Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that:
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.
In regards to family reunification applications, the respect for family life referred to in article 8 becomes of particular importance.
Over the course of its history, the European Court of Human Rights has established a substantial body of case law in regards to both the right to respect for family life individually and its impact on the assessment of unsuccessful family reunification applications. Importantly, the ‘family’ has been established as an autonomous concept, meaning the European Court of Human Rights is not bound by the national courts assessment of what constitutes as a family.
That is not to say that the courts handling of unsuccessful family reunification applications and article 8 is completely unfettered. In its assessment of the individual’s rights under Article 8, the court must find a balance with the host states immigration policies. Usually a wide margin of appreciation is afforded to the state. This reflects the wider policy that it is primarily for the state to ensure that the individual’s rights are upheld. In her article, ‘Family reunification in EU law and under the ECHR’ Nuala Mole points out that the key question in assessing the interplay of family reunification and Article 8 is “whether the state has overstepped this margin of appreciation in the particular case before it and so failed to respect this key right.”
In general, recognition must be given to the well established fact that the ECHR does not guarantee to individuals a choice of country of residence.
Taking a similar interpretation to its stance on family regularisation, the ECHR will generally find that a spouse resident in Europe, whose partner is not within the union, may be required to relocate as opposed to have their spouse join them, unless they show that there are “serious obstacles” preventing relocation. This will not usually constitute a breach of Article 8 as it is not preventing the couple continuing their ‘family life’, even if they are required to do so in another country.
Nuala Mole’s assessment is particularly relevant, “The Court also attaches considerable weight to the fact that the immigration difficulties, which a family is now encountering, were ascertainable at the time of the marriage, and that the couple should not therefore have had an expectation that they would be able to live together in the host country”.
In the case where it is a child who has been left behind, as often happens when families migrate, the ECHR have generally taken the same hard line approach that there is no Article 8 violation where it is possible for the family to carry out family life in their country of origin. However, sometimes a much more favourable approach may be taken. Where circumstances dictate that a different path is necessary, the ECHR may look favourably on the applicant.
Nuala Mole’s article ‘Family Reunification in EU law and under the ECHR’ can be viewed here.