On 1 August 2022, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave a ruling in the joined cases C-273/20 and C-355/20, concerning the interpretation of the Family Reunification Directive (no. 2003/86). The proceedings concerned Syrian nationals that applied for visas for family reunification purposes with their respective sons, who had refugee status in Germany. In the cases at hand, the applications for family reunification had been submitted within three months after the recognition of the refugee status of the sponsors, when they were still children. However, the applications were rejected because their sons had reached the legal age in the meanwhile. The referring court posed several questions on the interpretation of the Family Reunification Directive.

The CJEU held that considering the date of the competent authorities’ decision on the matter would not be consistent with the objectives pursued by the Family Reunification Directive or Articles 7 and 24(2) of the Charter, preserving respect for private and family life and the child’s best interests. It concluded that the age of the applicant or the sponsor cannot be regarded as a material condition for exercising the right to family reunification but as a requirement in respect of the eligibility of the application for family reunification. Therefore, the Court established that the minority age of the sponsor can only be decisive at the time of the application and that it is precluded that national legislation limits the right of residence of the parents as soon as the child reaches the age of majority. Deciding on the preliminary question at hand, the Court held that where family reunification had been applied for by the parents of a minor refugee who has come of legal age in the meantime, if their application is accepted, they should be granted a residence permit valid for at least one year, and the fact that the child benefiting from refugee status reaches the age of majority cannot lead to shortening the duration of the residence permit.

Regarding the assessment of a real family relationship, the Court found that it should be carried out on a case-by-case analysis; but that a first-degree relationship in the direct ascending line was not sufficient on its own. Nevertheless, the Court acknowledged that these families were unable to lead a real family life during their period of separation resulting from the specific situation of their children as refugees and that it cannot be presumed that any family relationship between a parent and the children immediately ceases to exist as soon as the minor child reaches the age of majority. Finally, the Court clarified that it is not necessary for the child sponsor and the parent concerned to cohabit in a single household or to support each other financially to qualify for family reunification, as occasional visits and regular contact of any kind may be sufficient to consider that those persons are reconstructing personal and emotional relationships and to establish the existence of a real family relationship.