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Important information for the end of the Brexit Transition Period and the EU Settlement Scheme, if you or your close family members are an EU / EEA Citizen

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Travel Documents – An Overview

Posted by: Gherson Immigration

In limited circumstances, non-British nationals in the UK who do not hold a passport of their country of origin can apply to the Home Office to be issued with a travel document. The Home Office currently issues the following types of travel documents:

1951 UN Convention Travel Document (blue cover)

This document may be issued to a person who has been recognised as a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and granted leave in this category. Family members may also apply for such a travel document if they too were granted leave as a refugee or as a dependant.

1954 UN Convention Travel Document (red cover)

This document may be issued to a person who has been recognised as stateless under the terms of the 1954 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The above documents are normally valid for up to 10 years or in line with the leave held by the applicant in the UK. Holders of 1951 Convention travel documents are normally permitted to travel to any country except for the country from which asylum was sought. However, we strongly recommend that anyone wishing to travel on a Home Office issued travel document check with that country’s Embassy or Consulate in the UK whether that country recognises their status and will admit them on their travel document; and what immigration or visa requirements may need to be satisfied.

There is no automatic mutual recognition of refugee status, notwithstanding that there are some 148 signatories to the refugee Convention. Therefore, whether someone has been recognised as a refugee in one country does not mean that this status will automatically be recognised by another country. A refugee facing criminal allegations in their country of origin may still be arrested in another country when travelling on a UK-issued travel document. It is important, therefore, to make enquiries and take certain precautions before travelling. Gherson has assisted many individuals in such a situation, including those who have travelled without making the necessary arrangements and who have subsequently been arrested.

Certificate of Travel (black cover)

Non–UK nationals who do not hold refugee status or who are not stateless may qualify for a Certificate of Travel (“COT”). This document (black cover) is valid for up to 5 years or in line with the applicant’s leave in the UK, and may be issued, at the discretion of the Secretary of State, to applicants who:

  • are permanently resident in the UK; or
  • have been granted Humanitarian Protection or Discretionary Leave to Enter or Remain in the UK for a limited period of time following a refusal of their asylum application; and
  • can provide documentary evidence that they have been refused or cannot obtain a passport of the country of which they are a national.

The applicant will need to demonstrate that they have been formally and unreasonably refused a passport by the government of the country of which they are a national. The threshold here is rather high, as the Home Office requires submission of original documents (for example an official letter from that country’s Embassy or Consulate) confirming that the applicant:

  • had applied for a passport in the manner required by their national authorities; and
  • had been unreasonably refused or the process was taking unreasonably long.

To be ‘formally and unreasonably refused’ a passport by their national authorities, an applicant must have applied for a passport in the manner required by their national authorities.

Further, the burden is on the applicant to demonstrate why the refusal was unreasonable. The Home Office does not consider it unreasonable, for example, for a national authority to refuse a passport because the applicant did not provide evidence to confirm their identity and nationality; because they are required to complete required military service; if they have a criminal record in their country; or because they did not comply with tax legislation in their home country

A person who has been granted Humanitarian Protection in the UK in circumstances where the Home Office have accepted that they had a justifiable fear of the authorities of their country may be exempt from obtaining the type of Embassy or Consulate letter described above. The Secretary of State would also take into consideration a situation where an applicant’s country of nationality does not accept passport applications from abroad or does not issue passports from their diplomatic post in the UK. However, much will depend on the reasons for which the Embassy is unable or unwilling to accept an application for a passport.

Applicants applying for a COT who need to travel urgently can ask the Home Office to issue a COT of limited validity to meet that short-term need. However, they will be expected to submit evidence for the urgency of travel. In addition to compelling and compassionate reasons, the Secretary of State will take into account essential employment, business, education and religious reasons. Original documentary evidence of the need to travel must be submitted, together with a receipt from the applicant’s Embassy for their passport application (subject to the above).

One-way Travel Document

Finally, a non-British national who does not have a valid passport and who wishes to leave the UK permanently and voluntarily may apply for a one-way travel document, regardless of their status in the UK. Although such a document is normally valid for up to one year, it can only be used for a single journey to travel out of the UK.

The above information represents a broad overview of the UK travel documents which may be issued by the Home Office to a non–British national who is present in the UK either on a permanent or temporary basis.

If you require advice regarding these categories of travel document, please do not hesitate to contact us.


The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.

©Gherson 2019


Gintare Plistkovaite 

  Gintare Plistkovaite

  Solicitor in our General Immigration Team



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For advice on immigration, nationality, extradition or human rights, please contact us now.

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