Certain family members of beneficiaries of international protection enjoy the right to join the beneficiary in Belgium trough family reunification. The legal basis for family reunification is Article 10 of the Aliens Act.
In 2021, 4,804 visa applications were lodged for family reunification with a beneficiary of international protection in Belgium. This number is comparable with the pre-covid year 2019, when 4,635 applications were lodged. 78% of the applications in 2021 concerned family members of beneficiaries of the refugee status.
In 2021, 2,977 persons were granted a visa for family reunification with a beneficiary of international protection in Belgium. 33% concerned beneficiaries from Syrian origin and 21% concerned beneficiaries from Palestinian origin.
In 2018, UNHCR and the Federal Migration Centre (Myria) published a report illustrating the main obstacles that beneficiaries of international protection face in the context of family reunification. These include:
- obstacles encountered in submitting a visa application;
- the narrow definition of the family members of a beneficiary of international protection and the long and uncertain procedure for humanitarian visas;
- the strict conditions for family reunification where the application could not be submitted within one year of recognition or granting of international protection status;
- the complexity of proving family ties and regular recourse to DNA testing;
- the difficulty of financing the costs of family reunification; and finally, family reunification in the event of a humanitarian crisis.
Many of these obstacles have since then remained unchanged. In view of a new legislative proposal that is being prepared on this topic, Myria published a new report in 2022 with recommendations on the procedure of family reunification for beneficiaries of international protection. It establishes that the procedure of family reunification for refugee families is very complex and difficult, due to both the living circumstances of the applicants and to the Belgian procedure. Issues with the Belgian procedure concern inter alia:
- the delays during which beneficiaries are exempt from certain material conditions, which are too short to be able to constitute a complete file for family reunification including all necessary documents in time;
- the application procedure, demanding that family members apply for family reunification at the Belgian diplomatic post in the country of origin;
- the lack of legislative framework on several aspects such as incomplete applications, the identity documents that can be considered etc.;
- the lack of information, advise and professional support for the application procedure.
Myria concludes that if neither the delays are prolonged nor the application procedure facilitated, beneficiaries of international protection are unable to realise their right to family reunification in practice. The success of an application for family reunification with a beneficiary of international protection currently entirely depends on whether or not the family receives professional support. This is especially the case for reunification with unaccompanied minors. Due to a lack of sufficient organisations and lawyers who are able to offer this professional support, many families are unable to realise their right to family reunification.
In its year report of 2022, Myria indicates the specific issues that are encountered by Afghan family members since the take-over of power by the Taliban. Whereas the need for protection of these family members is often high, it has become almost impossible to gather the necessary documents and travel to the Belgian diplomatic post in Islamabad, Pakistan. Myria has published a specific report, highlighting obstacles and formulating recommendations on this topic.
Eligible family members
Four categories of persons may join a beneficiary in Belgium.
- A spouse, equalled partner, or registered partner;
- An underage and unmarried child;
- A child of age with a disability;
- A parent of an unaccompanied child with protection status.
In order to reunite with a spouse or equalled partner, certain conditions have to be fulfilled. Both partners have to be over the age of 21, unless the union took place before arrival in Belgium, in which case the minimum age is reduced to 18. The spouse or equalled partner must come and live with the beneficiary in Belgium. Polygamous marriages are excluded, only one of the wives can join the beneficiary. In practice an investigation to whether the marriage or equalled registered partnership is a marriage of convenience is often carried out. However, this does not suspend the family reunification procedure. If the investigation shows there is a marriage of convenience, the Immigration Office can revoke the right to residence.
The conditions for a registered partner are largely similar but require proof of a “stable and lasting” relationship. Evidence of this can either be a common child, having lived together in Belgium or abroad for at least 1 year before applying or proof that both partners have known each other for at least 2 years and have regular contact by telephone or have met at least 3 times, amounting to a total of at least 45 days, during the 2 years preceding the application. The registered partners also have to be unmarried and not be in a lasting relationship with another person. Couples in a long and stable relationship but who are unmarried or did not have their relationship registered, do not qualify for family reunification. This poses inter alia problems for same-sex couples, who are often unable to marry or register their relationship in their country of origin. Consequently, the same-sex partner of a beneficiary of international protection in Belgium often does not qualify for family reunification and needs to apply for a humanitarian visa, which is not a right, but a favour granted by the Belgian government and the procedure for which is very complex.
