In 2021, Germany once again granted far fewer family reunification visas for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection than would have been possible by legal means. The new German government coalition wants to abolish the limit for such visas and make it possible for people holding any kind of protection status to reunite with family members.
Citing information by Germany’s Foreign Ministry, the Protestant News Service (epd) reported on Thursday (January 6) that 5,934 visas were issued in 2021. In theory, however, 12,000 visas were possible. This means that less than 50% of the contingent for family reunification visas for refugees fleeing civil war was used last year.
The German government, therefore, falls significantly short of its intended target for the second year in a row. The Foreign Ministry blames the low numbers on the coronavirus pandemic as COVID-19-related restrictions limited the opening times of visa offices.
According to epd, the majority of entry permits for the purpose of family reunification — some 2,290 — were issued for Syria at the embassy in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Another 1,370 and 810 were issued in Iraq and Istanbul, respectively.
In their coalition treaty, Germany’s new three-party government had agreed to again put those with subsidiary protection on par with recognized refugees and grant them the same rights when it comes to family reunification. As of now the process is limited by a quota system. However, it is unclear if and when this will be implemented in practice.
Pandemic-related processing delays
In the fall of 2018, the German government had agreed that up to 1,000 people could join their families each month, capping the quota at 12,000 per year. Yet from the beginning, the number of issued visas for family reunification remained below the monthly and yearly quotas.
In the first pandemic year 2020, a total of 5,311 relatives of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were granted visas to come to Germany under the family reunification program. Part of the slowdown was due to restrictions on travel and foreign office services following the outbreak of the pandemic. In 2019, the number of issued visas was more than twice as high.
The right to family reunification means that a refugee’s relatives like a spouse or underage children can join them in Germany, provided the refugee has been granted protection in Germany.
At the end of March, 2021, a total of almost 11,000 migrants with relatives already granted either refugee or subsidiary protection status in Germany were waiting for appointments to determine the outcome of family reunification visas.
What is subsidiary protection?
Many Syrians in Germany benefit from either refugee status or subsidiary protection. Unlike refugee status, however, subsidiary or limited protection essentially offers, to those who receive it, a time-limited protection because they are deemed to be at threat of serious harm in their own countries.
Subsidiary protection applies to people who are not recognized as being entitled to asylum or refugee status. This form of protection can apply to people who do not personally face persecution but are in grave danger, for example due to war or severe human rights abuses such as the death penalty, torture, or inhumane treatment.
In Germany, those who receive subsidiary protection are given a residence permit valid for one year. This permit can be extended for two more years if the situation in the home country does not improve. As with refugee status, there is the option to apply for permanent residence.
With subsidiary protection in Germany a person has a right to work, receive unemployment benefits, job seeking assistance and child and parental allowance, attend an integration course, study and participate in vocation training.
However, those with subsidiary protection do not receive a Refugee Travel Document. They must apply for the travel document for foreigners and stateless persons.
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