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Alternative Visa Routes for Family Members of Refugees

A previous article explained the rules and process for refugee family reunion. This article explores other options for family reunification that may be available to family members of refugees or people granted humanitarian protection, who are not eligible for refugee family reunion. 

Who falls outside the scope of refugee family reunion? 

The rules on refugee family reunion only include pre-flight spouses/civil partners and children under the age of 18. 

This means that any relationships that arose after the refugee fled from their country of origin (‘post-flight’) are outside the scope. 

Child refugees are unable to sponsor parents or siblings to join them in the UK. This has been criticised as being at odds with the UK’s legal obligations under national and international law.

Extended relatives such as siblings, parents, grandparents and wider family members are also not eligible for refugee family reunion. 

Other family reunification routes under the Immigration Rules 

‘Post-flight’ partners and children 

A refugee may sponsor their spouse, civil partner or fiance for entry clearance pursuant to Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. They will need to meet more stringent eligibility criteria which include a financial requirement and English language requirement. The application fee is significant and the Immigration Health Surcharge is also payable. Dependent children can apply for entry clearance at the same time. 

Parents, grandparents, siblings and adult children

Some extended relatives may be eligible for entry clearance as an adult dependent relative

These applications are very complex and the person must require long-term personal care to perform everyday tasks as a result of their age, illness or disability; which they cannot obtain in the country they are living. 

Child relatives 

Paragraph 319X of the Immigration Rules allows children to join a refugee who is related to them (but not their parent) where there are compelling considerations which mean they should be permitted to enter the UK and suitable arrangements have been made for the child’s care. 

The UK sponsor will need to show that the child can be adequately maintained and accommodated by them without recourse to public funds. 

Evidence will need to be provided to show that the circumstances are sufficiently compelling. 

This could apply, for example, if a refugee has a niece or nephew living  in a country where they have no remaining relatives and there is a civil war taking place. 

Exceptional circumstances 

The Home Office may grant leave outside the Immigration Rules where there are exceptional circumstances or compassionate factors to justify this. This will be in cases where  failure to do so could result in a breach of the right to respect for family and private life (Article 8 ECHR). 

An example given by the Home Office in its guidance is where a child over 18 is ineligible to join their parents but all of their immediate family are in the UK, they would be left alone in a dangerous situation, they are dependent and they have no other relatives to turn to for support. 

Where the application involves children, such as a child refugee, or applicants who are children (e.g. ‘de facto’ adoption, nieces/nephews with no other family support) the best interests of the child must be considered as a primary consideration. 

Some further guidance has been provided by the Upper Tribunal in the case of KF and others (entry clearance, relatives of refugees) Syria [2019] UKUT 413 (IAC). This made it clear that:

  • In applications for entry clearance the starting point is the Article 8 rights of the Sponsor or others in the UK. This requires a fact sensitive analysis; 
  • There is no blanket prohibition on the relatives of refugees other than a spouse and/or children; 
  • The fact that the appellants do not meet the Immigration Rules is an adverse factor when decision makers are assessing what weight to be given to the public interest (Agyarko [2017] UKSC 11) 
  • It may be material that an outcome is in harmony with international treaties which have not been incorporated into domestic law, but this is not the same as saying that they should be accorded substantial weight (Mathieson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2011] UKSC 4) 

These cases will always be intensely fact-specific and will need to be supported by cogent, compelling and comprehensive evidence. You should seek professional legal advice if you wish to make an application relying on exceptional circumstances and Article 8 ECHR.  There will be a right of appeal against the refusal of a human rights application for entry clearance. 

Contact Our Immigration Barristers

For expert advice and assistance for an application under Appendix FM, paragraph 319X or outside the Immigration Rules please contact our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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