Complementary pathways for admission to third countries

Complementary pathways are safe and regulated avenues that complement refugee resettlement and by which refugees may be admitted in a country and have their international protection needs met while they are able to support themselves to potentially reach a sustainable and lasting solution. They do not only offer refugees with alternatives to resorting to irregular means and dangerous onward movement, but they can also facilitate the acquisition and retention of skills that can help refugees attain a sustainable solution in the future.

Complementary pathways are not meant to substitute the protection afforded to refugees under the international protection regime, including through resettlement but rather complement it and serve as an important expression of global solidarity and international cooperation and a contribution to more equitable responsibility sharing.

Complementary pathways must be carefully designed and implemented in such a way that the rights of refugees and continuing international protection needs are safeguarded. UNHCR works with States, civil society, private sector, academia, governmental organizations and refugees to identify, establish and expand complementary pathways for admission to third countries that will meet the continuous international protection needs of refugees.

Complementary pathways for admission may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Humanitarian admission programmes, which provides individuals in need of international protection with effective protection in a third country;
  • Community sponsorship of refugees, which allows individuals, groups of individuals, or organizations to directly engage in refugee admission efforts by providing financial, emotional, social and/or settlement support to help newly-arrived refugees integrate in a third country;
  • Humanitarian visas, which are often used to admit individuals in need of international protection to a third country where they are given the opportunity to formally apply for asylum;
  • Family reunification for family members, including those for extended family members;
  • Labour mobility schemes, by which a person may enter or stay in another country through safe and regulated avenues for purposes of employment, with the right to either permanent or temporary residence;
  • Education programmes, including private and community or institution-based scholarships, traineeships, and apprenticeship programmes;
  • Other safe and regulated avenues distinct from those mentioned above may be used to admit refugees to third countries.

A particular feature of complementary pathways is that refugees can access them directly, making use of publically available information and existing administrative mechanisms, and thus securing their own solutions. This is already happening without the help of humanitarian actors. Each year, refugees and people eligible for international protection use existing avenues that are not designed with refugees in mind to move across borders. However, others who could be eligible to do the same are sometimes prevented by legal, administrative and practical barriers.

Complementary pathways should be part of a progressive approach to solutions, with ongoing protection and continuous advancement towards greater enjoyment of legal, civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights for refugees benefiting from possible opportunities in third countries.

Documents and resources

Education Pathways

Family reunification

Labour mobility

Data and evidence

  • Safe Pathways for Refugees, UNHCR-OECD Study on third-country solutions for refugees: family reunification, study programmes and labour mobilit (2018 report, 2019 update)