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migrationtothecentre › Social and Cultural Dimension of Family Reunification in Poland

Social and Cultural Dimension of Family Reunification in Poland

Hanna Bojar | 15. 6. 13
Public debate on immigrant family reunification in Poland is a good starting point for putting a stronger emphasis on the analysis of migration in the context of the family. This approach should be an important complement to the "sector" analysis, centered on the immigrants as individuals representing specific socio-cultural or economic categories.

Reflecting the social dimension of family migration one can formulate several theses about the general principles and approaches to immigrant family reunification.

An important formal premise for support the institution of family reunification by the legal systems of the host countries is the right of individuals to preserve the unity of the family and raising children. Family reunification should be treated not only as a realization of the rights of individuals, but also as an important element of the migration policy of the host countries.

Family migration strengthens integration with the host society. Treating their stay in Poland as temporal, immigrant are primarily focused on getting a job and earning money. Their circle of friends is limited to the Polish employers, co-workers and roommates. "Institutional" knowledge, regarding rights and obligations, rules and procedures, is in most cases relatively weak[1]. They generally lack deeper relationship with the local community in which they live and work. Their most important emotional ties – those related to the family - are based outside their place of temporary residence but their economic decisions are driven by the needs of the family left in the country. This kind of temporal migration forces migrants to operate simultaneously in two social worlds, which in consequence often leads to "permanent temporality"[2] and marginalization of immigrants in both countries.

The presence of family creates a completely different context of integration and socialization in the host country - for example the functioning of immigrant children in the school system may induce their contacts with the Polish peers in the local community, the need to contact other parents, teachers, and doctors. It makes a natural extension of the social contacts, which shows an important role of a family in a social integration.

Family migration reinforces the stabilization of migrants and helps immigrants to enter social and economic system of the host country, strengthens the stability, and promotes integration. Family relationships are a source of stronger ties in the host country in terms of economic and social solidarity.

Regarding the institution of family reunification not only at the level of legal guarantees but also their implementation: the availability of knowledge about the law, legal aid, waiting time for the decision, the clarity of the decision, are important element in a sense of stability and security of migrant (and his family) in the host country.

The decision of to migrate with family is particularly important for immigrants in terms of their contact with authorities who determine the family residence status and access to the variety of institutions important in the daily life of the migrant family.

In case of the family migration, it is particularly important to guarantee the legal right to stay in Poland for all family members. The right to work is also crucial in order to ensure regular income, relatively fixed accommodation, and children’s access to education and health care. Access to a bank account and ability to take loans are also important factors. All of these factors are necessary for a proper functioning of the family.

Researchers indicate failures in system providing information for foreigners concerning their rights in terms of family reunification and citizenship of the child and procedural difficulty in contact between migrants and administration officials. Complex and lengthy procedures make it very difficult for migrants to build long-term life strategies within Poland[3].

An approach to family reunification from the perspective of social and cultural conditions poses a question of how relevant are specific legal solutions in terms of the migrants’ cultural patterns

According to tradition of European cultural circle, the legal systems of the EU[4] pay special attention to the protection of "nuclear family. It affects legal arrangements for the institution of family reunification; since they take into account only the spouses and minor children. In case of immigrants from different cultures, such a "narrowed" approach to the family is often not consistent with the models of family in the countries of origin of the immigrants. Different culturally conditioned kinship structures and patterns of family relationships may exist in these cultures[5].

It is necessary to recognize different categories of immigrants in terms of feasibility of the statutory conditions for family reunification.

Requirements imposed on the applicants for family reunification are relatively difficult to meet, especially with regard to the conditions and ability of the family to ensure a permanent source of maintenance and a legal title to their property (e.g., due to the reluctance of host society to rent apartments to foreigners from the third countries). Failure to fulfill these conditions often becomes a major obstacle to the realization of this fundamental right of integrity of the family.

Although reports about the situation of migrants in Poland bring relatively positive conclusions concerning the implementation of the right to family reunification, the same reports also indicate the main difficulties in other areas of the integration of migrants, especially their place on the labor market[6].

If a steady income is one of the relevant terms of the statutory use of the institutions of family reunification, it means that some of the migrants from the unstable labor markets may not even attempt to use this institution. In practice, family reunification is becoming an institution accessible only to those migrants whose socio-economic status is relatively high and stable, while the access is difficult for those migrants who are in a disadvantaged social situation, access to it is difficult.

One of the categories of migrants, for whom the fulfillment of these conditions is particularly difficult or almost impossible, are refugees who have problems with the submission of the necessary documents indicating their relative stabilization of the socio-economic situation in the host country, as well as documents from the country of origin.

