Constraints in Belgium thwart family reunification for Turks


Recent limitations on family reunification for people of foreign origin concern Turks in Belgium. In a country where rising racism, xenophobia and increasing support for the far-right remains risky for migrants, Belgium moved to restrict family reunification visas in 2011 and 2016 by introducing new regulations. As a result, family reunification visas for Turks dropped to just 461 yearly from the 1,265 issued in 2011. Turks make up one of the largest ethnic groups in the European country, with about 268,500 people.

Rıfat Can, who heads the nonprofit Belgium Turkish Associations, said the country is hoping to prevent "new arrivals" in the country through the new restrictions. Visa processes and background checks for new arrivals can be lengthy at times according to Can, who added that those arriving through family reunification visas are obliged to attend integration classes, and those who do not attend face hefty fines. "New arrivals have to work to earn a living and skip classes in order to do so. Certainly, these classes can benefit them, but [authorities] should encourage people to attend them instead of imposing fines," Can said.

Süleyman Özcan is a Belgian of Turkish origin who has been affected by the stricter regulations. It has been four years since he applied to bring his wife from Turkey to Belgium to no avail. He applied three times and was rejected each time. "They asked me for photos of our wedding, photos from the honeymoon, but I didn't have any. I'm legally married but am accused of faking the marriage," he said.

Serkan Yılmaz applied last August to bring his wife Ümmühan to the country and is still waiting for an answer. "We're fully eligible for reunification," he claimed. "This is a depressing process. We have the proper paperwork for the visa, but we don't know how long it will take before they approve it. My wife just delivered a baby boy, but I had to return to Belgium, leaving them in Turkey," he said.

Among the new regulations complicating the reunion process is a new age limit and an increase in the amount the applicants have to earn to make them eligible. The age limit was increased to 21 from 18, and applicants now have to earn at least 120 percent more than Belgium's minimum social benefit amount. As of 2017, an applicant needs to earn at least 1,428 euros, but temporary job contracts and temporary revenues, like unemployment, do not qualify. An assessment process for any applicant can sometimes take nine months and can be extended up to 15 months. Under the regulations, people can receive a five-year temporary residence permit, but married people are required to be married for at least three years and have spent one year of the marriage in Belgium to qualify.

Tighter regulations also contributed to a decline in visa applications. In 2016, the number dropped to 747 a year compared to the 1,588 in 2011.

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