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Complementary pathways for admission to third countries

Complementary pathways are safe and regulated avenues for persons in need of international protection that provide for a lawful stay in a third country where the international protection needs of the beneficiaries are met.

For example, one avenue could be to pursue education in a third country. Or to take up an employment opportunity. Family reunification procedures, humanitarian and sponsorship schemes are also possible complementary pathways.

It is essential to know that admissions through these avenues need to be in addition and cannot substitute those arriving through UNHCR-referred resettlement programmes. Complementary pathways also do not substitute States’ obligations to provide international protection to refugees through access to asylum.

Do you need international protection and to move to a third country? 

If you are a refugee and are looking for ways to enter and stay in another country, click here to find more information.

    What are complementary pathways for admission? 

    Complementary pathways are avenues for persons in need of international protection that provide for a lawful stay in a third country where the international protection needs of the beneficiaries are met. Beneficiaries of complementary pathways are given legal access to a third country through the given pathway, where they can gradually attain a more sustainable permanent status. At the same time, they can support themselves to reach a durable solution.

    Pathways include existing admission avenues that refugees may be eligible to apply to, but which may require administrative and operational adjustments to facilitate refugee access. They must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure the protection and rights of refugees. 

    Keep in mind

    A special characteristic of complementary pathways is that refugees can access them directly using publicly available information and existing administrative mechanisms.

    Thus, refugees can find their own solutions. This is already happening without the help of humanitarian actors, as many refugees use existing avenues to move across borders for work, family or education reasons. However, others who could be eligible to do the same often face legal, administrative and practical issues inherent in their refugee situation. 

    While they may initially provide temporary stay, complementary pathways should be part of a progressive approach to comprehensive solutions.

    They should ensure access to rights and eventual enjoying of a sustainable durable solution. These pathways allow refugees to contribute to their future solutions by harnessing their existing capacities and providing opportunities to learn new skills. 

    Types of complementary pathways 

    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. 

    Diverse in nature, complementary pathways may include one or a combination of the following: 

    Why complementary pathways? 

    Complementary pathways can facilitate access to protection and/or solutions, in addition to the three traditional UNHCR durable solutions - voluntary repatriationlocal integration and resettlement

    These pathways directly contribute to equal responsibility-sharing and help meet three objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees.  
    Overall, complementary pathways can help: 

    • ease pressure on host countries by promoting a fairer sharing of responsibilities;   
    • expand third-country solutions for refugees and give them alternatives to irregular means and dangerous onward movement; 
    • enhance refugee self-reliance and build capacities to achieve a durable solution; support third countries in addressing labour or skills shortages; build public support for refugees by demonstrating their positive contributions to receiving societies. 


    Refugee situations continue to increase in scope, scale, and complexity. This increases the need to share the responsibility for hosting and supporting the growing number of refugees in a fairer way. 

    In 2016, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants highlighted the need for international cooperation and more predictable, equitable and sustainable responsibility-sharing for refugees. Building on this, in 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) reiterated the determination of the international community to strengthen cooperation and solidarity with refugees and host communities.  

    The GCR also acknowledged that third country solutions practically demonstrate this much-needed solidarity. To this end, it called for the development of the Three-year Strategy (2019 – 2021) on resettlement and complementary pathways. This multi-stakeholder Strategy aims to increase resettlement countries and spaces, advance complementary pathways and build the foundation by promoting inclusive societies.