Eligible beneficiaries and family members
As described in Residence Permit, a Temporary law introduced new legislation in 2016 that affected 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 was in force until 19 July 2021. In 2019, a parliamentary commission of inquiry was tasked with proposing new legislation. The commission presented its proposal in September 2020. Most of the proposals were included in the changes in the Aliens Act that came into force on 20 July 2021, although some adjustments were made due to further political debate and commentary on the proposal from civil society and public authorities. The changes basically rendered most of the restrictions introduced through the Temporary law permanent.
In general the right to family reunification is limited to core family members only, although other family members may be accepted under special circumstances. It also includes 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.
With the Temporary law valid until 19 July 2021, people who were granted a protection status – either the refugee or the subsidiary protection status – had 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.
Beneficiaries of international protection who have a temporary resident permit must also be regarded as having “well-founded” prospects of being granted a residence permit “for a longer time” 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;
- If the person in Sweden is under 18 years, parents are counted as closest family.
Other relatives and children over 18 years of age are not eligible to reunite with the sponsor in Sweden if that sponsor has a temporary residence permit. However, the Temporary law had a provision saying that residence permit could be granted in other cases if denying a residence permit would contravene Sweden’s international legal obligations.
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.
With the cessation of the Temporary law and the changes introduced in the Aliens Act, although most provisions remained the same, some changes were made:
- Residence permits for family reunification may be granted 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.
- The condition in the Temporary law that partners must be at least 21 years old before the partner can obtain a residence permit no longer applies, but the age limit is now 18 years.
- The possibility of extending a residence permit was re-introduced when the relationship that formed the basis of the residence permit has ended due to domestic violence or another serious violation.
- Other relatives and children over 18 years of age may be eligible to reunite with the sponsor in Sweden if a particular dependency exists. The requirement that a residence permit may only be granted in such cases if it would contravene Sweden’s international legal obligation to deny residence permit no longer applies.
For several years, one of the major obstacles to family reunification related to the obligation to prove one’s identity, as laid down in law. A number of precedent-setting rulings from the Migration Court of Appeal, the first from 2012, have allowed for the reunification of families who are unable to prove their identity. The Migration Appeal Court handed down a ruling on 5 March 2018, , stating that for refugees and their nuclear family the level of proof of identity could be relaxed because it was unreasonable to expect them to approach their national authorities to obtain a passport and thereby endanger the situation of remaining family members in the country of origin. In such cases a DNA test would be taken as a first instance measure as a means of proving identity. The Migration Agency has accepted this lower standard of proof both for refugees and for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection in cases where the family has lived together. The Migration Agency stated in October 2021 that due to the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, Afghan citizens cannot acquire new passports. Therefore, if other conditions are met, Afghans applying for family reunification may be exempt from the obligation to prove their identity and present a passport.
The Migration Agency has adjusted its position on who should be considered as being underage, with reference to recent CJEU jurisprudence (C 133-19). As regards beneficiaries of international protection, children who are under the age of 18 at the time of application are considered as children even if they would be over 18 years old at the time of decision.
Material requirements and procedure
The temporary law has introduced a tougher maintenance requirement. With the cessation of the temporary law and introduction of changes in the Aliens Act that came onto force 20 July 2021, the maintenance requirement remained, although some exceptions were introduced. 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. This only applies to families who have cohabited, or when the relationship otherwise is considered as well established. 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 2021 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”.
When there are special reasons, the maintenance requirement may be lifted fully or partly. The preparatory work gave as an example that there could be special reasons for persons who have retired from the labour market or who are unable to work due to disability or sickness. For resettled persons, the time limit of three months should be counted from the date the sponsor arrives in Sweden and not the date the residence permit was granted.
In 2021,a total of 41,903 applications for residence permits based on family ties were lodged (of which 32,587 were first time applications). The Migration Agency issued a total of 38,746 decisions (of which 29,968 were first time applications), out of which 53% of the first time applications and 92% of the subsequent applications were approved. By the end of the year, a total of 34,037 family reunification applications were pending (of which 29,505 were first time applications). Across all instances, a total of 3,800 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 330 days for first time applications, and 152 days for subsequent 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…
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). In December 2020 the scope of the procedure was extended to Directive (EU) 2016/801 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au pairing The Commission responded to a request from FARR in 2021, confirming that communication is ongoing with the competent Swedish authorities concerning expired deadlines for processing applications for work and residence permits, and that the Commission continues to closely monitor the situation. 
 Migration Court of Appeal, MIG 2018:20.
 Ch. 5, Section 3 Aliens Act. 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 20210.
 Migration Agency, Monthly statistical report December 2021,
 Information provided by FARR via e-mail in January 2022