Criteria and conditions

United Kingdom

Country Report: Criteria and conditions Last updated: 24/04/24


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There is no waiting period for a beneficiary of refugee status or humanitarian protection to apply for family reunification. 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] Two Private Members’ Bills, introduced into Parliament ultimately did not proceed.[4] 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.[5] In 2023 a challenge to the refusal to allow refugee children to bring their family to the UK was rejected.[6]

Applications and decisions on family visa are published by the government. In 2023, 9,764 family reunion visas were issued; 4,992 of them to children.[7]

The requirements for a family reunion application are set out in the Immigration Rules.[8]  In order to apply using this route, the UK based sponsor must currently have protection status and must not be a British Citizen. A valid application must be made, this is free of charge, and the overseas applicants must provide their biometric information. It may be possible to get the requirement to enrol biometrics waived in certain circumstances.[9] The applicant must be the partner or child of the UK sponsor and they must have been part of a family unit before the sponsor left the country of origin. Children aged 18 or over will need to establish that there are exceptional circumstances in order to make a successful application. Factors that will be considered when deciding whether the circumstances are exceptional include whether the applicant is dependent on the UK sponsor, whether the applicant is leading an independent life, whether they have others to support them where they are and whether they would likely become destitute if not permitted to come to the UK.

Other family members may also be able to apply under these Immigration Rules if they can establish that a refusal would breach Article 8 ECHR. The guidance explains that in these cases the decision maker will consider whether family life exists between the applicant and UK sponsor, whether there is evidence of an unusual or exceptional level of dependency and how frequently they have contact with each other.[10]

There are not specific evidential requirements to establish family relationships and the guidance explicitly says that these applicants may not have documentary evidence due to fleeing conflict zones.[11] The Home Office cannot insist that DNA evidence is provided in order to establish the family relationship.[12]

Legal aid is not automatically available, but can be applied for.[13] Refusals can be appealed on human rights grounds.

The refugee family reunion process was inspected by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) in 2016.[14] 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, Türkiye and South Africa.[15]

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.[16] Following this report, the decision making on refugee family reunion applications was largely moved to the UK although not entirely. The ICIBI further inspected the system, including progress against previous recommendations, the report of which was finally published by the Home Office in September 2020,[17] along with its response.[18] 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.[19] As explained above, the government has since maintained and successfully defended its position in court.[20]

The Families Together campaign coalition published research on barriers and challenges faced by refugees attempting to reunite with family members.[21] Findings included that the Rules were unnecessarily complex and insufficiently flexible, poor quality decisions, difficulty in accessing legal aid lawyers, British Red Cross published a report that also highlighted issues with the procedural requirements for making the application, such as difficulties people have in travelling to enrol their biometrics.[22]

A report published in 2023 following a reinspection by the ICIBI found that the situation had deteriorated since the previous inspection and that applicants were waiting unacceptably long for a decision, over double the service standard of 60 days, and there was a backlog of almost 8,000 applications. This was partly a result of staff being diverted to work on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.[23]




[1] Home Office, Family reunion: for individuals with protection status in the UK – Version 9.0, 12 April 2023, available at:

[2] Upper Tribunal, AT (Family Reunification: Eritrea) [2016] UKUT 227 (IAC), 24 March 2016, available at:

[3] Families Together, available at:

[4] See previous updates to this report: AIDA, Country Report: United Kingdom, available at:

[5] Amnesty International, Refugee Council and Save the Children, Without my Family; the impact of family separation on separated children in the UK, 2019, available at:

[6] High Court, DM, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2023] EWHC 740 (Admin), available at:

[7] Home Office, Immigration system statistics data tables, Family reunion visa grants detailed datasets, year ending December 2023, table Det_03, available at:

[8] Immigration Rules, Appendix Family Reunion.

[9] Home Office, Unable to travel to a visa Application Centre to enrol biometrics (overseas applications) version 2.0, 8 February 2024, available at:

[10] Home Office, Family Reunion, 17 July 2023, available at:

[11] Home Office, Family Reunion, 17 July 2023, available at:

[12] Home Office, DNA policy guidance, version 4.0, 19 March 2020, available at:

[13] Dr Sasha Holden, ‘Cuts that cost: The Impact of Legal Aid Cuts on Refugee Family Reunion’, October 2020, available at:

[14] ICIBI, An inspection of family reunion applications, January – May 2016, available at:

[15] Ibid. See also Refugee Council, ‘Watchdog: Government should show more compassion in reuniting refugees’, 15 September 2016, available at:

[16] ICIBI, A re-inspection of the family reunion process, focusing on applications received at the Amman Entry Clearance Decision Making Centre, September 2018, available at:

[17] ICIBI, An inspection of family reunion applications, October 2020, available at:

[18] Government response to the Inspection of family reunion applications, 8 October 2020, available at:  

[19] Families Together, see website at:

[20] High Court, DM, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2023] EWHC 740 (Admin), available at:  

[21] CRiL and Families Together, Refugee Family Reunification in the UK: Challenges and Prospects, 2021, available at:

[22] British Red Cross, The Long Road to Reunion: Making Refugee Family Reunion Safer (2020), available at  

[23] ICIBI, Inspection report published: A reinspection of family reunion applications September – October 2022, 21 February 2023, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection