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Family life is a right for migrants too - how to ensure it?

Is there a need to change the EU rules on family reunification of migrants? Yesterday, the Commission launched a public debate on the right to family reunification of third-country nationals living in the EU. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the Commission will decide whether any policy follow-up is necessary – such as setting up clear guidelines, modifying the current rules or leaving the legislation as it is. Stakeholders and the general public are invited to have their say at The background and contact details can also be found here.

Since 2003, common EU rules specify the conditions under which family members of a non-EU citizen, legally resident in a Member State, are allowed to enter and reside in the EU.

"Family reunification gives immigrants the possibility to have a family life and helps their integration into society", underlined Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs. "I hope that all stakeholders will participate in the consultation, and share their experiences and opinions on how to have more effective rules on family reunification. Member States are especially invited to outline and quantify the problems they claim to have with abuse of the current rules," she added.

The Green Paper focuses on a number of questions arising from the application of Directive 2003/86/EC. All stakeholders are now invited to reply – before 1 March 2012 - to questions such as:

  • To whom the directive should apply: How to best define the migrants who benefit from the EU rules; whether the right to family reunification should be extended to other family members, outside than the core family; the problems experienced with forced marriages;

  • The conditions for family reunification: Whether the integration measures that Member States are allowed to introduce need to be further specified; whether safeguards should be foreseen to ensure that such measures really foster integration and are not used as barriers to family reunification;

  • Ways of tackling possible fraud and marriages of convenience;

  • The functioning of certain obligations for Member States, such as taking the best interest of children into account when examining an application.

The Commission intends to organise a public hearing after having received written contributions.


The Directive (2003/86/EC) lays down common conditions on the right of legally residing third-country nationals to be joined by their non-EU family members. It does not deal with the situation of third-country nationals who are family members of a EU citizen, which is regulated in the framework of the free movement of EU citizens (see Directive 2004/38/EC).

According to data available, in the early 2000s, family migration seemed to make up more than 50% of the total legal immigration. Today, this share has fallen to about one third of all immigration to the EU. The share is even smaller when singeling out the migrants targeted by the family reunification Directive (i.e. only third-country nationals joining non-EU citizens): 21% of the overall permits are released to this category of migrants, comprising roughly 500.000 people in 2010. During this year, Italy issued the most family related permits for third county nationals joining non-EU citizens (160,200), followed by the UK (103,187) and Spain (89,905).

Non-EU citizens who are family members of legally residing third-country nationals have the right to enter and reside in the EU if the sponsor has resided "for one year or more" with "reasonable prospects of obtaining the right of permanent residence". Member States may require the fulfilment of other conditions such as sufficient resources, adequate accommodation and sickness insurance, as well as "integration measures".

On 8 October 2008, the Commission issued a report on the implementation of the Directive, identifying possible problems and giving recommendations on how to improve its implementation. The report notably showed that the Directive leaves Member States too much discretion when applying some of its optional provisions, in particular as regards the period that a third-country national must wait before his family can join him and the possibility for Member States to oblige third-country nationals to comply with 'integration measures'.

In light of this, the Commission is now launching a public debate on family reunification to determine whether and what concrete policy follow-up is necessary. The Green Paper adopted today aims to collect feedback from stakeholders and Member states on a number of issues arising in this field to ensure an effective family reunification regime at EU level.

Any possible follow-up will be subject to an in-depth assessment of its impact on fundamental rights, in particular the respect for private and family life, the right to marry, the rights of the child and the principle of non-discrimination.

For more information

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs

Homepage DG Home Affairs:

Contacts :

Michele Cercone (+32 2 298 09 63)

Tove Ernst (+32 2 298 67 64)




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