Relocating With Dependents: Immigration Challenges in Family Reunification
Complexity of the immigration process for dependents too often overlooked
Family satisfaction can be a major deciding factor for employees considering taking on a foreign assignment. An obstacle in family reunification may be reason enough for a skilled employee to turn down a job offer. It is therefore important to properly assess all available information at the start of the process in order to present a complete outline of the immigration procedure for the whole family, not just the employee.
Generally, visa free foreigners have little trouble joining a working family member abroad. International agreements allow nationals of signatory countries to legalize their stay with minimal bureaucratic requirements. For example EU citizens relocating within the Schengen area or Gulf nationals moving to other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, benefit from simplified immigration conditions. Where the main peculiarities lie, is in the immigration process of third country foreigners who require a visa and further permits for entry, residency and employment. Policies are dictated by individual national regulations which may mean differing legal definitions of the term “family”, lengthy waiting times for permit issuance, as well as limitations placed on the ability to sponsor family members depending on salary and job position, as well as other conditions.
All that said, although relocating a family may be challenging, it is possible to navigate the process smoothly if the proper procedure and potential issues are identified well in advance of the move.
Defining a Family
National legislation governing the stay of foreigners defines who qualifies as a family member. Typically, close family is eligible to apply for residence authorization in order to accompany a foreigner on a long term assignment. This includes a spouse, children and step-children (if custody is given), as well as adopted children (provided the paperwork is in place to prove the relationships). Children however are only eligible for reunification up to a certain age (unless handicapped), above which they must obtain permits on their own, either as a student or with work status.
In the United Arab Emirates for example, there is no age limit for the accompaniment of unmarried daughters. Sons, on the other hand, must be under 18 to be sponsored as children. In cases where they reach the age of maturity, they may legalize their stay only as a student or sponsored employee. In Saudi Arabia, the age limit for male children to remain sponsored by their parents is 25. Coming of age is causing concern to many young expatriates, as transferring sponsorship to employers is difficult due to quota restrictions, therefore it is important to find an employer who falls into the correct category and is able to sponsor foreigners.
Certain categories of workers are given more rights in terms of family sponsorship. In Russia, employees who classify as highly qualified professionals are also able to bring their children’s spouses, parents, parent’s spouses, grandparents and grandchildren as dependents with them. Similarly, exceptions are allowed in the UAE for sponsoring parents and parents in-law, if the sponsoring child, son-in-law or daughter-in-law meets a minimum salary requirement, holds a valid residency visa and can provide sufficient accommodation supported by appropriate documentation. A low salary in the UAE does not only limit sponsoring parents; those individuals whose salary is below 4,000 dirhams (approximately 1,090 US dollars) cannot sponsor relatives at all. Foreigners holding certain professions (e.g. cook, blacksmith, driver, barber and construction worker) are not able to sponsor their families’ residence visa to the UAE, even if the minimum salary requirement is met.
Issues Faced by an Accompanying Spouse
Most legislation does not recognize non-married or same sex partners and only marriages recognized by local law are accepted. In some countries however, non-married partners may accompany the main traveler. In cases where a partner is not eligible to join, other options may be available and possibilities within the legal boundaries can be identified per the individual case.
In the rare case of a polygamous household (recognized in nearly fifty countries of the world), it may not be recognized in the place of destination and only family members of the first marriage of a polygamous family may enjoy their immigration benefits, despite the fact that a multiple marriage is valid in the country of origin. In Gulf countries, where polygamy is common, there is lenience for foreign workers as well. In Qatar, if a foreigner has multiple wives, he can bring them to Qatar on family visas if a minimum salary requirement is met. In the UAE, up to two wives can be sponsored if the husband earns not less than 10,000 dirhams a month (approximately 2,722 US dollars) and has two tenancy contracts in his name.
If relocating with family it is also important to explore what procedure the spouse will have to follow in the case that they wish to pursue a career in the destination country. Various options may be available, such as self employment or securing a work permit with a local company. In most countries a spouse can find employment and legalize the work based on either exemption from permits or following the standard work related immigration process. Once an employer is found, in many countries they will have to sponsor the spouse’s work authorization and a change of residency status might be necessary as well, with an additional trip out of the country to apply for a new visa before re-entering. The complexity of the process will vary depending on national jurisdiction and the change of the status maybe possible without leaving the country as this is not always a requirement.
Processing Times and Forced Separations
Even if family members are allowed to join the main applicant, they may have to brace themselves for lengthy processing times before they are allowed to relocate. While simultaneous applications for the main applicant are possible for most countries, allowing the family to arrive at the same time, certain countries require the employees to first secure all their permits prior to accepting residence applications from family members. Depending on the destination country, this can even end up in a three month separation, while family members wait for their residence permits to be issued in order to lodge their own application at a consulate abroad.
Another procedure that may extend the immigration process of dependents is the country specific legalization requirements for vital documents such as marriage and birth certificates, required for visa and residency applications. Whether a document requires apostille or consular legalization depends on the country issuing the original document and the country requiring it. If both countries are signatory members of the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, then apostille is the appropriate form of legalization. If those countries are non-signatories to the Hague Apostille Convention, then consular legalization is required, which involves a chain of signatures placed on the document in order of hierarchy. The processing time for apostille and consular legalization varies from country to country.
Recognizing inconsistencies in family reunification regulations within Europe, the European Commission has launched the Family Reunification Project. The research project runs until 2013 and hopes to collect information that will bring about policies that favor effective integration of third-country nationals living in the EU, addressing issues such as sponsor legibility, differing definitions of family, and application conditions. The initiation is timely as family reunification applications account for a large number, approximately one third, of all legal immigration to the EU.
Move One is closely following the developments and recognizes that complex immigration procedures may put strain on family relationships. With extensive knowledge of immigration processes in over thirty countries, Move One presents clients with the applicable case-specific requirements, taking family reunification requirements into account from the very beginning.
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