Family reunification depends on many different factors. It is differentiated by whether the person residing in Germany who is eligible for family reunification has German or European citizenship or comes from a third country, and what the immigration status of that person is. Furthermore, it depends on which family member is reuniting with the person residing in Germany.
Generally, those eligible for family reunification are spouses or life partners, as well as unmarried minor children under 16 years of age, for Germans and Europeans. In other significant exceptional cases, older children may also be eligible.
In the case of unaccompanied minor children, the custodial parents usually have a right to family reunification. This applies whenever there is no custodial parent residing abroad or when they consent to the change of residence to Germany.
Significant differences in family reunification also depend, for example, on the residence status of the person living in Germany. Refugees who have been granted only subsidiary protection status generally do not have a basic entitlement to family reunification. However, there are monthly allocations of 1,000 visas for family reunification for family members of those with subsidiary protection status. The requirements for family reunification can vary depending on the residence status as well.
In this article, we provide an overview of family reunification and its prerequisites.
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Family reunification and family immigration refer to the process of family members moving to join a person living in Germany. This person can be a German citizen or a foreign national residing in Germany, the destination country, with a valid residence permit. The family members typically reside in another country.
The goal of family reunification is to establish or maintain family unity. This objective is already derived from Article 6 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) in Germany. Additionally, it is reinforced by Article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (GRCh) and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (EMRK), which emphasize the importance of family reunification.
Despite the clear foundation in fundamental rights and human rights for the right to family reunification, its exercise is often politically and legally contentious, as seen, for example, in cases of family reunification for individuals granted subsidiary protection status.
Indeed, granting family reunification and enabling the family to live together in Germany is often essential for successful integration. Refusing or significantly delaying family reunification can jeopardize the integration process, as it can be unbearable for individuals not to be with their families during their stay in Germany.
The terms "family reunification" and "family immigration" refer to the same concept. The Residence Act (AufenthG) which governs family reunification in Sections 27 to 36a, uses the term "family immigration" (Familiennachzug).
The system of family reunification, with its requirements, is complex. The Residence Act recognizes various forms of family reunification, which can significantly differ in their prerequisites. The following are the forms of family reunification:
The purpose of family reunification is to establish or preserve family unity. Therefore, family reunification is generally only possible for the closest relatives of a German citizen or a foreign national living in Germany. The current legal regulations in Sections 27 to 36a of the Residence Act (AufenthG) are designed in such a way that family reunification is primarily intended for the so-called nuclear family.
For adult individuals, this includes the spouse or life partner and any still-minor children. In the case of minor children living in Germany without a custodial parent, there is a right to family reunification with the custodial parent or parents.
For siblings, parents of adult individuals, adult children, grandparents, or other "other family members," the possibility of family reunification exists only if it would prevent exceptional hardship.
The decision lies with the immigration authorities. However, the term "exceptional hardship" implies that the hurdles for such family reunification, involving non-traditional family members, are very high, and an application is likely to fail without competent legal guidance.
A special case in family reunification in Germany involves foreign nationals living in the country who have been granted only subsidiary protection. After the significant influx of refugees in 2015, family reunification for those with subsidiary protection was completely suspended from March 2016 until the end of July 2018.
Since August 2018, family reunification for individuals with subsidiary protection in Germany has been newly regulated. Section 36a, paragraph 1, sentence 3 of the Residence Act (AufenthG) expressly clarifies that there is no entitlement to family reunification for those with subsidiary protection. Family reunification can only be granted on humanitarian grounds with the spouse, minor children, or in the case of minor beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, with their legal guardians.
Furthermore, according to Section 36a, paragraph 2, sentence 2 of the Residence Act (AufenthG), there is a monthly cap. Only 1,000 visas for family reunification with individuals granted subsidiary protection are issued each month.
Family reunification in Germany is only possible for refugees if the person living in Germany has protection status and has received a residence permit. Therefore, the following individuals with protection status primarily have a right to family reunification:
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For refugees who have only received subsidiary protection (§ 4 AsylG) - residence permit according to § 25, paragraph 2, alternative 2 of the Residence Act (AufenthG) - there is no entitlement to family reunification (see above).
If a refugee has been determined to have a deportation ban under § 60, paragraph 5, or paragraph 7 of the Residence Act (AufenthG) and has been granted a residence permit under § 25, paragraph 3 of the Residence Act (AufenthG), family reunification is possible within narrow limits.
According to § 29, paragraph 3, sentence 1 of the Residence Act (AufenthG), it is imperative that humanitarian or international law reasons exist for this. However, humanitarian reasons can be assumed when reuniting the family in a third country is not possible. In such a case, as a deportation ban has already been determined for the person residing in Germany (§ 60, paragraph 5, or paragraph 7 of the Residence Act, AufenthG), the reunification of the family in the country of origin is already impossible.
Family reunification can also be completely excluded under certain conditions. This particularly applies when an asylum procedure or the recognition as a refugee or subsidiary protection beneficiary has not yet been concluded.
If the foreign national only holds a toleration, family reunification is also excluded. § 29, paragraph 3, sentence 3 of the Residence Act (AufenthG) lists additional residence permits for which family reunification is excluded.
For residence permits that are independent of protection status (such as asylum entitlement, refugee recognition, or subsidiary protection), family reunification is also possible. A person living in Germany can, for example, have their spouse/life partner (§ 30 of the Residence Act, AufenthG) or their minor unmarried child (§ 32 of the Residence Act, AufenthG) join them in Germany if this person holds one of the following residence permits:
You can read more about the Blue Card in this article.
