The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) provides free legal help to some refugees and displaced people.
- IRAP helps some people find services and prepare refugee and visa applications.
- IRAP is not part of any government, IOM, or UNHCR.
- IRAP cannot grant refugee status or visas or speed up cases.
- IRAP cannot provide financial help, find or pay for housing, or find jobs.
- All of IRAP’s help is free. No one affiliated with IRAP has the right to ask you for money or any other service.
IRAP decides to help people based on their need and eligibility for immigration status. IRAP does not decide to help people based on any other social or political or religious criteria.
This website provides general information about legal processes available to some refugees. It is not meant as legal advice for individual applications.
If you are in a refugee emergency, we recommend that you contact the UNHCR office in the country where you live .
People with asylum or international protection status living in Germany have the right to apply for a visa for some of their direct family members. This visa will allow their relatives to travel and move to Germany.
The process will be different depending on the status you have in Germany. This guide will explain the process for people living in Germany with:
- Refugee status
- Subsidiary protection
Persons who have a deportation ban status (“Abschiebungsverbot”) in Germany can also apply for family reunification. These cases are very complicated. If this applies to you, please seek professional legal advice.
Your relative who is filing the application for family reunification is called the applicant (Antragsteller/in). Your relative does not need to show that they were persecuted in their country to qualify for this program.
Your relative is applying to reunify with you. You are the sponsor (Stammberechtigte/r).
Who is eligible?
Requirements for the sponsor in Germany
You can bring your relative to Germany if:
- you resettled to Germany as a refugee, or
- you have refugee status (“Flüchtlingsanerkennung”), or
- you have subsidiary protection status and got a residence permit on or before March 17, 2016
What can you do if you have subsidiary protection in Germany and got your residence permit after March 17, 2016?
You can still reunify with your family in Germany. You can only do this if there are humanitarian reasons for your relatives to live in Germany with you. Examples of this are:
- You have been separated from your family members for a long period of time, or
- You are or your family member abroad is a child (under 18 years old), or
- Your family members are in danger in the country where they live.
Who can join you in Germany?
You can bring members of your nuclear family to Germany. This includes:
Your spouse or partner
- Your spouse or partner must be 18 years old or older when they get the visa. If they are not, you should seek professional legal advice to find out if one of the exceptions to this rule apply for your case.
- You can bring a same-sex partner if you are married or have a civil union. If you are unsure whether you meet this rule, you should ask a lawyer.
- You can reunify with your biological child, stepchild, or adopted child. Foster children are not eligible.
- Your child must be under 18 years old at the time you submit the application.
- The child cannot be married.
- You must have custody over the child. If you have shared custody, the other parent needs to agree to the family reunification process if they are not traveling with the child.
Your parents, if you are an unaccompanied minor in Germany
- Unaccompanied children living in Germany can bring their biological parents or adoptive parents.
- Children lose their right to bring their parents after turning 18 years old. If you want to bring your parents to Germany and will soon turn 18, you should contact a lawyer.
Can you bring other members of your family to Germany?
You usually cannot bring other members of your family to Germany. This includes people like a sibling, an uncle, or a grandparent. You cannot bring your siblings to Germany, even if they are under 18. If you want to file an application for someone in your extended family, you have to prove “extraordinary hardship.” This means that if that family member could not join you in Germany, it would cause great problems for your family. Examples of this are:
- Your relative has a severe illness or disability and doesn’t have anyone else who could take care of them
- You depend on a family member who currently lives abroad to take care of you in Germany
What are the requirements to petition for a family member?
The requirements to petition for a family member depend on your legal status in Germany. If you are a refugee in Germany, the process will be easier if you tell the German authorities on time about your wish to reunify with family members (explained below).
General requirements for family reunification to foreigners:
- You must have a residency permit that gives you the right to reunify with family members (as explained above)
- You must have enough income to pay for the family member’s living costs
- You must show you have housing for your family. You need to show the government that your apartment is big enough for the family member who is applying to move in
- Your family member must prove their identity to the German authorities. This means the government will ask your family members to submit a passport and/or a birth certificate.
- Your family member must be in the possession of a valid passport.
Submitting your application on time
If you are a refugee in Germany, you must tell the German government that you want to reunify with your family in Germany.
This is called a timely notification (“fristwahrende Anzeige”). If you do this on time, you do not need to meet the income and housing requirements.
You must tell the German government that you want to bring your family member within 3 months of getting refugee status from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (“BAMF Bescheid”). The exact timing depends on when you got the decision, and the date is usually written on the envelope.
There are three ways to tell the government to that you want to bring your family member:
- By sending a letter or fax to the German embassy abroad that is in charge of the visa application of your family member
- By using the web page of the German Foreign Office linked here to send a form online.
