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A photo of a happy couple with their faces pressed together acts as the wallpaper of Mohammad Mohldar’s phone.
The man in the picture is Mohldar and next to him is his wife Aklima. They married about a year ago.
On Tuesday, he ran his fingers over the photograph as he pulled up one document after another as proof that an application he had made to bring her to Ireland shouldn’t have been refused.
“I don’t know what I did wrong,” said Mohldar, now going through a thick stack of papers that he’d submitted with the application.
On 27 January, he got a letter from the Irish embassy in New Delhi, which processes visa applications for citizens of Bangladesh, refusing their family reunification application, briefly listing an array of reasons for rejection – some of which Mohldar says are just untrue.
The reasons include Mohldar’s financial situation and how the visa officer worries that if his wife came here, she would be a burden on public funds.
Mohldar, who runsTaste of India, a small takeaway business in Cavan, says he can take care of his wife and their baby on the way without relying on government funds.
“My wife is seven months pregnant,” says Mohldar. “When I got my work permit, I started working the week after, I haven’t been on social welfare.”
Mohldar says he has spent nearly 10 years as a single man in Ireland and feels lonely and restless without a wife. “That’s just normal.”
A January 2023 European study found that member states’ conditions for bringing family over are often unequal and more favourable towards those with higher socioeconomic or immigration statuses.
The inequality, on top of bureaucratic hurdles, makes for restrictive access to family reunification in the EU, it says.
It notes the hierarchy of rights, even within different categories of international protection beneficiaries, which labels some groups as less deserving and contributes to uneven access to family reunions in the zone.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t directly respond to a query asking about its efforts for integration through family reunification. But they said it’s trying to decide on applications sharpish in any way it can.
“This has included the assignment of additional staff to deal with applications, and, more generally, the streamlining of visa processes, where possible,” said the spokesperson.
The rejection letter Mohldar got says he’d made a trip to Bangladesh while his asylum application was still being processed, which broke immigration rules. Mohldar says that’s just not true.
He took a risk and travelled to his birthplace to visit his ill elderly father after he got permission to stay in Ireland, not before. Stamps on his passports show that he left the country two months after getting permission to remain.
“My mother died in 2020; I couldn’t go to her funeral,” he says.
Mohldar pulls up a video of his elderly father lying on a hospital bed, looking into the camera with cloudy eyes and his mouth half-open.
He says another reason for refusal, one saying he hadn’t given enough documents to show that he’d registered his business in Ireland, is also untrue and can be refuted.
Wendy Lyon, partner and solicitor at Abbey Law, who is representing Mohldar, says even if Mohldar had travelled back before his asylum case was finalised, that’s no reason to reject a family-reunification application.
She says separation from spouses or kids weighs heavy on her clients’ minds, and they’re left wondering how much documentation is enough for a successful case.
“There is an absurdly high burden of proof and it often seems as though it’s deliberately set higher than most couples can reach,” Lyon says.
She knows of cases where marriages and relationships broke down because the government took so long to decide on a family-reunification application, she says.
Gay refugees anddisabled migrants face even taller barriers to bringing partners over.
A rule requiring marriage before moving to Ireland to seek asylum stops people fleeing countries that outlaw gay marriage or queerness itself from bringing their partners to join them here.
Meanwhile, income requirements present a major barrier to disabled migrants who are unable to work to bring their partner to join them.
Refugees are exempt from meeting the income requirement if they apply within a year, but others with humanitarian permission to remain who need to apply under the family reunification policy document, aren’t.
Ireland hasn’t adopted the European Union’s 2003right to family reunification directive, so a domestic policy document governs family reunion for migrants.
The government’s family-reunification policy document mentions integration, but mainly in the context of language barriers.
It floats the idea of bringing in an English-language competency test for applicants as a vehicle for their integration.
“As a basic level, and avoiding getting into definitions of what constitutes ‘integration’, it is highly undesirable that migrants should live for extended periods or permanently in Ireland without being able to speak English,” it says.
Some European governments have argued that financial requirements for family reunification are a way to encourage integration into host countries’ labour markets.
But a 2013 study from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which looked at the impact of the Netherlands’ and the United Kingdom’s income requirements, says financial barriers don’t contribute much to migrants’ professional integration, acting mainly as a way to reduce the number of applications.
In the United Kingdom, it says, a migration advisory committee predicted that increasing the minimum income requirement for family reunification would lead to the rejection of 45 percent of applications.
But that didn’t “change the government’s determination to introduce this higher level”, it says.
The study from January 2023 also found that everyday bureaucratic practices of frontline workers also play a role in shaping the outcome of applications. It counts “practicality of the procedure” and civil servants’ “moral understanding of what is at stake” as the most important factors shaping their decisions.
In Ireland, migrants from outside of the European Economic Area who want to bring a family member over, need to make at least €30,000 a year to be eligible.
Mohldar, who wants to reunite with his pregnant wife, who is now in Bangladesh, points to a number on a document from the Revenue, showing he made a little over that figure in 2021. He says he is befuddled by the government’s financial argument for rejecting the application.
“My question is, for five years, I’m working in Ireland, and I never had social welfare; how can they say I will now?” he says.
He shows a letter from a Department of Social Protection, saying he’s not getting any money from it. That was another document submitted to support his wife’s application, he says.
He had rented a three-bedroom house in anticipation of his wife’s arrival and then later their baby, says Mohldar, and his landlady had given a letter for his reunification application.
He says if he had a history of living on the government’s dime, it would’ve been easier to accept the argument that a visa for his wife would burden the state financially.
“I just want to ask them who told them I will apply for social welfare. Did someone tell them?” he says. “I wanted my wife to give birth here.”