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. A parliamentary commission of inquiry was tasked with proposing new legislation to enter into force when the Temporary law expires on 20 July 2021. The commission presented its proposal on 15 September 2020. The proposal raises serious concerns as it basically aims to render most of the restrictions introduced through the Temporary law permanent, including by limiting the right to family reunification to core family members only. It also includes that requirements on incomes and housing (i.e. the size and standards of housing) that need to be met when family members apply for family reunification more than three months after the beneficiary was granted protection status. However, the right to family reunification is available to both refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
In addition to the commission’s proposal, the Government subsequently presented some additional proposals including a possibility of granting a residence permit for family reunification for persons who intend to marry or cohabitate if the relationship was established already in the country of origin. This proposal is primarily aimed at enabling family reunification in same sex relationships where the partners were not able to formalise their relationship or cohabitate in the country of origin, as well as situations where partners in heterosexual relationships were not able to live together because their relationship was not tolerated in their culture.
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 Cross and 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 5,016/€490 for a single adult
- SEK 8,287/€810 for spouses or partners living together
- SEK 2,662/€260 for children aged 6 years or younger
- SEK 3,064/€299 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”.
In 2020, a total of 43,900 applications for residence permits based on family ties were lodged (of which 33,466 were first time applications). The Migration Agency issued total of 51,044 decisions (of which 39,051 were first time applications), out of which 61% (52% of the first time applications) were approved. By the end of the year, a total of 30,003 family reunification applications were pending (of which 25,839 were first time applications). Across all instances, a total of 5,507 residence permits were granted in family reunification cases where the person in Sweden was a beneficiary of international protection.
Waiting times for family reunification procedures are long and in particular the waiting time at the embassy for interview of applicants. The average waiting time from application to decision was 266 days (303 for first time applications). 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 obstacles to family reunification. Sweden has designated Khartoum as an embassy that Syrians may apply from but waiting periods for interviews have been as long as 22 months. As explained in Residence permit, there were also important delays in 2020 due to the COVID-19 context and the impossibility to conduct interviews at embassies in the context of family reunification procedures.
In November 2018, FARR published a critical report on the persisting challenges in family reunification procedures. 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. No further update on the matter was available at the time of writing of this AIDA report (March 2021).
 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
 Migration Agency, Monthly statistical report December 2020, 35.