As a rule, family reunification requires that the family member moving in from abroad applies for a visa at the German diplomatic representation abroad (embassy/consulate) in the country and region in which he or she has his or her normal place of residence (i.e. in which he or she has been a proper resident for at least six months). It is important that the visa is applied for the correct purpose of the intended stay.
The visa application is examined by the diplomatic representation abroad and the foreigner nationals office at the place of residence of the partner who is already living in Germany.
Some examples of general requirements that have to be fulfilled in order to apply for a visa:
The family member who wishes to move to Germany must present a valid passport.
The person to whom the family member wishes to move must have sufficient income to also provide for the person moving in without being dependent on social benefits.
The family member who follows must not have committed any criminal offences and must not endanger public safety and order in Germany.
The family member already living in Germany must have a residence or settlement permit (or be a German national). If the marriage has not yet existed in the home country, the partner living in Germany must first have held the residence permit for two years before the spouse can join them.
In principle, the family member already living in Germany must also have sufficient living space, although the requirements here are not too high.
Further prerequisites arise depending on whether the spouse and/or children want to move in (for EU Blue Card privileges see below):
The subsequent immigration of a spouse requires an effective marriage. However, it is not sufficient that the marriage has been formally entered into. It is necessary that the partners want to lead an actual life partnership in mutual responsibility for each other. There is no visa for a "fictitious marriage" in which the partners do not want this even if they are legally married. A suspicion of fictitious marriage is often expressed if there is an unusual age difference between the partners, if they hardly met before the marriage or if they do not intend to live together. Also, if there are indications that any of the partners has been forced into marriage, a visa will not be granted.
Both spouses must be at least 18 years old. To be reunited the spouse must be able to communicate in German at least in a simple way (level A1).
Children are entitled to family reunification before their 16th birthday if both parents or the parent with sole custody have a residence permit or settlement permit. Young people who are already 16 or 17 years old only have this right if they either move to Germany together with both parents or the parent with sole custody, or if they are proficient in the German language (level C1) or if it can be assumed for other reasons that they will integrate well in Germany (one reason could be, for example, a completed education).
If the requirements for a claim to a residence permit are not fulfilled, it is at the discretion of the foreign department whether it issues a residence permit or agrees to a visa being issued. It may, however, only do so if it would otherwise come to a "particular hardship", i.e. a situation that is unreasonable for those affected.
Other family members, e.g. adult siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts, may only follow if this avoids "exceptional hardship". However, the requirements for this are very strict. An example could be the massive need for care of the grandmother living alone in the country of origin, if this cannot be supplied there. In these cases, the foreign nationals office has a margin of judgement, whether it agrees to the family reunion. However, it makes rarely use of it.
Holders of an "EU Card" are privileged in terms of family reunification.
The spouse of a person who has an "EU Blue Card", i.e. is highly qualified to work in Germany, does not have to prove any knowledge of German.
Even after their 16th birthday, young people whose parents hold the "Blue Card EU" do not have to prove any advanced knowledge of German or any other particularly outstanding integration prospects.
Other exceptions are linked to the person of the family member who wishes to move in from abroad. For example, spouses who move to Germany do not have to prove that they have learned German if they were prevented from doing so for health reasons or if it was not possible or reasonable for them to learn the language for special reasons.