Recognised refugees have a right to receive a travel document in accordance with the Refugee Convention. The travel document for recognised refugees is valid for five years.
Recognised refugees cannot travel to their home country or they might lose their refugee status. Since 1 April 2020, the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA) also includes a provision prohibiting them to travel to neighbouring countries of their country of origin, when there is a justified suspicion that the ban on travel to the home country will be disregarded. This provision has entered in force but was still not implemented in January 2021. It allows the SEM to pronounce collective travel bans to certain neighbouring countries for all refuges coming from one specific country.
For persons with temporary admission there are important practical obstacles in obtaining travel documents and re-entry permits. They do not have an automatic right to a travel document, and their travel rights are very limited. If they want to travel outside Switzerland, they must first apply to the SEM (via the cantonal authority) for a return visa (permission to re-enter Switzerland). A return visa is only granted in specific circumstances (severe illness or death of family members and close relatives; to deal with important and urgent personal affairs; for cross-border school trips; to participate in sports or cultural events abroad; or for humanitarian reasons). A return visa can be issued for other reasons if the person has already been temporarily admitted for three years.
In addition to the return visa, the person needs a valid travel document. Persons with temporary admission can apply to the SEM (via the cantonal authority) for a travel document if they can show that it is impossible for them to obtain travel documents from their home country, or that it cannot be expected of them to apply for travel documents from the authorities of their home country. The practice regarding this is very strict, it is only seldom recognised that the person cannot obtain travel documents from their home country. They must document very clearly what they have done to obtain travel documents (visits to the embassy etc.). In many cases, the persons do not succeed in proving their lack of documents, as the embassies of their home countries are reluctant to confirm in writing that they will not issue a travel document. This means persons with temporary admission are often unable to travel – for lack of documents, but mainly due to the strict regulation regarding return visas, see above.
If a person with temporary admission is issued a travel document by the SEM, this is called a “passport for a foreign person”. It is valid for 10 months and loses its validity at the end of the conducted journey; the document is only issued for one specific journey.
There are important practical obstacles in obtaining travel documents and re-entry permits for foreigners with temporary admission.
The application for a travel document must be made in person at the cantonal migration office. This office will register the application and forward it to the SEM. The SEM issues the travel document. Applications for a re-entry visa must also be made to the cantonal migration authority, and will be forwarded to the SEM for decision.
Both recognised refugees and beneficiaries of temporary admission are not allowed to travel to their home country, otherwise they risk losing their protection status.
In 2020, the SEM issued 13,251 travel documents for recognised refugees; 992 “foreign passports” for persons granted temporary admission and who do not have a passport; and 326 return visas (of which 3 were valid for repeated entries) for foreigners granted temporary admission.
 Article 13(1)(a) Ordinance on the Issuance of Travel Documents for Foreign Persons of 14 November 2012, SR 143.5 (Verordnung über die Ausstellung von Reisedokumenten für ausländische Personen vom 14. November 2012, RDV, SR 143.5).
 Article 59c FNIA. Further information is available (in French) at: https://bit.ly/2VaWTcX.
 Article 9 RDV.
 Articles 4(4) and 10 RDV.
 Article 4(4) RDV.
 Article 13(1)(c) RDV.
 Article 14 RDV.
 Article 15 RDV.
 Information provided by the SEM, 19 March 2021.