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Recognise qualifications held by refugees – guide for credential evaluators

Large numbers of individuals of all ages are fleeing conflict zones, and relocating in other bordering countries in search of a better future. Many bring with them competencies and skills acquired through studies and work experience in their country of origin and intend to seek opportunities to commence higher education, continue further studies and join the labour market.

Institutions responsible for the recognition of qualifications may face key challenges in the evaluation and recognition process. These are often associated with the lack of established recognition procedures and policy for undocumented qualifications, documentary evidence of academic credentials and qualifications from the applicant and information on legal obligations. In some case, the notoriety or credibility of documents could also be considered as low, due to situations in refugee-sending countries. 

What do you do if you receive an application from a refugee with or without documentation of the obtained qualifications? Below you will find advice on how to determine whether the person – and potential student – meets the main requirements to enter a programme, how to communicate to potential students arriving as refugees and where to find more information on your legal obligations.


1. Consult available resources to support the recognition policy and procedures

The Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC) encourages a flexible approach to the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation.Within the text of the LRC, under Section VII, Article VII in regards to the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation, it reads:“Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps within the framework of its education system and in conformity with its constitutional, legal, and regulatory provisions to develop procedures designed to assess fairly and expeditiously whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the Parties cannot be proven through documentary evidence.

As such, refugees, displaced persons or persons in a refugee-like situation who have formal education from a recognised and/or accredited educational institution and others who for valid reason and in spite of their best persistent efforts cannot document the qualifications they claim, should have a right to have their qualifications assessed by a competent authority responsible for its recognition.

Several ENIC/NARIC offices have developed a procedure for the assessment of refugee qualifications. You can find more information on the services provided by a few ENICs/NARICs through the following links:

Furthermore, in 2017, the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee adopted the Recommendation on the Recognition of Qualifications held by Refugees, Displaced Persons and Persons in a Refugee-like Situation. In turn, ratifying states are expected to implement measures outlined in the recommendation within their respective contexts. 

The Recommendation describes the goal and results of the assessment procedure and factors to be taken into consideration.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Recommendation on the Recognition of Qualifications held by Refugees, Displaced Persons and Persons in a Refugee-like Situation puts forward two examples of successful international collaboration projects in the field of recognition of refugees’ qualifications:

Other international projects and initiatives are:

2. Set up a fair, accessible and transparent procedure and policy within your institution

The Recommendation describes the goal and results of the assessment procedure and factors to be taken into consideration. Due to insufficient or a complete lack of supporting documentation, the goal of the evaluation is to seek to establish whether applicants are likely to hold the qualifications they claim. Rather than basing the evaluation on educational documents, the evaluator has to consider all the available pieces of information-supplied by the applicant, by reliable information resources, previous evaluation files, etc. to reconstruct the academic level represented by the available information. 

The EU co-funded NARIC-projects Refugees and Recognition - Toolkit, REACT and ARENA compiled and tested the inventory of of tools for credential evaluators, admission officers and other professionals involved with evaluating the qualifications held by refugees. The Toolkit for Recognition of Refugees' Qualifications contains a detailed description of the eight principles for the implementation of the fair, accessible and transparent recognition procedures, ten main tools recommended to be used in the procedure, and two possible ways of combining the tools in actual recognition procedures, depending on which type of final statement is to be used. Many country briefings with detailed information on several conflict zones were drafted within the three mentioned projects and are available on the projects’ websites.

3. Summarise the outcomes of the procedure in a standardised statement

Once the information has been collected, the so-called “background document” (the generic term for the standardised statement) can be created. According to the Recommendation, the background document should include the following information:

  • personal data of the applicant
  • name, in the original language, of the qualification obtained
  • name, in the original language, of the institution where the qualification was obtained
  • status of the institution and of the programme in the education system where the qualification was obtained 
  • level of the qualification obtained 
  • name, in the original language, of the programme in which the qualification was obtained
  • nominal duration or workload of the programme 
  • formal rights given by the qualification obtained 
  • the year(s) in which the qualification was earned or the period of study undertaken;
  • relevant supporting documentation presented

It is explicitly stated that the background document is not a formal recognition of the qualification of the individual refugee, but can be used to support the actual recognition process if it takes place. The two most common European approaches, within the concept of background documents, are the Qualifications Passport for Refugees and Background Paper

The background document may serve several purposes and will be of help to both the individual applicant and competent recognition authorities. The portability of the background document is likely to facilitate the assessment and recognition of refugees’ qualification for further study or for employment purposes. The principle should be that information on qualifications held by refugees is collected as early as possible as to put the first and often difficult period of their time as refugee to positive use. The Recommendation underlines that parties should accept information on, and where relevant assessment of, such qualifications established by competent recognition authorities in other parties so that refugees do not need to repeat the process of compiling information and that public authorities do not dedicate resources to repeating the work already undertaken by other parties.

4. Ensure that information about your procedures is clear, understandable and accessible

Clear and understandable information is essential to enabling refugees to obtain fair recognition of their qualifications for the purpose of further study or employment. The information should be provided in both the national language(s), in one widely spoken language and where possible in the languages spoken by the largest refugee groups. It is particularly important that this information is given to refugees as soon as possible after their arrival in the host country so as to make them aware of the possibility of and requirements for obtaining recognition of their qualifications, even when these cannot be adequately documented. This information should be provided as early as possible, preferably as part of a “welcome package” provided to refugees soon after their arrival in their new host country or country of first refuge.

Relevant and transparent information about your institution’s procedure and policy for documented and undocumented qualifications may include:

  • how to apply 
  • required documents  
  • applicable fees, if any  
  • expected timelines for processing 
  • how to appeal the evaluation outcome decision 

Such information should be made readily available to:

  • applicants, in such circumstances 
  • employees within your institution 
  • other stakeholders with whom you work, which provide support to applicants (e.g. primary contact authorities, competent migration authorities, reception centres and refugee organisations). 

Dissemination methods can include:

  • your institution's:

    • website;
    • social media platform;
    • customer service system;
    • publications.
  • external events, workshops or conferences;
  • other methods of communication used to advertise your service

Information about specific procedures for ENIC-NARIC countries is available on each country page. Please click on "Countries of the Networks", select the country of interest, and click on the "Recognition of Qualifications held by Refugees" section.

See also:

Recognition of Ukrainian Qualifications

Employing a refugee with or without documentation of qualifications

How to recognise my qualifications as a refugee?

Refugee and migrant integration into education and training – European Education Area (EEA)