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Playing Hard(er) to Get: The State, International Couples, and the Income Requirement

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In recent years, several European countries have tightened the criteria for the legal immigration of a partner from outside the EU. In the Netherlands, the income requirement for ‘family formation’ was raised in 2004 from 100% to 120% of the minimum wage, potentially excluding about thirty percent of the working population from eligibility. The outcomes of this measure for international couples and, on the aggregate level, for migration flows were examined on the basis of administrative trend data and fifty in-depth interviews among international couples. It is demonstrated that the potential power of governments to intervene in partner migration risks being at odds with strongly felt cultural values surrounding partner choice and family life. Partner immigration decreased substantially, especially among poorer groups (ethnic minorities, women, youngsters). At the same time, the measure put pressure on the well-being of a segment of the international couples. In 2010, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Dutch income requirement contradicts the EU directive on family reunification.


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