Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have the same right to family reunification under the law. While the right to family reunification encompasses the family members listed in the Asylum Act, its exercise is mostly governed by the provisions of the Immigration Act.
Eligible family members
A person granted international protection in Portugal can reunite with the following family members:
- A spouse or unmarried partner, including same-sex partners, if the relationship is regarded as a sustainable relationship i.e., at least 2 years of living together in conditions analogous to marriage;
- Children under 18 years old if they are dependent on the sponsor and/or on his/her spouse or unmarried partner and regardless of their marital status. The right to family reunification also includes adopted children under 18 years old of the sponsor or of his/her spouse or unmarried partner. Adult children who lack legal capacity (e.g., for reasons of mental health) and are dependent on the sponsor and/or on his/her spouse or unmarried partner are also included; and
- Parents, if the sponsor is under 18 years old.
Unaccompanied children can apply for family reunification with their parent(s). In the absence of biological parents, they can apply for family reunification with an adult responsible for the child (e.g., grandparents, legal guardians, or other family members).
It is not required that family formation predates entry into Portugal.
The list of eligible family members in the case of beneficiaries of international protection is more restrictive than that enshrined in the Immigration Act for migrants. The latter also includes: (i) dependent children over 18 years old who are unmarried and studying in Portugal; (ii) dependent first-degree ascendants in the direct line; (iii) siblings under 18 years old, as long as the resident is their guardian, according to a decision issued by the competent authority of the country of origin, dully recognised in Portugal.
While in the past it was common for SEF to extend the more favourable regime to beneficiaries of international protection, information gathered by CPR indicates that this is no longer the case as the authorities now tend to restrict family reunification to the list of relatives included in the Asylum Act.
Family reunification procedure
The request for family reunification can be made immediately following the granting of international protection and there is no time limit for applying for family reunification upon arrival in Portugal.
The sponsor in Portugal must apply for family reunification at SEF’s regional office in his/her residence area if the family member is living abroad at the time of application. If the family member is in Portugal at the time of application, the sponsor must apply for family reunification at SEF-GAR, in Lisbon. Applications are not accepted at Portuguese embassies.
The following official documents need to be presented with the application:
- Copy of the travel document of the family member;
- Criminal record of the family member, including country of nationality and any country of residence where the family member has lived for over 1 year;
- Where applicable, statement of parental authorisation from the other parent (if not travelling with the child);
- Death certificate of the child’s other parent or evidence of sole legal guardianship if original death certificate is not obtainable, where applicable.
The following official documents are required to prove family relations:
- Spouses: marriage certificate;
- Children: birth certificate, decision of adoption duly recognised by a national authority (if applicable); proof of legal incapacity of adult child (if applicable);
- Other adults in charge of an unaccompanied minor: decision of guardianship duly recognised by a national authority.
In accordance with the law, all official documents need to be translated and duly legalised by the Portuguese embassy with territorial competence prior to their submission to the SEF.
Regarding refugees, the law explicitly lays down that in the absence of official documents to demonstrate family relations, other types of proof should be taken into consideration. The application for family reunification cannot be refused on the sole basis of lack of documentary evidence. Other types of proof can consist of interviews of the sponsor and family members; copies of original documents; witness testimonies; or common children in the case of unmarried partnerships. Portuguese authorities do not conduct DNA tests in the framework of family reunification applications. Even though not formally required, the law does not exclude DNA testing as means of proof of family relations.
In practice, this more favourable regime is generally extended to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, depending on the circumstances of their case.
Furthermore, refugees are exempted from the general obligation to present proof of accommodation and income in family reunification procedures. This legal provision has also been applied to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
The application may be refused on the following grounds:
- misrepresentation or omission of facts;
- non-fulfilment of legal requirements;
- where the potential beneficiary family member would be excluded from refugee status or subsidiary protection;
- where the potential beneficiary is barred from entrance into Portugal; and/or
- where the potential beneficiary poses a risk to public order, public security or public health.
Non-fulfilment of legal requirements may involve: (a) lack of adequate travel documents; (b) lack of criminal records of the potential beneficiary family member; (c) situations where a parent other than the sponsor has not authorised the family reunification of his/her child with the sponsor; or (d) non-eligibility of the family member.
The application should be decided within 3 months, with a possible extension for an additional 3 months if the delay is duly justified by the complexity of the case. In case of extension, the applicant should be informed of the reasons thereof.
In the absence of a decision within 6 months from the date of the application and unless the applicant bears responsibility for the delay (e.g., unanswered request for additional information and/or documents), the application is deemed automatically accepted.
In recent years, a significant waiting time for an appointment at SEF for the purposes of family reunification has been registered by CPR. In the particular case of SEF’s Lisbon regional office, that deals with a significant number of applications, waiting times rose to 7 months in a couple of cases that were assisted by CPR in 2019.
Within the specific context of resettlement, CPR has observed that ACM has been making efforts to identifying family members of resettled refugees present in Turkey and Egypt in order to assess the possibility of including such persons in resettlement quota.
Official information on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in family reunification procedures is not available. According to the observation of CPR, the pandemic impacted family reunification procedures in several manners:
- Difficulties in filling applications due to the suspension of non-urgent in-person appointments at SEF;
- Difficulties with regard to authentication of documents and issuance of visas due to restrictions to the activity of Portuguese diplomatic premises;
- Restrictions to international air traffic.
Portuguese Embassies and Consulates resumed the issuance of urgent visas (including those for the purpose of family reunification) in June 2020.
In 2020, SEF received 53 applications for family reunification from beneficiaries of international protection. According to SEF, 40 decisions were adopted during the year.
 Article 68(1) Asylum Act.
 Ibid. Articles 98 et seq Immigration Act.
 Articles 68 and 2(1)(k) Asylum Act.
 Both the sponsor and the spouse/unmarried partner must be at least 18 years old.
 Unmarried partner unions may be attested by any means of proof provided in the law (testimony, documentary proof, affidavit, common children, etc.) In accordance with the law, when a refugee is unable to present official documents to prove his or her family relations, other means of proof will be taken into consideration.
 Article 99 Immigration Act.
 Article 103 Immigration Act; Article 67 Governmental Decree n. 84/2007 of 5 November 2007.
 Article 106(4) Immigration Act.
 Article 101(2) Immigration Act.
 Article 68(3) Asylum Act.
 Article 106 Immigration Act.
 Article 105 Immigration Act.