Over a billion people per year apply for asylum in foreign countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the biggest worldwide organization that deals with refugees and refers them to other countries for resettlement. Refugee rights are protected under the 1951 Convention of Refugees, and according to the Convention, most countries in the world issue refugee visas. To qualify for a refugee visa, you first need to prove that you have refugee status.
What Is a Refugee Visa?
A refugee visa is an official authorization that allows you to stay in a foreign country if you are being persecuted from your home country. The reasons for your persecution can vary from religious to political. As long as you have legitimate reasons for why you are no longer safe in your country of residence, you can apply for a refugee visa in another country.
Refugee Visa Eligibility Criteria
To qualify for a refugee visa, you have to meet the definition of a refugee as defined by your host country or by UNHCR. Usually, you are considered a refugee if:
- You are being forced to leave your country due to persecution of any of the following:
- Membership in a particular social group (gender, sexual orientation, etc.)
While most countries refer to this definition, it’s up to every government to decide whether you are eligible for a refugee visa.
Difference Between Asylum Seeker and Refugee
An asylum seeker has requested protection in another country, and if that request is accepted, they are considered a refugee.
So, while your refugee visa is being processed, you are an asylum seeker; once it’s approved, you become a refugee. In cases where the request for asylum is not accepted, you are considered an illegal immigrant, and you may be deported.
What Are the Countries That You Can Apply for a Refugee Visa?
Some of the countries that issue the most refugee visas include the following:
- The United States. To qualify for a refugee visa in the US, you must be referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by an official body (UNHCR, US embassy, US refugee program, etc.). Then, a USCIS officer will decide whether you qualify for refugee status in the US, if you do then you can start your new life.
- Canada. Similar to the US, for Canada’s Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, you must also be referred as a refugee by the UNHCR, another referral organization, or a private sponsor. However, recently Canada has launched an Economic Mobility Pathway to help skilled refugees go to Canada under a skilled worker visa.
- Australia. Australia’s refugee visa is issued indefinitely and allows you to work and live in Australia permanently. However, to qualify for the visa you need to be registered as a refugee by UNHCR. Australia also issues a temporary protection visa if you entered the country illegally and you cannot return to your home country.
- Germany. To qualify for a refugee visa in Germany you must file a request for asylum. Then, your case will be processed by a case officer and if you are granted the request you will receive a three-year residence permit. You are also eligible to apply if you’ve already received refugee status from UNHCR.
There are currently 145 countries globally that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which are under a legal obligation to provide refugee protection and offer refugee visas.
Refugee Visa Application Process
To apply for a refugee visa, you need to complete two critical steps as listed below:
- Apply for refugee status.
- Fill out the application forms.
Apply for Refugee Status
You have to make a formal request to be considered as a refugee— you can submit your request to a UNHCR office or a foreign government. Then, you will undergo a Refugee Status Determination (RDS), which is done by UNHCR or your host country based on international, regional, or national laws. During this process, it will be determined whether you qualify for refugee status or not.
Fill Out the Application Forms
If you are granted refugee status, you will be referred to another country that can host you and provide you with a refugee visa. Your host country will help you with the application process, and all you’re required to do is fill out the application forms. Once your visa application is processed and granted, you can live as a refugee in your new country.
Important: To apply for a refugee visa in any country, you must be referred to that country with valid refugee status by one of the following organizations:
- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- A designated non-governmental organization (NGO).
- An embassy or consulate of your host country.
What If I Don’t Have Refugee Status?
If you do not have refugee status, you can’t apply for a refugee visa. However, you can enter a country and seek asylum at their port of entry, and an official government institution will take your case under consideration. Furthermore, some countries like Australia issue other humanitarian visas for anyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their country.
Documents Required for a Refugee Visa Application
You need to prepare the following documents for your refugee visa application:
- Application forms. After your refugee status is verified, you need to fill out the application forms that your caseworker gives you. Make sure you provide your details and be honest when filling out the forms.
- Passport. You must provide your passport or any other identification documents issued by your home country if you can.
- Refugee certificate. You need to prove that you are a refugee who qualifies for a protection visa (refugee identification issued by UNHCR or a foreign embassy).
- Other supporting documents. Add any supplementary documents that can help your case for a refuge visa— your caseworker will also let you know of any additional requirements.
Refugee Visa Processing Times
It takes several months or years to process your refugee visa application. The delay in visa processing is due to the influx of refugees each year.
Refugee Visa Fees
Refugee visas are usually free of charge, and any administrative fees are covered by UNHCR or an NGO.
How Long Is a Refugee Visa Valid For?
Refugee visas are usually permanent and eventually lead to naturalization in your host country.
Do Refugees Get Permanent Residence?
Yes, refugees are offered permanent residence and citizenship after integrating into their new country.
Refugee Visa Denial
Your refugee visa may be denied for the following reasons:
- You do not meet the eligibility requirements for a refugee visa.
- You have a criminal record and are seeking asylum to escape imprisonment.
- There is no well-funded reason why you cannot return to your country.
- You’ve already received protection from another country.
If your refugee visa is denied, your case will be sent to Immigration Court for an appeal and a review. However, you will most likely be deported to your home country.
After You Get the Refugee Visa
Once your refugee visa has been approved, your host country will help you settle in. If you cannot use your passport, you will be issued a Refugee Travel Document, which will allow you to travel to other countries while under a refugee visa (except your home country). Eventually, you can naturalize in your new country and become a citizen with a new passport.
Can I Go to My Home Country With a Refugee Visa?
You can’t go back to your country of origin once you receive your refugee visa. If you must return, you need to get permission from your host country, and you cannot use your original passport to travel. In this case, you need to use your refugee travel document.
Important: If you return to your country without permission from your host country, you violate your refugee visa, and you will no longer be considered a refugee.