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. Following the introduction of the definition of a ‘group 2’ refugee as one who is considered not to have ‘come directly’ to the UK, family reunion is not guaranteed even for these close family members and is subject to an examination of Article 8 rights.
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. In 2022, 4,473 family reunion visas were issued; 2,343 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 family reunion process is updated on a fairly regular basis to incorporate changes forced through caselaw as well as the implementation of the NABA 2022. These include orders for more flexibility in the taking of biometrics. The families together campaign coalition published research on barriers and challenges faced by refugees attempting to reunite with family members.
 Home Office, Immigration statistics Q1 2023.
 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.
 Families Together, see: https://bit.ly/39puvum.