While the future for immigrant families in Europe remains unclear with the current political climate and impact of far right parties, most Member States today still have policies that the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) finds are ‘slightly favourable’ for family reunion. The average EU country goes beyond the Directive’s minimum standards. The Commission’s 2008 Application Report identified key national weaknesses in transposition.
The European Commission’s November 2011 Green Paper presents stakeholders with a choice: either the Commission opens infringement proceedings for improper transposition based on the current Directive, or it reopens negotiations to change the Directive.
1. Confronting stereo-types, understanding family life
Who do you imagine when you think of family reunion? You may see Moroccan and Turkish wives arriving in countries with longer histories of family immigration like Austria, Belgium, France, and Germany. You may think family reunion is the way that most immigrants come to your EU Member State. These stereotypes are far from the real lives of these families who are making the EU their home. Any debate on the EU Family Reunion Directive should start with Eurostat’s comparable statistics. Around half a million non-EU family members were able to reunite with their non-EU sponsor in 2010 in one of 23 EU Member States (statistics not reported for Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands). The overall number slightly increased from 2009 to 2010 as many more children joined their parent(s) in Italy and Spain.
In most EU countries, the number of reuniting non-EU families is small compared to the many other people arriving legally every year. They are the most important in Sweden and new countries of immigration in Southern and Central Europe. There are more reuniting non-EU families in Italy or Spain than in France or Germany and more in Czech Republic, Greece, or Portugal than in Austria or Belgium. These newcomer families are very diverse, coming from all over the globe. Rarely do the majority in a given EU country come from the same country or region. In most countries, non-EU family reunion involves only the nuclear family and annually affects more children than spouses or partners. Download
2. Right to family reunion – the dynamics between EU law and national policy change
EU Family Reunion Directive 2003/86/EC establishes the right to family reunion for non-EU sponsors and their families with key objectives of promoting integration and comparable rights and obligations. The Directive recognises that facilitating family reunion facilitates immigrant integration and societal cohesion. The Directive has not only extended basic rights and legal securities to reuniting families in new immigration countries, but also secured them from further policy restrictions in all countries. While the future for immigrant families in Europe remains unclear with the current political climate and impact of far right parties, most Member States today still have policies that MIPEX finds are ‘slightly favourable’ for family reunion. The average EU country goes beyond the Directive’s minimum standards. Vague provisions in the Directive’s text and incorrect transposition in Member States were identified in the 2008 Commission Application Report. These problems have been and can be addressed by national and EU courts. To date, the two ECJ judgments on family reunion reinforced the Directive’s overall objectives that Member States’ policies must respect the right to family life, right to family reunification, equal treatment, and general principles of EU law.
The November 2011 Green Paper presents stakeholders with a new choice: either the Commission opens infringement proceedings based on the current Directive, or it reopens negotiations to change the Directive. Infringement proceedings have not yet been fully applied in the areas of legal immigration and residence. Re-negotiation has highly uncertain outcomes since the process may not lead to higher standards or harmonisation. On the contrary, the Netherlands is lobbying other Member States for a renegotiation that leads to more restrictions, less harmonisation, and a fundamental change of scope. These restrictions must be introduced in national and EU law and ultimately halve immigration to the Netherlands as the condition for Geert Wilders’ support of the current Dutch minority coalition. The European Commission will choose between the two options-infringement or renegotiation-after it reviews which and how Member States and stakeholders respond to this Green Paper. Two Annexes to this brief summarise key EU and national findings on family reunion from the 2011 MIPEX and the Commission’s 2008 Application Report. Download
3. Impact of new family reunion tests and requirements on the integration process
New family reunion requirements, such as pre-entry tests, high income requirements, and age limits above the marriage age, are relatively new and untested. They are limited to a small set of EU Member States, led by Denmark and, more recently, The Netherlands. They are often justified as improving immigrants’ socio-economic participation and language knowledge as well as fighting forced marriages. Based on available studies and government evaluations, it cannot be claimed that these requirements effectively promote integration objectives. They do not significantly help successfully reuniting families to integrate much faster into their new country of residence. On the contrary, they are more effective for limiting the number of reuniting families. Many families, no matter their motivation and preparation, cannot persist to meet the new requirements.
The drop in applications is highest in countries like Denmark and The Netherlands where the levels and costs are high and state supports are low. These policies have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups: the elderly, young adults, the less educated, people in certain – often unstable-countries, and-to some extent-women. These people are less likely to apply for family reunion, pass a pre-entry test, or use alternative options like resettling in another EU country. With few families able to resettle somewhere else, some delay their application, while others give up altogether. Making family life harder or even impossible can negatively impact on the well-being and future integration of the entire family. Download
4. Restrictions ‘in name of integration’ separate families in practice
One major assumption behind family reunion policymaking is that policy determines how many families are able to reunite in a country of destination. Surprisingly, this assumption has never been proved quantitatively across countries, despite its serious implications for both immigration flows and fundamental rights under national, European, and international law. The non-EU family reunion rate is a simple new measure used in this briefing to compare the outcomes of family reunion policies. It describes how common or uncommon non-EU family reunion is in a country. The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) compares family reunion policies. It analyses whether countries facilitate the right to family reunion as a means to facilitate integration. Spearman’s correlation analysis of MIPEX and Eurostat statistics identifies a very strong positive relationship between non-EU family reunion rates and policies. Recent evaluations in a handful of countries have found that specific policies like pre-entry tests, high income requirements, and high age limits have affected family reunion rates.
This briefing’s more broad analysis of 22 countries and 20 policy indicators suggests that most restrictions will likely function as obstacles to the right to family reunion. Policies that become more restrictive, selective, and discretionary systematically restrict the number of sponsors and families who reunite. The effects of policy restrictions on family reunions cannot be denied or ignored, since family reunion is a right enshrined in EU law. The burden is on supporters of restrictions to prove their claims that reducing the number of reuniting families effectively improves the integration of reuniting families. How does keeping a sponsor from her family help her participate in her new country? Do policies that make reunion harder for some families really make the situation any better for other families in society? Download
The slideshow presentation of the MPG Briefings is available below: