There is no waiting period for a beneficiary of refugee status or humanitarian protection. Nor is there a maximum time limit after which the beneficiaries are no longer entitled, as long as they do not become UK citizens. There is no charge for the application nor requirement for the sponsor to have an income to support their family members. There is no distinction between refugees and those with humanitarian protection.
Eligibility is restricted to the immediate family as it existed prior to the sponsor’s flight and the only people automatically eligible to join the refugee in the UK are:
- Spouse / same sex partner; and
- Dependent children under the age of 18.
Refugee children are not eligible to sponsor their parents and or siblings. In 2016, a child successfully challenged the policy under Article 8 ECHR and his parent and sibling were brought to the UK to join him. Whilst the judge was critical of the policy, it has not led to a change. A number of NGOs are collaborating in campaigning for changes to the Immigration Rules on Refugee Family Reunion, including this issue. Two Private Members’ Bills have been introduced into Parliament; the first was debated in December 2017. The second was debated in the House of Commons on 16 March 2018 and passed that stage. Due to the lack of parliamentary time made available by government the Bill will not proceed.
A report published by Amnesty International UK, Refugee Council and Save the Children in 2019 summarised the criticisms made by external scrutineers and parliamentary Committees, as well as providing evidence of the impact of the current policy position.
Applications and decisions on family visa are published by the government. The category under which refugee family reunion cases fall may include other types, but is generally relied on by the government to describe a figure for refugee family reunion visa. In 2021, 6,134 family reunion visas were issued; 3,272 of them to children.
The refugee family reunion process was inspected by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in 2016. The inspection was overall critical of the restrictiveness of the family reunification procedure, and noted that the possibility to examine applications outside the Immigration Rules in ‘exceptional circumstances’ or where ‘compassionate factors’ arise is very rarely applied. This was witnessed in none of the 181 applications inspected at the visa sections of the Home Office in Jordan, Turkey and South Africa. A re-inspection of the handling of Refugee Family Reunion applications in Amman in 2018 concluded that not all of the previous recommendations had been resolved. Since this report the decision making on refugee family reunion applications has largely been moved to the UK although not entirely. It further inspected the system, including progress against previous recommendations, the report of which was finally published by the Home Office in September 2020, along with its response. The Inspector had invited the government to explain and justify its position on the eligibility criteria in the light of the Private Members Bills and activities of the Families Together coalition.
The Home Office also revised its policy and guidance; it was reissued in 2016 although the policy remained the same. Better explanation was given about the circumstances in which extended family members could be admitted but no changes to the criteria were made. It was further revised in December 2020 to reflect the end of the transition period for the UK to leave the EU.
 Upper Tribunal, AT (Family Reunification: Eritrea)  UKUT 227 (IAC), 24 March 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2kvjm1S.
 Hansard, Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill [HL], 15 December 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2DBWyIq.
 Refugee Council, ‘MPs vote to reunite refugee families torn apart by conflict’, 16 March 2018, available at https://bit.ly/2RSdVuR.
 Amnesty International, Without my Family; the impact of family separation on separated children in the UK, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2GFxM9m.
 Home Office, Immigration statistics Q4 2020.
 Independent Chief Inspector on Borders and Immigration, An inspection of family reunion applications, January – May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2khoPav.
 Ibid. See also Refugee Council, ‘Watchdog: Government should show more compassion in reuniting refugees’, 15 September 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2kWbXFX.
 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, A re-inspection of the family reunion process, focusing on applications received at the Amman Entry Clearance Decision Making Centre, September 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2oK8QVy.
 An inspection of family reunion applications Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, available at: https://bit.ly/3cgh0yN
 Government response to the Inspection of family reunion applications, available at: https://bit.ly/36hJLaK
 Families Together, see: https://bit.ly/39puvum
 Home Office, Family reunion: for refugees and those with humanitarian protection, December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/32YpbJp.