Finally together! The Right to Family Reunification in Slovenia
Family reunification is the second most common reason for migrants to come to Slovenia, right after finding employment. And in the last few years the trend of issuing residence permits on the basis of family reunification is even increasing while permits based on employment have decreased. If for example in 2009 only 10% of requests were for family reunification, in 2011 that increased to about a quarter of all temporary residence permits issued to third-country nationals.
As part of the Migration to the Centre project, we asked two experts on migration to assess possibilities and obstacles of reunification of migrant families in Slovenia. In their opinion Slovenian migration policy is not enough sensitive for the right to family reunification and the legislation should be improved so that this right can be effectively realized. According to Simona Zavratnik, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, global mobility and the plurality of family forms as well as public opinion, which tends to favor restrictive migration and asylum policies, present new frameworks for reflection on the challenges and development of migrant family reunification. She cited existing empirical studies which show that Slovenian public opinion is not in favor of the immigration of family members of migrants who already live in Slovenia. “One cannot expect people to be strongly in favor of immigration, immigrants and immigrant family reunification in a context where government policies are largely restrictive and tend to maintain minimal standards rather than to enhance them,” says Zavratnik. Helplessness is the overwhelming feeling of separated members of migration families. In her opinion, support groups of activists and non-governmental organizations, as well as migrant communities, are important actors who contribute to the humane processes of family reunification at all levels – local, national, and global ones. Aida Hadžiahmetović, a fellow of Slovenian Philanthropy, says that the task of non-governmental organizations is to try to stop further aggravation of the already difficult situation of migrants in Slovenia. In her article, she briefly presents basic information on family reunification of migrants in Slovenia, including the definition of family members, laws governing this area, basic requirements for obtaining a permit and some statistics collected by the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior. She concludes the article with a short analysis of legal conditions for family reunification of migrants under international protection and a critical assessment of the implementation of these conditions in practice.
These experts’ assessments were upgraded by personal stories contributed by migrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Angola. Nadja Sarkić, who came to Slovenia four years ago from her home town of Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to join with her husband, a Slovenian citizen, shared with us her story. It started with fear and discomfort when she went to the Slovenian Embassy in Sarajevo – long hours of waiting, an interview with the cold faced officer and, at the end, rejection of her visa for Slovenia. In the second attempt, however, her application was approved. Her husband came to Bosnia right away, picked her up and in few hours they were in Ljubljana – finally together! “After our successful reunification, my integration started, but that is a story on itself,” says Nadja Sarkić. “Looking back at all of it, I can say that I have left all I had in my home country and started my life all over again. I don't regret it because as the saying goes: ‘Home is where the heart is’ and my heart is here in Ljubljana with my husband and our daughter.” Irena Vujčić Pavlović, a migrant from Serbia, first came to Slovenia in 2002 to visit her husband. For each trip, she had to obtain a visa, which cost €35. Once she obtained a visa from the Slovenian Consulate in Belgrade, she had to take a long bus trip to Slovenia – due to the Croatian visa regime, she travelled through Hungary. In her contribution “Marrying a Husband with an EU Green Card” Irena Vujčić Pavlović explains how she decided to finally move to Slovenia: “The Croatian visa was expensive (€60), it could only be used for a single entry and was even harder to obtain due to the strained relations between Serbia and Croatia. Since Hungary lifted the visa regime, the only and the shortest way from Serbia to Slovenia was through Hungary. Halfway, in the middle of nowhere in Hungary, passengers had to transfer from the Serbian into the Slovenian bus. Serbian buses couldn't get into Slovenia due to high taxes and insurance rates. The trip lasted for 16 or more hours, while constantly worrying whether you forgot something on the other bus.” And after one such trip which lasted for more than 24 hours and after a three months visa being declined, she realized that it was the highest time for reunification with her family.
Third in the series of migrants’ contributions is a short video interview. The video presents an experience of a refugee from Africa (who did not wish to display his identity) with the procedure of family reunification in Slovenia. In past two decades large number of people from the Balkans, Asia and Africa applied for international protection in Slovenia. However, there is huge disproportion between the number of people who applied for asylum and those who got it. In addition the state is very reluctant to help refugees to bring over their family members. The anonymous refugee from the short video interview came to Slovenia in 2006. The procedure was very long – he had to wait on his wife and children to join him for almost two years. His two sisters from Angola wanted to join him in Slovenia as well but it was not approved by Slovenian authorities in the family reunification procedure. According to Aida Hadžiahmetović, Slovenian authorities’ interpretation of who can be recognized as a family member is too narrow and should be more sensitive for specific circumstances of family life in the countries of origin.
As we heard at the public discussion “Migrations and the Right to Family Reunification”, which took place on 17th of June 2013 in Ljubljana as part of the Migration to the Centre project, reunification of a migrant family is possible only if a partner living in Slovenia has a regular source of income. According to Ognjen Radivojević, a migrant who joined her wife in Slovenia and one of the speakers at the public discussion, it is one of the most difficult requirements that a migrant family has to accomplish: “My partner did project work, which means that you never know when you will have money, or how much. At one point we were looking for an endorser (sponsor) so that we could live together. In our case this turned out to be not so difficult, since she later got a regular job, but for many people it is a serious problem. What could have happened if she hadn’t had that money? We probably wouldn’t be together today.” Nataša Potočnik, head of the Department for migration policy and legislation at the Migration and integration directorate of the Ministry of the Interior, joined the public discussion and commented a problem of the determination of family ties in the case of refugees which is an important element of the family reunification procedure: “At the moment we determine only the existence of family ties, but not in what way, based on what documents, what should be taken into consideration, and so on. This is also one of the segments which makes decision making more difficult and prolongs the procedure. From that aspect the provisions of the existing International Protection Act should be improved. Of course legal regulation will not by itself resolve all problems in practice. I think, however, that the clause is nevertheless sufficiently open so as to allow for a variety of life situations which might appear.”
This optimistic view of the representative of the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior didn’t convince Aida Hadžiahmetović, a person with a lot of experiences in social work with migrants and refugees. In her opinion, “shifting this topic from one law to another and the related tightening of the conditions for family reunification could lead immigrant families to the edge of despair.” Nowadays, family reunification in Slovenia is somewhere between the norm and helplessness of family members of migrants. It means that this issue will probably continue to disturb public opinion and experts in Slovenia for a long time.
The article has been written as part of the project Migration to the Centre supported by the by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund.
This article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
 Statistical data are given from the report of the Ministry of Interior of RS, Migration and Integration Directorate Statistical Report 2011, Ljubljana, March 2012: http://www.mnz.gov.si/Slovenian only
 Slovenian Philanthropy is an NGO that supports migrants, asylum seekers as well as other vulnerable social groups.
Aldo Milohnić has a PhD in sociology of culture. He is a researcher at the Peace Institute Ljubljana – Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies, editor of the Politike book series, and author and co-author of several books and anthologies of texts.