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Part I. Introduction

This report surveys seventy-one foreign countries, plus the United States and the European Union, on the issue of whether their laws permit legal immigrants to bring family members into the country for purposes of residence. 

For many of the jurisdictions covered, the information provided focuses exclusively on family reunification for permanent residents.  However, for a number of jurisdictions, information is also provided on family reunification for citizens/nationals or temporary residents.  The variance is due to the information available for the given jurisdiction and the manner in which the legal sources consulted for the jurisdiction are organized. 

The persons who are considered family members or dependents for family migration or reunification purposes differ among the various jurisdictions.  In conformity with the European Union Directive on Family Reunification, in many EU Member States family members eligible for reunification include spouses/unmarried partners; minor, unmarried children (including adopted children), such children who are in the custody of either spouse; and dependent adult children or dependent parents of either spouse.  In Ethiopia, family members include not only the spouse and children but any other person dependent on the residence permit holder; in Ecuador, persons within the second-degree of kinship of a citizen or legal immigrant may apply for immigrant status.  By contrast, Australia allows “contributory parents to migrate,” and also fiancés of citizens and permanent residents.  In other countries, such as Panama, even minor children may apply for their foreign parent’s migration to the country.  In the case of a polygamous sponsor, the laws of many European jurisdictions provide that only one wife may join the sponsor for purposes of family reunification in the receiving country.

In most jurisdictions, eligibility for family reunification is conditioned on such factors as the sponsor’s ability to provide financial support, adequate accommodations, and health insurance for the family member(s).  In addition some jurisdictions, like Canada, require that the sponsor not have been convicted of serious offenses, not have previously been sponsored him/herself and become a permanent resident within the last five years, and not have declared bankruptcy.  There is also typically a minimum age requirement of not less than eighteen years of age or in some cases twenty-one years of age applicable to a migrant spouse; in some countries there is a similar age requirement for the sponsor.  Denmark requires that both the spouse/cohabitant as well as the sponsoring spouse be twenty-four years of age, a higher age requirement than for most jurisdictions.  Some countries, such as the Netherlands, also require proof of the family connection (e.g., through notarized documents and DNA tests) and pre-integration tests administered in the country of origin.  In addition, many countries may refuse an application for family reunification if the migrating family member has committed certain criminal offenses, presents a threat to public order or national security, or does not meet certain health standards.

Jurisdictions other than the United States do not appear to have a complex system of preference categories for family immigrants with numerical limits, although Australia has closed certain types of family visas (related to the extended family, e.g., parents and aged dependent relatives) to new applications and Samoa has a law imposing an annual quota on the number of permanent resident permits that will be issued.  Other jurisdictions may also impose certain limits, but because it was not a focal point of this report, the data is not complete.

The discussion which follows begins in Part II with an overview of the US approach to family reunification for informational purposes and comparison with the foreign country surveys included in Part IV.  A snapshot of the European Union Directive on the Right to Family Reunification is then provided in Part III as background for those country surveys involving EU Member States.  The specific country entries are provided in alphabetical order in Part IV, followed by a selected list of international and comparative law materials on the subject in Part V.

Global Legal Research Directorate Staff
July 2014

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Last Updated: 08/08/2014