Refugee status does not always guarantee a pathway for a refugee to legally and permanently immigrate, or otherwise naturalize, in the host country. Understand the process, if available, for a refugee to adjust status or seek naturalization to gain legal immigrant status in the host country. If the host country does not offer a direct pathway from refugee status to an immigrant status, other legal avenues could be available for refugees to adjust their status.
Reasons for seeking other forms of legal status
Understanding your country’s domestic immigration system is also valuable in situations where the RSD adjudication process is lengthy, the probability of success is low, or the applicant is detained, at risk of deportation, or has other vulnerabilities that require him or her to gain legal immigration status of some form. The applicant may simply opt to apply for parallel forms of legal protection as a way to increase the chances of protection in the host country. In some cases, refugees opt for regularizing their status through other means than refugee status not only due to benefits derived, but also because of a perceived negative stigma associated with refugee status.
Types of legal status
A state government typically offers immigrant and non-immigrant visas for foreigners wishing to enter and reside within its borders. Immigrant status allow for a pathway to permanent legal status. Non-immigrant visas allow for the applicant to have temporary legal presence in the country. Both types of status may require petitions on behalf of family members or a domestic or international business located in the host country. Student, tourist, and missionary visas are typically temporary non-immigrant visas and require the person to apply from outside the host country. A state may also offer temporary visas or protection based on nationality and/ or humanitarian reasons.
Immigration administrative systems are typically difficult to navigate and require a lawyer or specialist to help the applicant understand application requirements and procedures.
Cost – Immigration visas or adjustments of status are often prohibitively costly for refugees or the process could require the client to return to the country of origin.
Risks – The client should be informed of the risks that exist in applying for immigrant status. Visas that require the client to return to their host or an external country could raise serious questions of fear of return for the RSD applicant. It could also put the client at risk of further persecution in the host country. Leaving to a third country may disqualify the applicant depending on how the adjudicator understands the applicant’s travel and stay in a third country.
The client could be “inadmissible” in the host country or otherwise, unable to apply for entry due to the manner of entry, the time spent in the country, exits and entries, prior criminal violations, and other factors. If the client is found “inadmissible” or ineligible to apply for status, the client could be at risk of detention and/ or removal from the host country.
In countries where UNHCR adjudicates RSD, the host state government may not be aware of the client’s presence in the country, depending on the information sharing agreements between UNHCR and the host government. In applying for immigration status, the refugee is willingly making him or herself known to the government, which could increase a risk of detention and/ or deportation even while the application for immigrant status is pending.
Advising clients on pursuing other forms of legal status
Before advising the client to apply for immigration status, identify and provide the client with a clear description of the risks and benefits of applying for immigration status. If you are not familiar with domestic immigration laws, refer the client to an immigration lawyer or otherwise, proceed with great caution allowing the client to make informed decisions in every step of the process. Understand the grounds for removal and detention in the host country. Consult with other immigration experts where possible to understand procedures and case precedent.