For family reunification, a visa for the family member who intends to join is required. Typically, the visa is the first application submitted by the family members. The visa must be applied for in person at the relevant German diplomatic mission in the country where the family members seeking to reunite reside. It is essential to ensure that the correct visa, specifically for family reunification, is applied for.
Visa application incurs fees. For adults, the visa fee is 75 euros, while for minor children, it is half that amount. Additional costs may arise, such as fees for document certification or translation.
After the visa application has been received and reviewed by the diplomatic mission, the data of the individuals wishing to join their family member are forwarded to the local immigration authority at the residence of the family member living in Germany. There, factors such as the residence status and residence permit of the principal beneficiary are also examined.
The immigration authority now examines the legal requirements, especially ensuring means of subsistence. During this process, the immigration authority may request further documents or summon the person already residing in Germany for a personal interview if there are still unresolved issues or if any documents are missing.
After the immigration authority has sent its opinion or approval to the diplomatic mission, the diplomatic mission makes a decision on the visa application. If the visa application is denied, an objection can be filed. However, the legal remedy against it is not called Objection but 'Remonstration'.
Once the diplomatic mission has issued the visa, the family members wishing to reunite can enter Germany. However, it's important to note that the visa application or visa issuance only grants the visa itself. After entering Germany, the residence status must be clarified with the local immigration authority.
To do so, it is advisable to visit the immigration authority promptly after entry, and in any case, within the validity of the visa, to apply for the corresponding residence permit under §§ 27 to 36a of the Residence Act (AufenthG). Since the eligibility criteria have already been examined during the visa process, there should be no issues with obtaining the residence permit.
However, a different situation may apply if the individual's circumstances have fundamentally changed since the immigration authority's approval (e.g., due to the separation of spouses or life partners).
Certain general eligibility criteria are already examined during the issuance of the required visa. However, these criteria may differ depending on the legal basis for family reunification and, in some cases, on the type of residence permit held by the family member eligible for reunification. In general, the following eligibility criteria apply (§§ 5, 11, 27, 29 of the Residence Act, AufenthG):
In certain cases, exceptions can and must be made to these eligibility criteria. The requirement for ensuring means of subsistence is generally waived for family members of German nationals. The requirement for adequate housing can be waived if the family member in Germany who is eligible for reunification holds, for example, a Blue Card EU (§ 29, paragraph 1, sentence 2 of the Residence Act, AufenthG).
The requirement for providing means of subsistence and the proof of adequate housing can also be waived when parents are reuniting with an unaccompanied minor (§ 36, paragraph 1 of the Residence Act, AufenthG).
According to § 29, paragraph 2, sentence 2 of the Residence Act (AufenthG), in certain circumstances, the requirement for adequate housing and sufficient means of subsistence can also be waived. In this privileged family reunification, the immigration authority has no discretion but must waive these eligibility criteria. Such privileged family reunification is possible under the following conditions:
If the person living in Germany is not exempt from the requirement of securing the means of subsistence, they must earn enough to cover their own livelihood and that of their family members joining them without relying on public funds.
Means of subsistence include income from employment, both self-employed and employed, as well as child benefits, child supplements, parenting benefits, and parental allowance. If the person living in Germany, for example, relies on benefits under SGB II or SGB XII – such as unemployment benefits or basic income support – their livelihood is not secured.
Livelihood must be secured without the use of public funds. If there is only a claim to supplementary benefits due to low earnings, such as topping up with basic income support, livelihood is also not secured, even if no actual public funds are being used.
According to § 29, paragraph 1, number 2 of the Residence Act (AufenthG), there must be adequate housing available for family reunification. In certain cases, exceptions can be made to this requirement. Existing housing can be proven, for example, through a rental agreement.
Adequate housing is considered to be available when there is a specific living space available for each family member. For family members under 6 years old, 10 square meters are required, while for family members over 6 years old, 12 square meters must be available. Ancillary rooms such as bathrooms or kitchens must also be present and accessible for shared use. A deviation from the required living space by up to 10% is generally acceptable.
Different federal states may establish varying regulations on this matter.
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Both terms refer to the immigration of family members residing abroad to a person living in Germany. In the Residence Act, the term 'family reunification' is used for the process.
Eligible individuals typically include immediate family members such as spouses, life partners, and minor unmarried children. For other relatives, the requirements are significantly higher and usually depend on the presence of exceptional hardship.
The Residence Act regulates various forms of family reunification, depending on the relationship and the residence status of the person living in Germany.
The requirements vary depending on the residence permit and protection status of the person living in Germany. In most cases, a visa is required for entry into Germany.
The family member who intends to join must obtain a visa, which is applied for at the German diplomatic mission in their home country. After entering Germany, a residence permit must be applied for at the immigration authority in Germany.
In order to bring family members to Germany, the person residing in Germany must primarily ensure their means of subsistence and provide evidence of adequate housing.
Exceptions include, for example, privileged family reunification, where these requirements do not necessarily need to be met, as well as for unaccompanied minors.
No, family reunification depends on the residence permit of the person living in Germany, but not every residence permit automatically entitles them to family reunification.
Under certain circumstances, family reunification can be excluded, such as in cases of pending asylum applications or tolerated residence status. There are also stricter limits for individuals granted subsidiary protection.
For each family member, certain living spaces must be provided. For family members under 6 years old, this is 10 square meters, and for family members over 6 years old, it is 12 square meters.
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