The Refugee Convention 1951 and the Refugee Protocol 1967 is the legal framework for how the UK and other signatories to the Refugee Convention accept people fleeing persecution from other countries. The Refugee Convention itself does not explicitly outline rights to family reunion; however, the UNHCR Handbook does set out the minimum requirements. Those requirements are that a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK should be able to bring their spouse and minor children to the UK where their family unity has been disrupted due to persecution.
How does family reunion applications work?
The EU qualification directive (2004/83/EC) at Article 23 also sets out criteria which member states must apply when considering family unity for refugees and those with humanitarian protection.
The Immigration Rules at 352A – 352FJ set out the national requirements for family reunion for spouses, partners and minor children.
Family reunion applications are most commonly made from outside the UK, although they can also be made from inside the UK. If they are made outside the UK, then the applicants must use the online application system. There is no fee for a family reunion application and the documents required for submission are limited to evidencing a relationship with a person in the UK granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and evidencing that that relationship has been in existence since before the refugee fled from the country. This is known as ‘pre-flight’.
What must the applicant do?
The applicant must produce proof of identity, such as a passport and provide biometrics, that is fingerprints and photographs to the application centre. The applicant should also provide a copy of the refugee’s grant of leave, which will usually be a copy front and back of a biometric residence permit. They will also need to provide evidence of marriage, cohabitation and relevant birth certificates.
What are the grounds for refusal?
The Home Office or entry clearance officer will also check whether any false documents have been submitted with the application if they have, then the application can be refused under the general grounds for refusal at 320 (entry clearance) or 322 (leave to remain). This could also be the case where an applicant has criminal convictions or has provided incorrect information or withheld relevant information as part of the application.
How do refugees become citizens?
When a person is granted refugee status initially, they are granted 5 years leave to remain in the UK. At the end of 5 years, they are entitled to indefinite leave to remain provided they meet the criteria at that time. Persons granted refugee status can apply for family reunion at any point up until there granted British citizenship. Once they are granted British citizenship, they can no longer sponsor family reunion applications.
Family reunion applications do not need to sit an English language exam
Family reunion applicants do not have to satisfy the Immigration Rules under Appendix FM, which includes the financial, accommodation and English language requirements. The family reunion applicant would usually be granted 5 years leave after which they could apply for indefinite leave to remain after those 5 years of expired. At that point, unlike any other category of applicant under the Immigration Rules; a family reunion applicant (akin with refugees) will not have to meet the knowledge of language and life in the UK requirements. This means they do not have to take English tests or provide evidence of their knowledge of life in the UK by taking an exam.
The relationships which meet the rules for family reunion are very limited and do not include, for example, the parents and siblings of a child who has been recognised as a refugee. In these circumstances, it may still be possible to make family reunion application invoking the family exceptional circumstances guidance and outlining compassionate factors which may still warrant a grant of leave.
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