The UK’s family reunion rules: striking the right balance?

Commons Library Analysis: The UK’s family reunion rules: striking the right balance? Published Thursday, June 23, 2016.

There are various different provisions for refugee family reunion in the UK. Campaigners are pressing the Government to extend these further, particularly in respect of children’s cases.

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UK Immigration Rules

The UK’s Immigration Rules enable people who have been granted Refugee status or Humanitarian Protection to be joined in the UK by immediate family members (i.e. partner and dependent children under 18) who were part of their family before they fled to claim asylum. There is no charge for these applications, and they are exempt from some of the eligibility criteria which usually apply to family visa applications.

Different rules apply for other relations, such as dependent adult relatives, adopted children, and ‘post-flight’ family members. Significant application fees and more restrictive eligibility criteria, such as maintenance and English language requirements, usually apply.

Campaigners want the Government to extend the refugee family reunion rules, so that they would apply to all dependent relationships.

The Government maintains that the current rules strike the right balance. It is concerned that more generous rules might act as a pull factor for asylum seekers to come to the UK. It also argues that giving child refugees the right to sponsor family reunion applications might put children at greater risk of trafficking. Nevertheless, it has confirmed that there is scope to make exceptions in special cases, and that it will soon publish updated policy guidance on this.

There are also calls to reinstate legal aid for family reunion applications. It was removed in 2013, on the basis that these applications are straightforward to prepare. Campaigners argue that in practice they can be time-consuming and complex.

EU law: the Dublin III Regulations

The EU’s Dublin III Regulations, which determine which Member State should be responsible for deciding an asylum claim, prioritise respect for family unity over certain other considerations, such as which country the asylum seeker originally entered. Recent action taken by the Government to improve the handling of Dublin cases includes seconding officials to France, Italy and Greece to assist in the identification and swift processing of cases suitable for transfer to the UK, and establishing a new £10 million DFID fund which will be used in part to identify children in Europe in need of family reunion in the UK.

Refugee Resettlement schemes

Having a close family member in the UK may bring a person within the scope of one of the various different refugee resettlement schemes operated by the UK. The Government is establishing some new resettlement schemes for children in the Middle East/North Africa, and unaccompanied children already in Europe, in consultation with local authorities and the NGO sector. These are not yet operational.

International comparisons

The rules for refugee family reunion in other EU Member States vary in practice, and have also received some criticism from some NGOs.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7511

Author: Melanie Gower

Topic: Asylum