Complementary Pathways

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.

There has been increased interest in complementary pathways as a result of the Global Compact on Refugees. Collective efforts have been made in defining pathways and related protection considerations and safeguards, as laid out in UNHCR’s Complementary Pathways for Admission of Refugees to Third Countries: Key Considerations and a focus on data and evidence, such as the Safe Pathways OECD-UNHCR Study on third-country solutions for refugees

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

Humanitarian Admission

Humanitarian admission is an avenue that provides individuals in need of international protection with effective protection in a third country. Humanitarian admission programmes are often implemented for a defined period of time using expedited and/or streamlined processes similar to resettlement.

These programmes can be used as a tool for protection and/or a responsibility-sharing mechanism and are particularly valuable in situations of mass displacement where there is a need to provide protection and safety to large numbers of refugees within short periods of time.

While humanitarian admission programmes share many characteristics with resettlement, they may use eligibility criteria in addition to the established UNHCR resettlement submission categories, such as general humanitarian needs or existing links to the resettlement country. Through these programmes individuals may be granted temporary or other protection status and, as a consequence, may not have immediate access to a fully effective durable solution.

Despite these differences, humanitarian admission programmes generally involve protection considerations and safeguards which are similar to resettlement.

Community Sponsorship Community Sponsorship

Community Sponsorship

Community sponsorship of refugees allows individuals, groups of individuals or organizations to come together to provide financial, emotional and practical support for the reception and integration of refugees admitted to third countries.

A clear distinction can be made between community sponsorship as a complementary pathway for admission and community sponsorship as a tool to support refugees admitted through other pathways. 

As a pathway for admission, community sponsorship programmes allow sponsors to support the entry and stay of nominated refugees in third countries. Community sponsorship can also be used as a tool to provide reception and integration support for refugees arriving through resettlement programmes, or other pathways, such as educational pathways or humanitarian visas.

Humanitarian Visas Humanitarian Visas

Humanitarian Visas

Humanitarian visas can be used to admit individuals in need of international protection to a third country where they may subsequently be provided the opportunity to apply for asylum, including through expedited procedures. Humanitarian visas have also been used to facilitate the admission of family members who would not otherwise qualify for family reunification under existing legislation, as well as other vulnerable refugees who cannot access effective protection in their first countries of asylum. In addition to being a stand-alone pathway, humanitarian visas can also be used as a tool to facilitate other pathways to a third country, such as community or private sponsorship programmes, or education opportunities.


Family Reunification Family Reunification

Family Reunification

Following separation caused by forced displacement resulting from persecution and war, family reunification is often the only way to ensure respect for a refugee’s right to family unity with nuclear family members. To facilitate refugee attainment of this fundamental right, States are expected to provide the legal avenues for refugees to reunite with their nuclear family members, where more effective protection, longer-term solutions and family support are possible.

In addition to family reunification for nuclear family members, family reunification pathways can reunite refugees with extended family members and those who have a relationship of dependency. Such pathways can help safeguard limited resettlement opportunities for refugees with pressing protection concerns in the first country of asylum. Although family reunification is one of UNHCR’s resettlement submission categories, the use of resettlement for these purposes is limited to situations where family reunification through States immigration channels is not available or accessible. Given the limited number of resettlement places available, UNHCR encourages resettlement States to facilitate family reunification for refugees outside of their resettlement programmes. Moreover, family reunification pathways that reunite refugees with family members can play an important role in facilitating more effective integration of the entire family group in third countries.

Facilitating refugees’ access to family reunification processes often requires a policy commitment at the national level. This can be done through streamlined administrative and other procedures that address the specific practical, administrative and legal obstacles refugees can face. Streamlined procedures may include facilitated access to embassies, assistance with documentation, visa waivers or the use of humanitarian visas for family reunification purposes.

Third Country Employment Opportunities Third Country Employment Opportunities

Third Country Employment Opportunities

Third country employment opportunities are safe and regulated avenues for entry or stay in another country for the purpose of employment, with the right to either permanent or temporary residence. Third country employment opportunities may be part of traditional immigration systems, which could be adapted to facilitate refugees’ admission. They can also include temporary and permanent skilled entry arrangements specifically aimed at supporting refugees. Proper travel documentation for legal entry and stay arrangements and relevant protection safeguards for refugees throughout and following the duration of their employment is essential to sustain programmes of this type.

In addition to building the skills of refugees, third country employment opportunities can also help countries meet any labour or skills shortfalls, and strengthen prospects for sustainable post-conflict reconstruction in the refugee’s country of origin.

Moreover, benefits could include remittance transfers to the refugees’ wider family and community networks in countries of first asylum as well as to countries of origin.

Third Country Education Opportunities Third Country Education Opportunities

Third Country Education Opportunities

Third country education opportunities include private, community or institution-based scholarships, apprenticeships and traineeship programmes. When solutions-driven, such programmes can lead to both economic and social empowerment of refugees. These programmes normally provide refugees with appropriate safeguards, notably proper travel documentation and legal entry and stay arrangements for the duration of their studies/traineeship, and clear post-graduation options, which may include permanent residency or post graduate study or employment.

Academic scholarships and study opportunities admit refugee students and academics to a third country to study, continue their education and/or undertake research. Civil society, universities and government actors can collaborate to develop and fund customized education or scholarship programmes.

Essential components of such programmes include funding for travel, accommodation, subsistence, tuition, language training, cultural orientation and psychosocial support for successful refugee applicants. In some countries, students may be eligible to work part-time or to convert their legal status and their skills and training may also make them eligible for temporary or permanent work opportunities following completion of their studies. Apprenticeships and traineeships in a third country allow refugees to re-train or upgrade their skills through workplace-based training in their area of occupation, tertiary study or field of expertise.

Resettlement Data

Statistics are core to monitor progress in achieving solutions for refugees over time. See our data page for more information.


Refugee resettlement is the transfer of refugees from the country in which they have sought protection to another State that has agreed to admit them.


As part of CRISP’s capacity building efforts, targeted and tailored training is available for States and all relevant stakeholders.