Ireland extends suspension of visa-free travel for refugees by another 12 months

Published on: 14 July 2023

The Irish government announced on Friday, July 14, 2023, the extension of the suspension of the Council of Europe agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees, with a review of the decision to be conducted within 12 months from now.

The Irish government had initiated the suspension of the agreement last year, specifically on July 19, 2022, and had initially announced that it would be a temporary suspension for 12 months. However, it has now decided to extend it for another 12 months.

This suspension means that individuals with refugee status in twenty other European countries will not be allowed to travel to Ireland visa-free using their refugee travel documents (Convention Travel Documents). Instead, they will need to apply for a regular visa to enter Ireland. It should be noted that this decision does not affect the visa exemption for Ukrainian citizens traveling to Ireland.

The Irish government attributed its decision to suspend visa-free entry for refugees to the pressures on its immigration system and instances of misuse by individuals seeking asylum and international protection in Ireland, despite already being granted such protection by another European country. According to data released earlier by the Irish Ministry of Justice, there were 479 asylum applications made in Ireland from individuals who already held refugee status in another European country during the period from January 2021 to January 2022.

Under European agreements, signatory countries issue special travel documents for refugees (Convention Travel Document), allowing them to travel visa-free for a maximum stay of three months when visiting other countries that have agreed to visa exemption. This visa exemption applies to holders of Convention Travel Documents issued by Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Norway, Iceland, Italy, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, and Netherlands.

However, Article 7 of the Council of Europe agreement on the abolition of visa requirements for refugees grants signatory countries the right to temporarily suspend the agreement for reasons related to public order, security, or public health, and it is based on this article that Ireland has made this decision.

During the suspension of the agreement, holders of refugee travel documents can still apply for an Irish visa, and they will have a good chance of approval. According to official data, Ireland received 803 visa applications from individuals holding Convention Travel Documents since the implementation of the suspension. Out of these, 697 applications were approved and granted visas, while 105 applications were rejected.

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