- By sending a letter to the local Foreigners’ Office in the area where you (the sponsor) live in Germany.
The letter or fax should include:
- the date when you got refugee status,
- the date your residence permit was issued, and
- information about yourself and your family members (names, dates of birth, and places of birth)
You should ask the authorities to confirm the receipt of your timely notification. Only then you will be able to prove later that you filed the timely notification on time.
If you are a subsidiary protection holder in Germany, this does not apply to you. You don’t have to meet the income or housing requirements. But if you meet those requirements this will benefit the visa applications of your family.
The income requirement means you must have enough income to pay for your family member’s living costs. The required income is based on an amount provided by the German government. The amount will change:
- every year,
- depending on how big your family is, and
- if your relatives are adults or children.
The monthly income amounts that apply for 2023 are:
|Spouse or partner
|Children under 6
|Children between 6 and 13
|Children between 14 and 17
|Children between 18 and 25
These amounts are also available on this website.
For example, if you file a visa application in 2023 for your wife and two children (5 and 16 years old) you will need to have an income of 1,691 Euro or more. This is the income left after you pay your rent. This is based on the amounts above.
NOTE: General social welfare payments by the Jobcenter do not count as your income. However, social benefits like child benefit (“Kindergeld”) do count as your income.
The housing requirement means you will need to prove to the German government that your apartment is big enough for you and your family.
Housing is big enough if:
- there are at least 12m2 for each person who is above 6 years old, and
- there are at least 10m2 for each person below 6 years old
For example, if you are living alone in Germany and apply for your wife and 5-year-old child to join you in Germany, your housing will need to be at least 34m2.
You can sometimes get an exception made to the income and housing requirements. For example, you can get an exception made if you and your family cannot live together in any country other than Germany. If this applies to you, please contact a lawyer.
Passport and identification requirement
Your family members will need to submit a valid passport and prove their identity as part of the application. This means the German embassy will request their passport or a birth certificate.
What can you do if your family members do not have these documents to prove their identity AND cannot get them?
Your family can ask for an exception from these requirements and present alternative documentation instead. Alternative documentation can be religious certificates, residence or other identity documents from your country of origin or other documents. You should contact a lawyer to help you explain your situation to the German authorities.
What can you do if your family members do not have valid passports AND cannot get them?
In this case, you should also contact a lawyer to help you explain your situation to the German authorities.
How to Apply
Getting an embassy appointment
Your family should register on the waiting list for an appointment in a country where they have lived for at least six months. If there is no German embassy in the country where your family is (such as in Afghanistan) the process will be different. For these cases, there are “substitute” embassies in countries nearby where the applicant can have an interview.
If you are a refugee in Germany, visit the website of the German embassy in the country that your relative is residing in (or is planning to) and register your relatives using their online system.
If you are a subsidiary protection holder in Germany, you must register your relatives on this general waiting list. During the registration process you will be asked to insert the country your relative is residing in.
Waiting times for an embassy appointment are usually very long. Visa appointments are processed in the order they are received. They can only be sped up if there are extraordinary humanitarian reasons. For example, if the applicant or sponsor will turn 18 years old and age out of the family reunification process. If this applies to you, you or your lawyer can reach out to the embassy and ask for a faster appointment.
Appointments with IOM FAP
In some countries, Germany works with the International Organization for Migration Family Assistance Programme (IOM FAP). To see where there are IOM FAP centers visit this website.
In those countries, IOM FAP will invite your relatives for an appointment. They should take all required documents with them to this appointment. A list of the required documents is in the next section.
During the appointment, an officer reviews if your family has all the documents for the application. They will explain if a document is missing and ask your family to find it.
Where to file the application
To file the application, your relatives normally have an appointment at the embassy.
In some countries, the embassy passes on this responsibility to the IOM FAP offices. In those countries, there will be no appointment with the embassy. The applicant will only have appointments at IOM FAP. Everything will take place at the IOM FAP office. Once the application is filed, IOM FAP will refer your case to the embassy where the embassy checks the application and makes a decision.
These are the places where the application has to be filed with IOM FAP and not at the embassy:
- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Khartoum, Sudan
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Beirut, Lebanon
- Erbil, Autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq
The embassy or IOM FAP will send you an invitation for the appointment to the email address you used when doing the appointment registration online. IOM FAP might also reach out to you on the phone.
How to file your application
Things to keep in mind before an IOM FAP or embassy appointment:
- All the applicants will need to attend their appointment in person, even any children.
- If your child lives abroad alone, they will have to go to the appointment with an adult who is authorized by you to go with them. You will need to give the adult written authorization. The adult should also bring a copy of their passport or ID.
- The embassy or IOM FAP might reject the submission if your relatives do not bring all the required documents to the appointment. If your family cannot get some documents, they should explain this and say they want to submit the visa application as it is.
