19 June 2015

The German federal government has asked state authorities to implement a simplified process for handling applications for family reunification from Syrians, as its embassies face increasingly long lines for visas.

The local authorities are being asked to accept prima facie evidence of kinship, in lieu of legal documentary proof where applicants are unable to provide it. As for the members of family who are already in the country, the authorities would establish their entitlement to protection through an automated check against the central register of foreigners.

The move was contained in a letter issued on 4 May 2015 from the Federal Foreign Office and Federal Ministry of the Interior to local state authorities for interior affairs in the country requesting they simplify procedures for Syrian applicants. The government also provided details in response to questions from Bundestag member, Ulla Jelpke, of the Left Party on 8 and 11 May 2015. “Family members should not have to wait any longer than is absolutely necessary to have their applications for reunification fulfilled,” the Foreign Office and Interior Ministry say in the letter.

The letter states that despite attempts to streamline procedures and increase personnel, visa appointments are booked out months in advance at embassies and consulates.

The Lower Saxony Refugee Council wrote about the letter on 10 June 2015. In it, the Council noted that in the past it took unnecessarily long for visas to be issued because the local foreigners registration offices took weeks to complete their part in the process. “Hopefully, the procedure can take place quicker now,” it wrote.

“It is good that as a result of protests the Foreign Office has taken steps to shorten the intolerably long waiting times for family reunifications to Germany for Syrian refugees,” Ulla Jelpke, a Bundestag member from The Left party, said on her web site.

Refugee NGO, ProAsyl, has long called for procedures to be simplified, most recently in a press release ahead of the Refugee Summit in Germany on 8 May 2015.

The Lower Saxony Refugee Council however notes that hurdles remain, causing long waiting times for visas, including problems in the email application procedure in Lebanon and Turkey. Jelpke said it was difficult to understand why it was possible to apply for a visa appointment online in Lebanon but not in Turkey.

The move comes as demands increase for greater access for asylum seekers. In early June, at a party conference, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats, called for a humanitarian visa arrangement for asylum seekers and the possibility of transporting them by ferry to Europe. Volker Jung, president of the German church, also called for humanitarian visas or a waiver for people from crisis regions.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.