Visa-free travel for refugees from 20 European countries suspended

The Irish Government announced on Monday 18th July 2022 that they would temporarily suspend visa-free travel for refugees between safe European countries for a period of 12 months.

The European Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees came into force in Ireland on October 29, 1969. Under this agreement, signatory countries issue Convention Travel Documents to refugees. These documents then allowed refugees to travel to the other signatory countries without a visa or prior clearance if they were travelling for the purpose of visiting only and were visiting for a period of less than three months.

The visa exemption applies to holders of a Convention Travel Document issued by Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland.

The Government has agreed to temporarily suspend this arrangement for a period of 12 months as allowed for under Article 7 of the Agreement. The suspension will come into effect from noon on Tuesday the 19th of July 2022.

Refugees with Convention Travel Document can still travel to Ireland but they will need to apply for a visa under the standard visa procedures. The visa-free exemption that came into effect in February of this year for Ukrainian nationals will not be affected by this decision.

The Government considers this measure necessary to protect “the integrity” of the international protection system as there has been a significant increase in individuals applying for protection despite having already been granted such protection by another European state.

When an individual applies for protection the International Protection Office checks every applicant over the age of 14 against the Eurodac database. This is an EU database that stores the fingerprints of international protection applicants or people who have crossed a border illegally. Ireland is then notified by Eurodac if the applicant has been granted International Protection in another EU Member State.

It was reported that from January 2021 to January 2022, there were 760 applications for International Protection in Ireland where the applicant had already been granted protection in another state. It was found that 479 of these applications belonged to refugees that had been previously granted protection from an EU state with visa exemptions.

The visa exemption is important for refugees who have family members across Europe as the exemption allows them to visit their family for short periods of time. We are available to assist and advise refugees who are affected by the suspension of the visa exemption.