ability to do so.

  • Denmark – In the case of marriage, Danish law requires both spouses to be at least 23 1/2 years old. This is known as the 24 year rule. Additionally, the couple's connection to Denmark must be stronger than to the country of origin (meaning in practice that the spouse in Denmark must have resided there for 12 years[1]), unless one spouse has lived in Denmark for more than 26 years or been a Danish citizens over 26 years (this exemption was recently suspended by a court ruling[2]). The non-Danish spouse is required to pass the Danish A1 language exam within 6 months of receiving their residence visa. A collateral of 52.490,12 DKK is submitted by the Danish-spouse to support the non-Danish spouse during their residence, up to 60% of this collateral is returned on successful completion of subsequent Danish language tests (A1 and A2).
  • The Netherlands – In case of marriage, Dutch law requires the Dutch spouse to be at least 21 years old, and to earn a salary of at least 120% the minimum wage. The non-Dutch spouse is required to pass integration exams at the Dutch embassy in their home country, showing a basic mastery of Dutch. Where a law case would take years and thousands of euros, the EU-rules of free movement give right to family life immediately without costs more than that of an identity card. Therefore, some Dutch people move to Belgium or Germany for at least six months, in order to be governed by the EU family unification rules instead of the Dutch family unification rules. This has become known as the "Belgian Route" or "EU Route".[3]
  • Germany – Since 2007, law requires each spouse to be at least 18 years old. The spouse living in Germany may not be dependent on social benefits and must possess adequate living space. The immigrating spouse needs to prove basic spoken and written knowledge of German language. The law applies to German and foreign citizens.[4]
  • Norway – The sponsor must have an income of at least NOK 251,856 (US$37,000) pre-tax during 2014 and have earned at least NOK 246,136 in 2013 pre-tax. The reference person cannot have received social security benefits during the last 12 months. The income requirement must be proven to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration every year.
  • UK – The Immigration Rules, under the Immigration Act 1971, were updated in 2012 to create a strict minimum income threshold for non-EU spouses and children to be given leave to remain in the UK. Since 2012, the applicant must meet the financial requirement of £18,600 per year if they’re applying only for themselves, £22,400 per year for themselves and one child, and £2,400 per year for each additional child. These rules were challenged in the courts, and in 2017 the Supreme Court found that while "the minimum income threshold is accepted in principle" they decided that the rules and guidance were defective and unlawful until amended to give more weight to the interests of the children involved, and that sources of funding other than the British spouse's income should be considered.[5][6]

In Canada[edit]

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and associated Regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada aged at least 18 is allowed, subject to certain conditions, to sponsor specific members of their immediate family for permanent residence in Canada.

The eligible persons are the sponsor's spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner aged 16 and over, parents and grandparents, a dependent child of the sponsor, a child whom the sponsor intends to adopt, and orphaned brothers, sisters, nieces, or grandchildren under the age of 18 and who are not married or living in a common-law relationship. As an exception to the rules, if there are no eligible persons from the preceding list who may be sponsored and the sponsor has no relatives in Canada, the 'last-remaining family member' may be sponsored, but applications of this type are rare.

In the United States[edit]

Family reunification in the United States is the most common legal basis for immigration to the United States, and it is governed by the terms of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended.[7] Historically, the emphasis on family reunification in American immigration law began in that 1965 act by allotting 74% of all new immigrants allowed into the United States to family reunification visas. Those included, in descending preference, unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens (20%), spouses and unmarried children of permanent resident aliens (20%), married children of U.S. citizens (10%), and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over age 21 (24%).[8]

Citizens and permanent residents of the United States may sponsor relatives for immigration to the United States in a variety of ways. Citizens of any age may sponsor their spouses and their children, but only citizens who have reached the age of 21 may sponsor siblings and parents. (The Supreme Court decision United States v. Windsor ruled in 2013 that same-sex spouses must be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses.) Permanent residents may only sponsor spouses and unmarried children. In all cases, the sponsor must demonstrate the capacity to support their relative financially at 125% of the poverty level, and provide proof of the relationship. Immediate relatives of United States citizens (spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age) are automatically eligible to immigrate upon approval of their application. All other people eligible to immigrate through a family member must wait for a place; a preference system governs the order at which these places become available. Citizens may only sponsor siblings, spouses, parents, and children. They cannot sponsor aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents, or grandchildren, though in some cases such relations may enjoy derivative status.[9]

On December 23, 2017, James Robart, a Senior US District Judge, granted a nationwide injunction that blocks the administration’s restrictions on the process of reuniting refugee families and has partially lifted a ban on refugees from 11 mostly Muslim countries.[10]

The Trump administration is considering a plan to separate parents from their children when families are caught entering the country illegally.[11][12]

Immigration of parents[edit]

Under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Under existing law, parents of United States citizens may be sponsored for immigration by their adult citizen children (those at least 21 years of age) under certain conditions.[9] The child must demonstrate the financial ability to provide for the parents.[13] In addition to this under current law and USCS policy individuals who entered illegally (EWI or Entry without Inspection) may not adjust in the country. However, leaving the United States triggers a ban on entering the U.S. If the parent was present in the U.S. for only between 180–364 days, the parent will receive a three-year ban. However, as is more common if the parent was present for 365 days or more, the parent will receive a ten-year ban on entering the United States. Unless the parent is willing to live out the ban outside the country, the parent may not regularize their status through the child. Parents who enter legally will not have to leave the U.S. to adjust their status unless they entered on K visas or entered on J visas and did not obtain a waiver for the foreign-stay period.