Inabilities to obtain the relevant documents are a result of differences in legal regulations, inefficiency or lack of appropriate institutions in the country of origin of the immigrant. Illegally leaving the country by the immigrant may also hinder the obtain of relevant document.[7]

Family reunification is not the end but the beginning of immigrants’ integration process. In order to achieve social integration more integrated and holistic concept of operations of the state and non-governmental organizations is essential. The system of such actions should be focused not only on the individual migrant (eg, its position on the labor market), but also on the members of his family (in dimension of education, health care, psychological and pedagogic support and integration in the local community).

Among the most important elements of creating an integrated system are the following:
  • The education system. Actions focused on the education system should be suited to the needs of immigrant children. Teaching of the host country language and intercultural education taking into account the cultural specificities of migrants are essential[8].
  • Psychological support. Migrant families which encounter language barrier, cultural foreignness, new customs and a different way of life often experience a slump, trauma or disappointment. Psychological support is especially important during the first period of migration, before the relative stage of adaptation to the new situation.
  • The integration programs. These programs should pay special attention to language learning and building relationships with the nearest social environment. To be effective they must be individualized - take into account such factors as family size, age of children, the rhythm of work, place of residence and cultural patterns of family roles.

Various integration programs should also take into account the specific role of migration networks, which can perpetuate the existence of closed, isolated communities that uphold indigenous patterns of social inclusion, and reduce the possibility of integration of immigrants into the host society[9]. Special attention must be paid to the situation of women. It is mainly women who benefit from solutions connected with family reunification, while often depend on a male family member, because of their residency status. Strong relationships within migration networks maintaining traditional role patterns of women and men often result in the closure of women in networks based on ethnic bonds. This problem concerns particularly migrants from third countries with a strong patriarchal culture[10].

From the perspective of the host country it is crucial to build thoughtful, integrated model of state policy towards immigrant families. Creating space for their social inclusion should be treated as investments to the future because in the next few decades, it could bring tangible social and economic benefits.

The article has been written as part of the project Migration to the Centre supported by the by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund.

This article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


[1] M. Bieniecki, H. Bojar, A. Gąsior, J. Frelak, J. Konieczna, J. Kurczewska, M. Pawlak,, 2005, Migracje z Ukrainy do Polski, IPA, Warsaw.

[2] D. Niedźwiedzki, 2010, Migracje i tożsamość. Od teorii do analizy przypadku. Krakow Nomos

[3] H. Bojar, 2007, To Be an Immigrant in Poland. An Analysis of the Experiences of Immigrants from Non-EU Countries, PSR nr 4.

[4] Council Directive 2003/86/WE on 22 September 2003. Regarding to family reunion, The official journal of the European Union, L 251/12, 3.10.2003

[5] D. Szelewa, Imigracja o problemy rodziny, Center for International Relations.

[6] Report MIPEX (Migrant Integration Policy Index), Index III, British Council & Migration Policy Group, February 2011

[7] M. Ząbek, red. 2002, Miedzy piekłem a rajem. Problem adaptacji kulturowej uchodźców i imigrantów w Polsce, Warszawa; J. Frelak, W. Klaus, J. Wiśniewski (red.), 2008, „Przystanek Polska. Analiza programów integracyjnych dla uchodźców”, Warsaw, IPA;

[8] M. Pawlak, 2005, The Children of Foreigners in Polish Lower Secondary Schools – Two Strategies of Coping with Them, “Polish Sociological Review” no 3.

[9] M. Boyd, 1989. Family and Personal Networks in International Migration: Recent Developments and New Agendas. “International Migration Review” 23 (3)

[10] J. Hagan, 1998. Social Networks, Gender and Immigrant Incorporation: Resources and Constraints, “American Sociological Review” 63 (1); M. Kindler, 2008, Transnarodowość. Nowe teorie migracyjne a wyzwania integracji imigrantów, w: Problemy integracji imigrantów. Koncepcje, badania, polityki, red. A. Grzymała-Kazłowska, S. Łodziński, WUW, Warsaw;

Hanna Bojar
Hanna Bojar. Ph.D., sociologist, assistant professor at Institute of Philosophy and Sociology Polish Academy of Sciences and expert in the Migration Policy Programme at Institute of Public Affairs . Main research interest and expertise focuses on local societies at the borderlands, immigrants and family. Author of publications concerning: family in the multi-cultural context, experiences of immigrants from Non-EU countries, newcomers from the East at the Polish-Ukrainian borderland and immigrant families in local communities.

The project has been generously supported by the European Commission The "Europe for citizens" programme, International Visegrad Fund and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
Funded by the Europe for
Citizens Programme
of the European Union
Visegrad Fund. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Daniela Pěničková, project coordinator
Phone: (+420) 296 325 345, E-mail:

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