Austria's cabinet, facing record numbers of asylum requests this year, proposed a tough new bill on Tuesday to deter Afghans that the United Nations refugee agency criticized as likely to increase the migrants' suffering.
The move follows the German interior minister's call for Afghans, who make up a large proportion of the hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in Europe, to stay in their home country.
Austria's new law would force most Afghans to wait for three years, rather than one year under current rules, to be able to bring family members to Austria. They would also have to have an independent source of income, health insurance and a residence.
Start of European trek
The small Alpine country is the first west European country that hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and beyond reach on their trek westward, and a major conduit for those moving on toward Germany and northern Europe.
"This is a political decision. Making family reunification rules stricter mainly affects Afghans," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told ORF radio to explain the bill. "It is important for us to create clear rules here and, of course, to decrease (Austria's) attractiveness."
The Vienna office of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR promptly criticized the new rules for family reunification, which it said would increase personal suffering and hinder successful integration.
Many migrants are young adult men who hope to send for family members once they have found asylum in Europe.
"If legal ways (to migrate) are being shut off, people will use traffickers and take larger risks than was the case up to now in order to rejoin their family and live with them in safety," said Christoph Pinter, head of UNHCR Austria.
The law, which is due to be enforced starting in mid-November even though parliament would not pass it until December, would apply to those granted "subsidiary protection" rather than those being granted full political asylum, such as most Syrians.
Most Afghans seeking political asylum in Austria are granted this temporary permission to stay.
Austria received a total of 46,000 requests for asylum in the first eight months of this year, with nearly 10,500 from Afghans, according to interior ministry data. That made them the second-largest group of asylum-seekers here after almost 13,000 Syrians.