Having U.S.-citizen minor children is beneficial in deportation proceedings when there is "extreme and profound hardship on the child" for the parent to be deported. The number of such hardship waivers is capped at 5000 per year.[14] Federal appellate courts have upheld the refusal by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to stay the deportation of illegal immigrants merely on the grounds that they have U.S.-citizen, minor children.[15]

There are some 3.1 million United-States-citizen children with at least one illegal immigrant parent as of 2005. At least 13,000 American children had one or both parents deported in the years 2005–2007.[16]

Political Opposition to Family Reunification[edit]

Opponents of the current United States family reunification policy (who generally refer to the policy by the term, "chain migration") argue that the Hart-Celler Act's emphasis on family reunification resulted in the dramatic increase in migration in general. In the words of one observer, "For people whose biggest fear regarding immigration is that immigrants will change the face of America — that they’ll trample the country’s 'traditionally' white, Christian majority — there’s little more potent than the idea of immigrants bringing over huge families, replanting their communities whole in American soil."[17]

FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a conservative think tank, promotes the idea that "chain migration--and the expectations and long lines it produces--increases illegal immigration."[18] Additionally FAIR argues that "illegal aliens given amnesty by Congress in 1986 are now fueling naturalization in record numbers. As these former illegal aliens become citizens, all of their immediate relatives qualify to come immediately to the United States, and start new migration chains of their own." It is inaccurate, however, to suggest that relatives of new citizens "immediately" qualify for immigration to the United States, because strict restrictions on the numbers of family reunification visas mean that the average wait time for such qualification is in fact 18 to 23 years.[17]

NumbersUSA, a group that lobbies Congress for lower levels of immigration, claims that family reunification (which they refer to as "chain migration") is a main cause for creating incentives for undocumented immigration.[19]

NumbersUSA, FAIR, and other groups lobby to change immigration law to place limits on the US family reunification policy. NumbersUSA cites a specific bill it supports. “On Feb. 4, 2009, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) introduced the Nuclear Family Priority Act (H.R. 878). The bill would eliminate the extended family visa categories (e.g., married sons and daughters of citizens, etc.), thus ending 'chain migration' as recommended by the bi-partisan Barbara Jordan Commission in 1997.”[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Danish spouse's attachment to Denmark". Danish Immigration Service. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  2. ^ "Change in the attachment requirement in family reunification cases". Danish Immigration Service. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  3. ^ België vindt Nederlands vreemdelingenbeleid te streng ; Bonjour, Saskia; de Hart, Betty (2013). "A proper wife, a proper marriage. Constructions of us and them in Dutch family migration policy". European Journal of Women's Studies. 
  4. ^ [1] Block & Bonjour 2013 'Fortress Europe or Europe of Rights. The Europeanisation of Family migration policies in France, Germany and the Netherlands' in European Journal of Migration and Law
  5. ^ Travis, Alan (22 February 2017). "Supreme court backs minimum income rule for non-European spouses". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
  6. ^ The impact on children of the Family Migration Rules (PDF) (Report). Children's Commissioner for England. August 2015. Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
  7. ^ Immigration and Nationality Act Archived 21 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine., as retrieved from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
  8. ^ Tichenor, Daniel J. (2002). Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 216. 
  9. ^ a b "Immigration through a Family Member". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Archived from the original on 16 July 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2008. 
  10. ^ Judge’s partial lifting of Trump ban gives refugees hope
  11. ^ Dec. 21, 2017: Trump Administration Considers Separating Families to Combat Illegal Immigration
  12. ^ Kelly confirms he's considering program to separate migrant children and parents (03/06/2017)
  13. ^ Bring my parents to live in the US
  14. ^ Stock, Margaret; Eastman, John (2 May 2006). "Five Questions on Immigration Reform". Federalist Society. Archived from the original on 17 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2008. 
  15. ^ Lee, Margaret Mikyung (12 May 2006). U.S. Citizenship of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents (PDF) (Report). Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. pp. 10, 17. Retrieved 16 August 2008. 
  16. ^ Preston, Julia (17 November 2007). "Immigration Quandary: A Mother Torn From Her Baby". New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2008. 
    Passel, Jeffrey (7 March 2006). "The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the US" (PDF). Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved 20 August 2008. 
  17. ^ a b Lind, Dara (29 December 2017). "What 'Chain Migration' Really Means". Vox. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  18. ^ Home | Federation for American Immigration Reform. Retrieved on 2013-07-22.
  19. ^ a b Chain Migration.

External links[edit]