Eligible beneficiaries and family members
As described in Residence Permit, a Temporary law introduced new legislation in 2016 that affects persons’ ability to get a residence permit, the length of the residence permit as well as the ability to reunite with their family members. This law has been prolonged a further two years until July 2021. In the meantime a parliamentary commission will address the need for a total overhaul of the Aliens Act.
With the Temporary law, people who are granted a protection status – either the refugee or the subsidiary protection status – have the right to be reunited with their nuclear family. When the Temporary law was first introduced, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were not entitled to family reunification. However, the extension of the Temporary Law in 2019 removed the ban on family reunification for beneficiaries of the subsidiary protection. This was mainly the result of litigation efforts and the fact that the Migration Court of Appeal ruled in a case that the denial of family reunification for a young Syrian child was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Articles 3, 9 and 10 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child (CRC). The beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who had previously been excluded from family reunification under the Temporary law were given a three month timeline to apply for family reunification without having to meet income and housing requirements.
The beneficiary of international protection must also be regarded as having “well-founded” prospects of being granted a permanent residence permit in order to be entitled to family reunification. With the exception of certain cases, e.g. in the case of cessation or withdrawal procedures, the Migration Agency usually considers that most beneficiaries of protection have “well-founded” prospects of being granted such a residence permit in practice.
Persons eligible for family reunification according to the temporary law are only the closest, nuclear family members. They include:
- Husband, wife, registered partner or cohabiting partner;
- Children under the age of 18 years at the time of the decision, not the application;
- Other relatives and children over 18 years of age are not eligible to reunite with the sponsor in Sweden if he or she has a temporary residence permit. If the person in Sweden is under 18 years, parents are counted as closest family.
If the beneficiary of international protection is given a temporary residence permit, both he or she and the partner must be at least 21 years old before the partner can obtain a residence permit. The couple must also have lived together before they move to Sweden. An exemption can be made from the age requirement if they have children in common.
If the person in Sweden has a permanent residence permit, family reunification can also take place with the person he or she plans to marry or cohabit with in Sweden, subject to income and housing requirements (see below).
The temporary legislation has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations. In 2016, the government was clear about the purpose behind the introduction of the new restrictive legislation, which was to discourage persons (i.e. new asylum applicants) from trying to reach Sweden.
In 2018, the Swedish Red Crossand the Swedish Refugee Law Center analysed the effects of restrictions to family reunification in respective reports published, from a humanitarian and legal perspective respectively. The Red Cross report showed that both the introduction of temporary residence permits and the restrictions regarding family reunification had a negative impact on mental health and integration.  The report by the Swedish Refugee Law Center showed inter alia difficulties in the application of the law and the possible breach of Article 14 ECHR, in conjunction with Article 8, because of the discrimination faced by beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as they were excluded from family reunification. 
Up until 2018, one of the major obstacles to benefit from family reunification related to the obligation to prove one’s identity, as laid down in law. However this situation has been resolved in 2018. A precedent-setting ruling was handed down by the Migration Appeal Court on 5 March 2018, stating that for refugees and their nuclear family the level of proof of identity can be relaxed because it is unreasonable to expect them to approach their national authorities to obtain a passport and thereby endanger the situation of remaining family members in Eritrea. It is sufficient in such cases for a DNA test to be taken as a first instance measure. This decision does not apply automatically to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection according to the Court and DNA tests are of no help if a couple has no children but are still in a stable relationship. Although detailed statistics or information is not available, this decision is likely to have had a positive impact in practice by allowing families to be reunited.
Material requirements and procedure
The temporary law has introduced a tougher maintenance requirement. Everyone who wants to bring their family members to Sweden must be able to support both themselves and their family members and must have a domicile. Refugees whose family applies for family reunification within three months of the sponsor being granted a permit are exempt from this requirement. The combination of strict time limits and high income and housing requirements could also effectively remove refugees’ possibility of being reunited with family members.
As stated on the Migration Agency’s website, income and housing requirements are as follows: 
“How high an income you must have to meet the maintenance requirement depends on how big your family is and how high your housing costs are. You must have an income that corresponds to what is called a ‘standard amount’ when your housing cost has been deducted. This means that, after your housing has been paid each month, you have to have enough money to cover the costs of, for example, food, clothing, hygiene, telephone, household electricity, insurance and other minor outlays for temporary needs.
For 2020 the standard amount is:
• SEK 5,002/€466 for a single adult
• SEK 8,264/€770 for spouses or partners living together
• SEK 2,654/€247 for children aged 6 years or younger
• SEK 3,055/€285 for children aged 7 years or older
You also have to have a home of a sufficient size and standard for you and your family. For two adults without children a home is big enough if it has a kitchen or kitchenette and at least one room. If children are going to live in the home, there must be more rooms. Two children can share a bedroom”.
44,568 first time applications for family reunification were handed in 2019 and decisions were taken in 43,145 cases. 56% were approved and at year end there were 31,117 pending cases. The average time from application to decision at first instance was 284 days, down from 351 days in 2018. One important reason for the long waiting time, and an obstacle per se, is the waiting time at the embassy for interview of applicants. It has also been highlighted inter alia by civil society organisations that the difficulties in reaching an embassy or a consulate (due to long distances, security constraints), constitutes serious hindrances to achieving and enjoying family reunification. Sweden has designated Khartoum as an embassy that Syrians may apply from but waiting periods for interviews can be as long as 22 months, while the full procedure may take up to twice as long.
FARR published a critical report on all the challenges of family reunification in November 2018. FARR also made a formal complaint together with the Stockholm City Mission to the European Commission claiming Sweden was breaching its commitment to respecting time limits for dealing with applications for family reunification. This complaint was first addressed in an EU pilot procedure (ref EUP (2018) 9384) in which the Swedish authorities submitted a reply to the Commission’s questions. The Commission did not consider the reply of the Swedish authorities satisfactory, and therefore launched an infringement procedure by sending a letter of formal notice on 17 July 2019 (ref NIF Case 2019/4073). According to information provided by the Commission in February 2020, the Swedish authorities have replied to this letter and the Commission is examining the reply. The Commission further stated that discussions are ongoing with the competent Swedish authorities on several matters, including exceeded deadlines for processing applications for work and residence permits. The Swedish authorities are reportedly working towards improving the procedures and reducing the processing times.
 Migration Court of Appeal, MIG 2018:20.
 Section 6, Law on temporary restrictions on the possibility of obtaining a residence permit in Sweden. Note that the Swedish translation of “reasonable” in Article 3 of the Family Reunification Directive is equal to “well-founded” rather than reasonable.
 NOAS, Realizing Refugees’ Right to Family Unity The challenges to family reunification in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/34EmRZ6, p.13