The French government imposed the visa-freeze in March in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus | Photo: Picture Alliance
The French government imposed the visa-freeze in March in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus | Photo: Picture Alliance

After mounting pressure from rights group, France's highest court on Thursday lifted a termporary freeze on family reunification visas for spouses and children of non-European foreigners living in France. The government had imposed the freeze in March 2020 as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"We won!" Mustapha Belhadj could barely contain his excitement after France’s highest court, Le Conseil d’État, on Thursday announced its decision to lift the nine-month long freeze on family reunification visas. The 50-year-old Algerian, who has legal migrant status in France, hopes that the verdict means that his wife of two years will soon be able to join him.

The court’s ruling comes after a number of rights groups and private individuals in December appealed the government-imposed freeze. "We’re very happy with the decision," Mustapha told InfoMigrants. "People were moved when the verdict was read out, many were crying of joy. We can't wait to reunite with our families," he said.

The French government imposed the visa freeze in March 2020, as part of its fight against the fast-spreading coronavirus. Since then, and aside from a very few exceptions, family members of non-European foreigners living in France have been unable to join their loved ones in the country.

For Mustapha, who married in April 2019, the visa-freeze has meant that he has not been able to bring his wife into France since last August - despite their application for family reunification having been accepted.

Also read: Foreigners in France seeking family reunifications stuck in a visa freeze

'Violates normal family life'

In its ruling, the court said "the measure seriously violates the right to a normal family life for all involved and [overrides] the best interest of the children concerned." It also concluded that it had “serious doubts” about the measure’s legality "which justifies its suspension."

In addition, the court said that the average number of people benefitting from family reunifications per day rarely exceed more than 60, and pointed to the fact that the government has been unable to provide "any element showing that such an inflow would significantly contribute to an increase in the spread of COVID-19."

La Cimade, one of the right groups that took the government to court over the visa-freeze, said it was "delighted" about the suspension, but cautiously noted that "the question now remains how consulates will react to it."

"Will they process the applications and issue the visas quickly, or will they proceed slowly,” Gérard Sadik, head of the group’s asylum service, told InfoMigrants.


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