The right to family unity is guaranteed in Article 23 of the recast Qualification Directive. Further details can be found in the Family Reunification Directive, which makes explicit reference to refugees but not to subsidiary protection holders.
Recent legislative reforms in countries such as Austria, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Ireland, Denmark or Finland have imposed stricter conditions on the enjoyment of family reunification. Several countries have excluded subsidiary protection beneficiaries from the right to family reunification, contrary to the Commission’s 2014 guidance. Greece, Cyprus and Malta fully exclude beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from the right to family reunification. This is now also the case in Sweden following the entry into force of the temporary law from July 2016 to July 2019. The exclusion of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from family reunification affects only those applying for asylum after 24 November 2015. Germany has recently excluded subsidiary protection holders from family reunification from March 2016 to March 2018, only eight months after granting them equal footing to refugees in terms of preferential conditions for reuniting with family members
Minimum waiting period
At EU level, the Family Reunification Directive allows for minimum waiting periods of up to 2 years prior to a family reunification application, but prohibits those in the case of recognised refugees. Against this backdrop, a number of countries have established waiting periods before an application for family reunification may be submitted, usually but not exclusively affecting subsidiary protection beneficiaries: in the case of subsidiary protection in Austria, “temporary subsidiary protection” in Denmark, and temporary admission in Switzerland, subsidiary protection holders must wait 3 years before applying for family reunification. In Malta's case, a one-year waiting period is imposed on refugees, contrary to the Directive.
Deadlines before submitting an application
Some countries have laid down a deadline following the grant of international protection for applying for family reunification in order to be exempt from material conditions, applicable to both refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries. In the Netherlands, this time limit is 3 months, whereas in Poland it is 6 months, and in Belgium and Ireland it is 12 months. In Germany, Sweden, Greece and Cyprus, where only refugees are entitled to family reunification, the time limit is 3 months.
In Austria and Hungary, such a deadline exists only for refugees, who must apply within 3 months of recognition if they wish to benefit from preferential treatment. Otherwise they must fulfil the material requirements applicable to subsidiary protection beneficiaries. The deadline of 3 months for submitting an application was introduced on 1 June 2016 in Austria, despite concern from civil society organisations around family members’ difficulties to access an Austrian embassy in person to file an application.
On the contrary, Switzerland imposes a maximum deadline of 5 years on temporarily admitted persons, after their 3-year waiting period has passed. This is reduced to 1 year if family reunification concerns children over the age of twelve. No deadline exists in France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The material conditions required for family reunification under the Family Reunification Directive are threefold: the sponsor must guarantee (a) accommodation regarded as normal for a comparable family in the same region, to meet the accommodation needs of the family; (b) sickness insurance; and (c) sufficient income to cover his or her own and the family’s costs without recourse to social assistance. Refugees are expressly exempt from these requirements, although Member States are allowed not to apply the exemption if the refugee has not applied for family reunification within 3 months of recognition.
Out of the countries allowing both categories of international protection beneficiaries to apply for family reunification, Belgium exempts both refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries if the application for family reunification is filed within 12 months. Conversely, only refugees are exempted from fulfilling material conditions such as income, accommodation and health insurance in Austria, Switzerland and Hungary, although in Austria and Hungary this exemption is conditional upon applying for family reunification within the aforementioned deadline. Material conditions are always applicable to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection / temporary admission, although Austria provides an exemption for unaccompanied children. On the contrary, refugees are subject to requirements to prove accommodation, sufficient income and health insurance in Malta. Subsidiary protection beneficiaries are excluded from family reunification. No material requirements are foreseen in France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy and the United Kingdom.