Official documents

In order to prove the relationship with your family members, a number of documents must be enclosed with your application. These documents may be foreign court decisions (e.g. a judgment of divorce or adoption) or foreign certifcates (e.g. birth, marriage certificates). These may be supplementary judgments (that is, ones that replace of cial certi cates that were lost or never existed)(art. 12bis § 5 of the Law of 15 December 1980 and the circular of 17 June 2009).

Once the visa application file has been completed, these documents will be examined by the Belgian authorities. Every Belgian authority, including the Immigration Office or the Registrar of the municipality, can recognize or refuse to recognize a certificate. (Art. 27 of the Code of Private International Law provides that “a foreign official certificate is recognized in Belgium by any authority without the need for any procedure if its validity is established in accordance with the applicable law under the terms of the present law, taking account in particular of Articles 18 and 21. The certificate must meet the conditions necessary for it to be deemed authentic under the law of the State where it was issued.” Where the authority refuses to recognize the validity of the certificate, an appeal may be lodged at the competent court of first instance.)

For example, this can be the case if it is not valid according to the applicable law appointed by Private International Law (fundamental and procedural requirements), if the certificate is not legalized or lacks an apostille, or if the certificate violates public order (e.g an alleged marriage of convenience), etc.

It is often difficult for beneficiaries of international protection to produce official documents. In some cases the latter never existed or have been lost. It also entails risks to contact the authorities of the country of origin as a beneficiary of international protection, or it can even be incompatible with the protection status. Moreover, when the documents are provided, the Belgian authorities may sometimes express doubts about their validity.

The impossibility of producing official documents

If you consider that it is impossible to produce official documents proving the relationship with your family members, or to legalize these documents, you will have to prove this impossibility by legal means. The mere failure to obtain official documents is not enough. The law provides that this impossibility must be “real and objective”, that is, independent of your will. This is the case, notably:

  • if Belgium does not recognize the country in question as being a State;
  • if the domestic situation of the country in question is (was) such that it is impossible to obtain official documents, either because they were destroyed and there are no means of replacing them, or because the competent national authorities are dysfunctional or no longer exist;
  • if obtaining official documents requires a return to the State in question, or contact with the authorities of that State, which is difficult to reconcile with the personal situation of the foreigner. 

This impossibility is assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Immigration Office, based on evidence that is “sufficiently serious, objective and consistent”. These items of evidence should in theory be provided by you, but certain items may already be in the possession of the Immigration Office. For example, items:

  • relating to another application for residence by the foreigner;
  • taken from internal reports from foreign missions;
  • obtained from (inter)national institutions or organizations that have knowledge of the general situation of the State in question (e.g. diplomatic or consular posts, the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, recognized NGOs within the European Union or the UN, etc.).

Other types of proof

As a general rule official documents must be provided, but other subsidiary types of proof exist. The law provides that if official documents cannot be produced, the Belgian authorities shall first take into account “other valid proof” in order to establish family ties (art. 12bis § 5 of the Law of 15 December 1980). These items of evidence need to be provided only when official documents are impossible to obtain and are subject to the discretionary assessment of the Immigration Office. To be considered valuable, “other valid proof” of family ties must constitute a “bundle of indications that are suf ciently serious and consistent” which makes it possible to demonstrate the existence of the claimed relationship.  

“Other valid proof” cited by the Circular include, by way of example, the following: “other proof of liation”: certificate, document or attestation of birth; marriage certificate drawn up by the competent Belgian authorities for the civil registry mentioning the bond of liation; notarized document authenticated by the competent authority; affidavit; national identity card mentioning the bond of liation; marriage contract mentioning the bond of liation; extracts from register of births; supplementary judgment. “Other proof of the marriage or partnership”: certificate of traditional marriage, when a certificate of civil marriage cannot be submitted; notarized document authenticated by the competent authority, religious attestation; national identity card mentioning the marriage or partnership; extract from marriage certificate or extract from certificate of partnership; supplementary judgments.

Interview with the authorities

If such evidence cannot be provided, the Belgian authorities may conduct interviews or any other inquiry deemed necessary to verify the validity of the facts or documents in question (art. 12bis § 6, par. 2 of the Law of 15 December 1980). The interview is particularly intended to establish the existence of a marriage bond (or partnership) while the supplementary analysis, in this case the DNA test, is intended to prove the existence of the bond of blood relationship.


The question of adoption is particularly sensitive when it comes to family reunification of beneficiaries of international protection. This is because numerous families of refugees include adopted children.

If the adoption of these children has been established by a foreign certificate or judgment of adoption, these documents will have to be submitted to the competent Belgian authorities for recognition. In Belgium, it is the central federal authority (FPS Justice) that is entitled to recognize and register foreign court decisions in the matter of adoption. Afterwards, the procedure will vary depending on whether or not the country in question has signed the Hague Convention on adoption. The procedure is generally unsecure and time consuming.

Often, however, orphan children are cared for by families in emergency situations without these de facto adoptions being officially recorded. When these children are invited to join their family in Belgium, there are numerous obstacles to be surmounted relating to the absence of official documents. Such procedures are long and difficult. If the orphan child is a family member, adoption will still be possible in certain cases. If this is not the case, in certain circumstances an application for a humanitarian visa can be submitted.

Further information can be found on the websites and

DNA tests

In the absence of valid evidence, the Immigration Office may suggest that you and your family members undergo a DNA test to determine your relationship.

In practice, the Belgian authorities propose a DNA test as soon as it refuses to recognize the validity of the birth certificate. However, DNA tests should be administered only as a last resort after other types of evidence have been sought. (Article 12bis §6, paragraph 2 of the Law of 15 December 1980 and the Circular of 17 June 2009)

DNA tests make it possible, by taking a few drops of blood, to obtain the genetic imprint of a person and to determine to whom they are biologically related. The results are nearly 100% certain. However, performing a DNA test is not an innocuous act. A family’s equilibrium may be upset by the results, especially if these reveal biological truths of which the persons concerned were previously unaware. Furthermore, this procedure is costly (200 Euros per person tested).

DNA tests cannot be performed without the written consent of the (adult) persons concerned.

In Belgium the blood tests are taken at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels. Abroad, the blood tests for family members are organized by the Belgian diplomatic or consular representation.

Although a judicial appeal can be lodged against the decision of authorities to refuse to recognize the validity of foreign documents submitted, a DNA test is often a quick way to achieve family reuni cation. In practice, when there is doubt as to the documents submitted, the Belgian authorities will not agree to issue a visa except on condition of a DNA test. If the result is positive, the visa is automatically granted.

To start up the procedure for DNA testing, members of the family in question sign a consent form (Annex 2bis) at the embassy. This form will be forwarded to the Immigration Office, who will then contact you to also sign a consent form (Annex 3).

The Immigration Office will invite you to an information session on the procedure. You will first need to pay the hospital for the test (200 € per person tested) and forward a copy of proof of payment to the Immigration Office. The latter will then contact the embassy or consulate so that the blood tests of your family members can be done. The blood samples will be sent to Belgium by diplomatic pouch (free of charge). You will then be contacted by the Erasmus Hospital for the blood test. 

The total costs of the tests will be charged to you, whether the results of the test are positive or negative.

From the moment the blood samples arrive in the Erasmus Hospital, it takes 6 to 8 weeks until the result of the analysis is available. The result is sent directly to the Immigration Office, who will inform you. The test data cannot be used for any purpose other than the family reunification process. They will be stored at the laboratory in case the evidence is contested.