Underage children wishing to join their parents residing in Belgium as a beneficiary of international protection have to be unmarried and set to live under the same roof as the parents. If a child wishes to join only one of his parents in Belgium, the situation depends on the custody arrangement. In the event of sole custody, a copy of the judgment granting sole custody will have to be provided. If custody is shared, consent of the one parent that the child can join the other parent in Belgium is required.
Children of age with a disability or handicap have the possibility to join their parent(s) with international protection if they provide a document certifying their state of health. In order be considered disabled, the person concerned has to be unable to provide for his/her own needs as a result of the disability. The child also has to be unmarried and come and live with the beneficiary.
If the beneficiary of international protection is an unaccompanied child, the beneficiary’s parents can enter Belgium through the family reunification mechanism. Until April 2018, family reunification with an unaccompanied minor was only possible when the child was recognised as a refugee or was granted subsidiary protection status. Moreover, the family reunification with the parents (and/or the minor siblings) had to intervene before the unaccompanied minor turned 18. However, since the CJEU ruled in A and S v Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie that the date of introduction of the asylum application of the unaccompanied minor is decisive for the right to family reunification, the Immigration Office has adapted its practice and allows family reunification even if the unaccompanied minor turned 18 during the asylum procedure. On the basis of a recent CJUE ruling of August 2022 (C-279/20), it is established that this is equally the case for children wishing to join their parents residing in Belgium as a beneficiary of international protection: the minority of the child needs to be determined on the moment of the application for international protection of the parent. Although the CJUE rulings concerned beneficiaries of the refugee status, the Immigration Office also applies this jurisprudence to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and people with a residence permit on the basis of medical regularisation. For children who turned 18 during the asylum procedure of their parent in Belgium, the Council of State recently ruled that the application for family reunification needs to be introduced within 12 months after the parent has obtained the protection status, instead of the previously applied 3 months. The Immigration Office has adapted its practice on the basis of this ruling. Although the ruling of the Council of State could be extended to family reunification of a parent with an ex-unaccompanied minor who turned 18 during the asylum procedure, the Immigration Office still requires that the application is introduced within 3 months after the child has received the protection status.
To establish family ties, Belgian law foresees a cascade system. Ties are preferably proven by official documents, other valid proof or an interview or supplementary analysis (i.e., a DNA test). If an applicant is unable to produce official documents, the inability has to be “real and objective”, meaning contrary to the applicants’ own will, such as Belgium not recognising the country concerned, an inability to enter into contact with the authorities or a specific situation in the country of origin such as not functioning authorities or authorities that no longer exist. If this inability is established, the Immigration Office can take other valid proof into account. In the absence of other valid proof, the Belgian authorities may conduct interviews or any other inquiry deemed necessary, such as a DNA test. In practice the Immigration Office makes little use of this cascade system and will often require the expensive DNA-testing.
Deadlines and material conditions
Beneficiaries of international protection are exempt from certain conditions such as adequate housing, health insurance and sufficient, stable and regular means of subsistence. However, if the application for family reunification is submitted more than 1 year after recognition of the status, these conditions will have to be fulfilled. This however does not apply to parents of unaccompanied children wishing to join them in Belgium.
In its recommendations of 2022, the Federal Migration Centre (Myria) indicated that the term of 1 year is in many cases too short due to the specific problems faced by the family of beneficiaries of international protection (e.g. unsafe situation in the country of origin which cause difficulties to travel to the diplomatic post or gather necessary documents, loss of contact with family members in the context of armed conflict, … Myria recommends to permanently exempt beneficiaries of international protection from these material conditions, to allow the effective realisation of their right to family reunification.
Family reunification procedure
The normal procedure requires the applicant to apply for family reunification at the Belgian embassy or consulate in the country where the applicant resides. In practice, family members of recognised refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries can alternatively submit the application form in any Belgian embassy which is authorised to apply for long-term visa applications. At the Belgian embassy they have to apply for a D visa for family reunification and provide certain documents to complete the file.
