Safe and Legal Alternatives

Every year, thousands of people attempt to migrate to a different country without a valid visa or permit. Many are not fully aware of the financial, physical and psychological costs of choosing to migrate irregularly. While some people waste time and money, others face abuse and exploitation, and some even lose their lives on route.

Are you or is someone you know considering travelling to another country to live and work without a valid visa? If so, read this guide to find out more information about safer alternatives, including accessing legal immigration channels and job opportunities in your home country.


Most European Union (EU) member states participate in a scheme called the EU Blue Card Work Visa Scheme that aims to attract talented professionals from other countries.

The EU Blue Card Network connects high skilled workers from outside of the EU with European employers. If you are offered a job, you may be eligible to apply for an EU Blue Card. Eligibility depends on your work experience and education level.

EU Blue Card holders are granted entry and residence in advance which means they can travel safely and legally to the EU. In many cases, they can also bring their families and apply for permanent residence after a fixed period of time.

If you are accepted into a European university and you can pay the tuition fees, you may be eligible for a student visa that lets you study, travel and work part time in Europe.

A Student Schengen Visa allows non-EU students to stay in Schengen zone countries for up to three months. To live and study in Europe for longer periods of time, you can apply for a Long-Stay Study Visa at the relevant embassy in your country.

Although tuition fees at European universities can be expensive, the costs of irregular migration can be even higher. Some universities also offer scholarships for talented students.

Depending on the legislation of the specific country, living and studying in Europe may put you in a more favourable position for applying for permanent residence.

If you are academically strong, but can’t cover tuition fees, you might consider applying for an educational scholarship scheme. For example, there are several scholarships available for African students in Europe and around the world. The Islamic Development Bank funds scholarships for talented students from member countries and Muslim communities in non-member countries. Afghan students may be eligible for several scholarships too. The Afghan Ministry of Education also offers international scholarships as part of their capacity development programme. You can read about more scholarship opportunities here.

With a scholarship, you can apply for a student visa that will allow you to live in the EU country where the university is located. After a fixed period of time, you may be able to apply for a different type of visa or for permanent residence.

If a direct family member has refugee status or legal permanent residency in a European country, it is possible that a spouse, parent or child might be able to join them. Learn more about family reunification here.

Asylum is a fundamental right. People fleeing direct persecution or serious harm in their own country are entitled to international protection. In general, UN member countries and the UNHCR follow the rules outlined in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to decide who qualifies for refugee status. This means that asylum is regulated by the same principles in most parts of the world. The EU Member States have established a Common European Asylum System. Individual countries also have their own national laws and practice guidance manuals, which provide detailed guidance to help their authorities screen asylum applicants. Learn more about what it means to be an asylum seeker here.

If you apply for asylum in another country, even if that country doesn’t grant you permission to stay, there is a chance you could be relocated to a third country where you can live and work safely and legally.

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from a country where they have sought protection to another state that has agreed to grant them residence. You can find more information on resettlement here and here.

Although Europe is a popular destination for migrants, you can also find jobs and livelihood opportunities in other countries. For instance, many Afghans and Africans are granted work visas in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Gulf states, where they successfully earn a living legally. Iran and Pakistan also issue work visas for seasonal work.

Legal migration within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region is safer and cheaper for West Africans than migrating irregularly to Europe. This region includes countries such as the Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.

Governments, the private sector and other organisations are investing in countries with high emigration rates so that young people don’t have to risk their lives and savings for a better quality of life. This list may point you in the direction of an opportunity that could improve your living conditions in your home country.

Many international corporations and organisations, such as Microsoft and Siemens, run professional training programmes for young Africans. Find opportunities to gain work experience in a wide range of sectors, including development, finance and technology, here.

Various NGOs run vocational training and cash for work programmes in Iraq. Participants are paid to work on projects, such as the rebuilding of schools and roads. In the process, they learn new skills which make them more employable. The Danish Refugee Council operates a Job Seeker Support Centre near Erbil, which has offered employment services to over 10,000 people since 2015. In the Kurdish region of Iraq, other organisations like IOM MAGNET provide free vocational training and job placements via a website for returnees. Returnees considering emigrating again may find IOM’s job placement database to be a useful resource. Find out more information about the Magnet project here.

There are programmes in most countries that provide technical training in agriculture, helping farmers to improve their incomes. For example, the African Development Bank organises a contest that rewards innovative solutions to improve productivity in agriculture and agribusinesses. The contest is open to anyone living in Africa that is aged between 18 and 35 years old.

Rather than wasting money on a risky irregular journey with no guarantee of success, you could invest your savings, by starting a business in your local area. Small startups are often eligible to apply for additional funding from microfinance institutions, NGOs or governments. Find some examples of sources of funding here and here.

There are a growing number of opportunities in the digital economy. In Mali, for example, there are a coworking spaces like DoniLab in Bamako, where entrepreneurs can learn and experiment together.

In many African countries, there are competitions for those interested in coding and programming. You can learn coding and programming by yourself for free, by attending online courses, such as MOOCs and Open Classrooms. Initiatives like YouthConnekt also offer great opportunities for  young Africans looking to become entrepreneurs or work in the tech industry.

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