Complementary Pathways

Complementary Pathways offer safe and regulated avenues for refugees to enter and settle in a third country that meets their international protection needs. These pathways provide opportunities for refugees to move from their current country of asylum to a new nation that offers temporary or permanent residence, leading, in most cases, to a more permanent solution for refugees.

It is important to distinguish complementary pathways from UNHCR-managed resettlement programs. UNHCR does not directly refer refugees for complementary pathways, refugees can apply for these opportunities directly with the relevant countries or partners. Admission to complementary pathways is governed by existing immigration laws and criteria set by the receiving countries, which assess applicants based on skills or connections in the third country. The decision to accept refugees into complementary pathways rests solely with the governments of the receiving countries.

While UNHCR does not directly implement or manage complementary pathways, we can offer limited assistance to refugee candidates seeking to access different pathways, including through counselling and advice, assistance with documents or exit formalities.

The protection of family unity is an important human right. The ability to join a family member in a third country depends on the legal status granted to them and the nature of the relationship.

The family member residing in the third country must initiate the application process. It is important to note that specific deadlines and procedures apply, depending on the country of the sponsor’s residence. Once the application is initiated, the family member becomes a “sponsor” or “petitioner” for eligible family members. Eligibility for family reunification varies depending on the sponsor’s country of residence, with most national laws allowing spouses, parents of minor children, and dependent children to reunify. In some cases, other dependent family members may also be eligible.

Upon acceptance and the issuance of relevant visas, families can travel to be reunited with their sponsor and will typically be granted a residence permit upon arrival, though the specifics of this permit vary between countries.

Which countries have family reunification programmes for refugees?

Dedicated refugee family reunification procedures exist in most countries.


If you have family members in Australia, there may be family reunification or sponsored visa options available to you. Please visit our Help Australia page for more information.


If you were separated from your family members who are now in Belgium, you may be able to join them in Belgium under particular conditions. You can find more information and other requirements like having a visa here. 


If you have family members who have been recognized as refugees by the Canadian government, you may be able to join them under certain circumstances. You can find more information on our Help Canada webpage.

 New Zealand

If you have family members in New Zealand, there may be family reunification or sponsored visa options available to you. Please visit our Help New Zealand page for more information.

 United States

If your relative has entered the United States as a resettled refugee or been granted asylum in the United States, they may be eligible to petition for you to join them in the United States. For more information on the available family reunification processes, please visit our Help USA page.

For more information on country-specific criteria and how to apply, please go to the Family Reunification sections for the destination country of the UNHCR help website . 

If you are seeking information about a family reunification program in a country that is not listed on the UNHCR’s help website, please search for “family reunification” on the government website of the related country.

Employment Pathways

Employment pathways, otherwise known as labor mobility opportunities, are safe and regulated avenues that allow qualified refugees to enter or stay in another country to work, providing them with the right to either permanent or temporary residence. Thanks to these pathways, refugees can be safely admitted to a third country based on a concrete job offer or specific sector labor shortages while having their protection needs met and their rights safeguarded.

For more information on where and how refugees can access the international job market please refer to

Canada Economic Mobility Pathways

The project targets admission of refugees to Canada, based on their qualifications/work experience/skills and training for different job opportunities with different employers.  Successful applicants are admitted as permanent residents, which provides them rights and access to a variety of social programs, including health and education. Permanent residents can apply for citizenship after three years in Canada. Through the EMPP, Canada offers administrative flexibilities to refugees accessing these economic immigration programs and initially targets admitting 500 skilled refugees and their families from all over the world.

Eligible refugees in Rwanda can apply for the Canada Economic Mobility Pathways Project HERE

Other country specific opportunities can be accessed through the links below:

UNHCR also works Talent Beyond Boundaries and TalentLift Canada to facilitate employment in third countries through labor mobility schemes

Education Pathways

Complementary education pathways are higher education opportunities through which refugees are admitted to a third country, i.e., a country other than their country of origin and the first country in which they have sought protection. Access of the refugees to these opportunities is based on their education and language skills as opposed to their protection needs. Education opportunities offered through these pathways should allow for a long-term solution through a regular migration system or asylum system in the new country instead of short-term study and scholarship programmes.

These opportunities contribute to refugees’ economic and social empowerment while increasing their agency and self-reliance. At the same time, they benefit host communities and institutions with a more prosperous academic environment, enhanced social cohesion, and improved academic infrastructure and resources.

UNHCR regularly shares details of such opportunities available for refugees to apply for. The application processes and success of being accepted by universities outside of Rwanda is an individual effort of the candidates. If successful, however, UNHCR may be able to support refugee applicants with documentation and exit formalities.

Available opportunities worldwide are contained in the UNHCR Scholarship Opportunities for Refugees  

Refugees who attended general education (primary and secondary) outside Rwanda can apply for the equivalency certificate provided by the National Examination and School Inspection Authority (NESA). More information can be found HERE


Sponsorship programmes provide individuals, groups of individuals or organizations with an opportunity to sponsor refugees to come to their country, thus offering them protection and a new home.

In private sponsorship, the sponsors directly engage in the efforts to admit displaced persons in their country. They are the ones identifying, selecting, and supporting the entry and stay of people in need of international protection, who are not referred by UNHCR.

While sponsors can freely choose whom to support, the individuals sponsored most often include nuclear and/or extended family members of the sponsors or people known to the community.

Examples of private sponsorship programs: