Human Rights Defenders in EU Visa Policy:
Recommendations for Reform

Human rights defenders can be lawyers, journalists, or other civil society activists committed to peaceful human rights defense. They often seek entry to the EU in order to work with their European counterparts, for necessary respite and rehabilitation, or sometimes because they are fleeing grave danger. Because they are treated as routine travelers, they may encounter administrative challenges, or sometimes dangerous delays in attaining the necessary visas for travel.


This report analyzes the complex policy and legislative landscape of visa issuance in the EU and the Schengen Zone and makes specific recommendations for EU institutions, EU Member States, and European NGOs in order to remedy the overlooked, but fundamental problem of travel for human rights defenders. The recommendations are the collective input of several key European-based human rights NGOs who understand the challenges and dangers posed to their non-European colleagues, and the critical need for mobility among this community of defenders.


The Challenge of Single-Entry Visas for HRDs

AK was imprisoned on trumped-up charges related to his human rights activities and legal casework. Shortly following his release from prison, was invited to attend a seminar on anti-torture litigation …

Case studies

Human Rights Defender
Visa Survey Results

The data represented below are the responses to more than 100 anonymous surveys completed by human rights activists from 8 countries of the former Soviet Union plus Turkey. The survey was offered in English, Russian, and Turkish and sought to understand the specific challenges faced by human rights defenders with respect to traveling to the EU, and the geographies, demographics, and financial conditions of human rights defenders. (Note that this survey was conducted in 2019 before the UK left the European Union). The 23 slides shown here give a general sense of the community and the travel challenges they face, but there is a myriad of ways to represent the data. Click on the parameter boxes in the visualization to explore the data on your own.

Some things we see in the data:


  • A significant number of HRDs who travel frequently to the EU (5-7 times per year) are not granted long-term, multi-entry EU/Schengen visas
  • 30% of the respondents needed to leave their home country urgently as a result of threats related to their work
  • 30% of urgent cases did not have valid visas at the time of the emergency
  • More than half of the respondents make less than 5000 EUR per year
  • More than 70% of the respondents pay for their own visa fees
  • More than 70% have problems proving their financial sustainability required for visa approval


Are you a human rights defender who has had challenges travelling to the EU? You may send us your story in any language to You may share anonymously and securely. If you wish for your story to be published or shared, please please include in your message a secure way we can reach you to follow up (Signal, Telegram, secure email, PGP key, etc.).