All applicants require a valid travel document (national passport or equivalent), a visa application form (including proof of payment of the handling fee of €180), a birth certificate, a copy of the beneficiary’s residence permit in Belgium, a copy of the decision granting protection status, a medical certificate no more than 6 months old and an extract from the criminal record.
In addition to these standard documents, a spouse will have to provide a marriage certificate. A registered partner has to provide a certificate of registered partnership and addition proof of the lasting relationship, such as photos, emails, travel tickets, etc. For minor children applying to reunify with a parent a copy of the judgment granting sole custody will have to be provided. If custody is shared, consent of the one parent that the child can join the other parent in Belgium is required. Where the child is only of the spouse/partner a marriage certificate, divorce certificate or registered partnership contract is required.
Children over 18 with a disability have to provide a medical certificate.
All foreign documents have to be legalised by both the foreign authorities that issued them and the Belgian authorities. Documents provided in another language than German, French, Dutch or English will have to be translated by a sworn translator.
After submitting all the certified and translated documents, the file is complete, and the applicant will receive proof of submission of the application (a so-called “Annex 15quinquies”). The file then gets sent to the Immigration Office for examination. When the proof of submission is delivered, a 9-month period starts during which the Immigration Office must take a decision on the visa application. This period can be prolonged with a 3-month extension twice in the event of a complex case or when additional inquiries are necessary.
If the Immigration Office decides that all conditions are fulfilled it will issue a positive decision and the family member will receive a D type visa mentioning “family reunification”. This visa is valid for maximum 1 year and allows the applicant to travel to Belgium via other Schengen countries or stay in another Schengen country for a maximum total duration of 3 months within a period of 6 months.
In its year report of 2022, Myria has stressed the difficulties people might encounter to travel to Belgium within the validity period of the visa for family reunification (e.g., closed or insecure borders, difficulties in obtaining travel documents…). In the absence of a European or Belgian legal framework determining the consequences of the expiration of the validity period, it is unclear whether the validity period can be prolonged and in which circumstances, or whether a new visa application needs to be lodged. Myria stresses the need of a clear legal framework in this regard, allowing for a flexible approach by the Belgian asylum instances.
 More practical information can be found in: Myria, Le regroupement familial des bénéficiaires de protection internationale en Belgique, September 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2TFM9T1.
 Myria, Takeover of power by the taliban in Afghanistan : absence of facilitation measures for applications for visa for family members, April 2022, available in French and Dutch at: http://bit.ly/3ma0OGM
 An equalled partner is a partnership registered in certain countries. These countries are Denmark, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Article 12, Royal Decree of 17 May 2007 establishing the implementation modalities of the law of 15 September 2006 changing the law of 15 December 1980 on the regarding the entry, residence, settlement and removal of aliens, 31 May 2007, 2007000527, 29535.
 Article 10(1)(4) Aliens Act.
 Children from a polygamous marriage are not excluded if they meet the general conditions: Constitutional Court, Decision No 95/2008, 26 June 2008.
 Articles 11(2) and 12-bis Aliens Act.
 Article 10(1)(5) Aliens Act.
 On this and other categories of family members who don’t fall within the scope of the “family concept” of the Belgian family reunification procedure: Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, Family reunification for people on the move: obstacles and recommendations, June 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3N0EiaN.
 Article 10(1)(7) Aliens Act.
 Art. 10 of the Law of 15 December 1980 regarding the entry, residence, settlement and removal of aliens.
 CJEU, Case C-550/16, A and S v Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie, 12 April 2018.
 CJUE, Case C-279/20, Bundesrepublik Deutschland t. XC, 1 August 2022.
 Circular of 17 June 2009 containing certain specifics as well as amending and abrogating provisions regarding family reunification, Belgian Official Gazette, 2 July 2009.
 Article 12-bis(5) Aliens Act.
 Article 12-bis(6) Aliens Act.
 Constitutional Court, Decision No 95/2008 of 26 June 2008.
 Myria, Avis : Faciliter et soutenir les demandes de regroupement familial de réfugiés, April 2022, available in Dutch and French at : https://bit.ly/3m97Bk2 and Myria, Year report migration 2022 – Right to a family life, available in French and Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3MohPI5.