What can you do if IOM FAP or the embassy is not allowing your relative to file their application?
Sometimes IOM FAP or the embassy is refusing to accept an application because the applicant does not have the required official documentation. If your relative is unable to get the documentation they ask for, you should reach out to a lawyer. The lawyer can help you explain your relative´s situation to the authorities.
What to bring to the appointment
- Copy of the timely notification (if applicable)
- The completed and signed visa application form
- Note that for Syrian refugees applying for family reunification, there is a simplified visa application form available here.
- The applicant’s passport or other form of ID
- Documents showing your family relationship:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Copy of your asylum decision (“BAMF-Bescheid”)
- Copy of your residence permit in Germany (“Aufenthaltserlaubnis”)
- Copy of your German travel document (“Reiseausweis”) or passport
- Copy of your German registration document (“Meldebescheinigung”)
- Other documents as required
- German language certificate (level A1 CEFR), if applicable.
- Medical documents for humanitarian exceptions. Any medical documents you submit should be from a qualified doctor. It should include a medical report with a summary of the medical condition.
- Custody documents if you are applying to be reunified with your child. Examples of this can be a family court document or a notarized consent from the other parent.
Evidence of your relationship to your relative
Evidence of your relationship is one of the most important parts of your application. You will need to have official documents to prove the relationship between you and your relative. This includes official birth certificates or marriage certificates.
If you do not have those documents and you cannot get them, you can submit other evidence. For example, you can submit religious certificates or a DNA test to prove your relationship to your child. There is no guarantee that the German embassy will consider this evidence as enough. You should get professional advice from a lawyer if you do not have official documents as proof of your relationship.
The applicant will need to pay a fee when they submit the application. The application fee is 75 Euros for adults and 37,50 Euros for children. This fee is paid during the appointment at the German embassy or IOM FAP. It should be paid in cash. Whether you have to pay the fees in Euro or in the local currency depends on the embassy your relative is applying to. You should check the website of the embassy in advance to find out. The visa fee can be waived if “humanitarian reasons” apply.
What happens after you apply?
After your family applies for their visa:
- The German embassy will check the application and will reach out to the German Foreigners’ Office where you live.
- The Foreigners’ Office will check your residency permit.
- The Foreigners’ Office will check if any grounds for exclusion apply. For example, they will check whether you have been convicted of a crime.
- If you were convicted of a serious crime, or your family member was expelled from Germany, you should seek advice from a lawyer.
If you are a subsidiary protection holder, the review of the application might take longer. Your case will also be reviewed by the Federal Office of Administration (“Bundesverwaltungsamt”).
The embassy will contact your family when they make a final decision.
If the application is approved, the embassy contacts your relative(s) and will ask them to get their visa (and in specific cases their travel document).
If the German government rejects the application, the decision can be appealed. The rejection will list the reason for the denial of the visa application. The deadline for the appeal depends on whether the rejection letter informs you about the possibilities for appeal or not at the end of the letter. If it does, the deadline for appeal is one month. If the letter does not include this, the deadline is one year. You should seek advice from a lawyer to appeal a negative decision before the embassy or a German administrative court.
What other options do I have aside from the above described procedures?
Some German federal states have their own admissions programs for refugees.
There are some programs for Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans for example. Iraqis may be eligible if their relative lives in Berlin. Afghans may be eligible if their relative lives in Berlin or Hesse. Syrians may be eligible if their relative lives in Berlin, Hamburg, Thüringen, or Schleswig-Holstein. There are also other requirements, which are described in the links below.
All of these websites are in German.
- Information about the program in Berlin is here.
- Information about the program in Hamburg is here.
- More information about the program in Hamburg is here.
- Information about the program in Thüringen is here.
- Information about the program in Schleswig-Holstein is here.
- Information about the program in Brandenburg is here.
- Information about the program in Hesse is here.
We recommend applying as soon as possible for these programs if you think you might be eligible. The websites linked above include instructions for how to apply.
There is also an admission program for Afghans run by the German federal government. However, the program was launched recently and the requirements and procedures are still not fully known to the public. The information given by the German government can be found here. Unlike in the above programs, you and your relative cannot apply to be included in the program but your relative needs to be suggested by one of the organizations that the German government is cooperating with. Unfortunately, a list of such organizations has not been published yet. IRAP is not one of those organizations.
Asking for help
You or your relative may want to ask a lawyer for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
Asking for help from IRAP
Asking for help from other organizations
- There are Refugee Councils in each Federal State. They usually have lists with contacts to free legal aid organizations and immigration lawyers.
- You can also find organizations that offer counseling to migrants in the area where you live through this interactive map.
- Here is a list of contacts of all important government agencies and NGOs that are active in the field of family reunification.