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More refugees entering OECD countries on work, study and family reunification permits


More refugees entering OECD countries on work, study and family reunification permits

13 May 2024
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GENEVA – A new report shows that the number of study, work, family reunification and sponsorship permits granted by OECD countries to refugees continues to rise.

The latest report issued this week by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), titled “Safe Pathways for Refugees”, highlights a 38 per cent year-on-year growth in 2022.

In 2022, almost 215,000 work and study and family permits were issued to people displaced by conflict and crises by 37 OECD countries and Brazil, compared to 156,000 in 2021 and 127,000 in 2020. While COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions inevitably led to a decline in visa issuance, the latest data shows that 2022 numbers surpass pre-pandemic levels, to reach the highest on record since 2017.

The latest report is the fourth of its kind, produced jointly by UNHCR and OECD, examining the number of entry permits issued to individuals from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Venezuela by OECD countries and Brazil. 

“As global displacement continues to rise, countries need to work together on solutions. With most of the world’s refugees hosted in developing regions, these forms of complementary admissions to third countries can help better protect them, provide them with opportunities to contribute to their new communities, and ease pressures on over-stretched host countries,” said Ruven Menikdiwela, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

Similar to previous years covered by the report, family reunification permits account for over 50 per cent of all permits issued in 2022, while the number of work and study permits is also rising steadily.

“Family unity is a human right, and it is encouraging to see that family reunification remains the most relied upon third-country solution”, said Menikdiwela.  

UNHCR commends the work of governments and other partners to ensure refugees’ access to safe and lawful pathways, in addition to traditional resettlement solutions, as outlined in an endorsed Roadmap 2030, laying out a plan for the expansion of third-country solutions by 2030. That Roadmap envisions a target of 2.1 million complementary admissions for refugees, which now, as a result of the progress in 2022, is at 35 per cent.

At the Global Refugee Forum in December 2023, many countries and actors stepped up to expand access to these safer pathways for refugees, announcing pledges on complementary pathways, family reunification, refugee travel documents and sponsorship.  Building on these commitments, UNHCR stands ready to support governments and other stakeholders to move from pilots and scale-up, so that refugees are included in migration streams. 

UNHCR is also urging states to address impediments to admissions, from exorbitant relocation costs and inflexible documentation requirements to non-recognition of qualifications. Solutions can be found, however, to catalyse processes and pathways, including for instance the issuance and acceptance of machine-readable travel documents that facilitate travel, similar to a national passport.

UNHCR is also urging greater efforts to improve data collection, to better understand movement patterns and inform policy and decision-making to enhance refugee inclusion in regular migration streams. 

Note to the editor:

The report focuses on first-entry permits granted for family, study and work purposes to seven nationalities (Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Venezuela). These were selected on the basis of several indicators and factors, such as the fact that these seven groups together account for more than half of the world’s refugees recognized under the UNHCR mandate in each of the years covered by the data collection (2010-2022), and they also show high refugee recognition rates in OECD countries and Brazil. 

Among its findings, the report notes:

  • overall, Europe accounted for 56 per cent of all permits, with the Americas providing 39 per cent of permits
  • in 2022, Germany and Canada provided the largest numbers of work, study and family reunification entry permits to refugees from the seven nationalities covered
  • in 2022, Iranians were issued the highest number (74,000) of family, study and job permits (74,000), followed by Venezuelans (55,000), Syrians (36,000), Afghans (22,000), Iraqis (15,000), Eritreans (8,000) and Somalis (5,510).

Media contacts:

  • In Geneva, Shabia Mantoo,, +41 79 337 7650