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Leaders of the German Green Party Anton Hofreiter, Michael Kellner and Katrin Goering-Eckardt together with leaders of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner and Wolfgang Kubicki are seen on the balcony of German Parliamentary Society offices prior to the exploratory talks with CDU/CSU about forming a new coalition government in Berlin, Germany, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

(reuters_tickers)

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) - The number of foreigners who qualify to join loved ones granted asylum in Germany is much smaller than government estimates, a study showed on Thursday, potentially removing an obstacle in coalition talks.

Family reunification is one of the most contentious issues in exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) with the Greens, who back a more liberal immigration approach.

All the parties are eager to show the public they are taking measures to prevent a repeat of 2015 when Merkel's decision to welcome people fleeing wars and persecution led to the largest influx of asylum seekers in the post-war years.

But a conservative plan to suspend the right to family reunions for asylum seekers with only subsidiary protection from March 2018 could be unacceptable to the Greens, who say that would hamper integration.

Those given subsidiary protection are given one year visas that can be renewed, because it is deemed their home country is not safe, but do not have full refugee status that would give them the right to stay.

The study by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) found that by the end of this year 150,000 to 180,000 spouses and children of individuals granted either full refugee status or subsidiary protection would qualify to come to Germany.

This is far lower than an estimate by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere who has said that for every refugee, one person living abroad is entitled to come to Germany.

"The refugees are a young group and mainly single," IAB said. "Only 46 percent of adult refugees are married and only 43 percent have children."

More than 1 million people seeking asylum entered Germany in the past two years and the IAB estimates that by the end of this year some 600,000 will have been allowed to stay.

After election losses, Merkel bowed to demands by her Christian Social Union (CSU) Bavarian allies for a limit on the number of asylum seekers Germany accepts.

In doing so, Merkel healed a rift between her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian partners after both lost voters to the far right in the Sept. 24 vote - but set up the potential stumbling block to the Greens joining a coalition.

"The issue of family reunification may not primarily be one of numbers, but rather one of the associated signals that one wants to give both to the domestic population, and to potential migrants," said Thomas Liebig of the OECD, a Paris-based grouping of industrialised countries.

The IAB found that 50,000 to 60,000 spouses and children of asylum seekers granted subsidiary protection were entitled to residency in Germany.

The study is based on a survey of more than 4,800 adult refugees. It did not include more than 65,000 unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the last three years and are also entitled to bring in close family such as parents, siblings or children.

(Additional reporting by Holger Hansen; Editing by Alison Williams)

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