Mexico and Somalia: Visas and permits issued to Somali citizens to transit through Mexico (2016-March 2018)
In articles discussing African migrants arriving in Mexico via Latin America, various media sources report that Mexican authorities have issued African migrants documents which they refer to as 20-day "transit visas" (AP 30 Aug. 2016) or "temporary transit permit[s]" (Thompson Reuters Foundation 16 Jan. 2017) or "temporary travel document[s]" (The Guardian 6 Sept. 2016). However, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Embassy of Mexico in Kenya, a representative of the Embassy of Mexico in Ethiopia and the Head of the Consular Section of the Embassy of Mexico in Canada indicated that Mexico does not issue so-called "transit visas" (Mexico 26 Feb. 2018; Mexico 27 Feb. 2018a; Mexico 27 Feb. 2018b).
In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of UNHCR in Mexico rather referred to ''exit permits'' (UN 6 Mar. 2018). He stated that
[i]n a case where a person finds themselves in Mexico through an irregular manner, it is likely that the National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración - INM)  orders the departure of the person of Somali origin and issues them an "exit permit" (oficio de salida) (UN 6 Mar. 2018).
According to the UNHCR representative in Mexico, the exit permit [translation] "should not be confused with a transit visa , as it is an order to leave the country for lack of regular migrant status, and for not being in a position to be regularized" (UN 6 Mar. 2018). Sources similarly indicate that in order to transit through Mexico, an exit permit (oficio de salida) is used (Milenio 28 Sept. 2016; Cuarto Poder n.d.; El Universal 30 Aug. 2016) by [translation] "foreigners of an African nationality" (El Universal 30 Aug. 2016). Sources also indicate that migrants request for the exit permit at the INM (BBC 11 Mar. 2016; Milenio 11 Oct. 2016; El Universal 30 Aug. 2016).
2. Requirements and Procedures to Apply for an Exit Permit
In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an academic from La Salle University in Mexico City, who is a former researcher of the Center of Migration Studies at INM, provided the following information:
According to the Regulations of the Migration Law (Reglamento de la Ley de Migración), there are two types of exit permit (oficio de salida). 1. Exit permit from the Immigration Detention Center (Estaciones Migratorias) [IDC] and 2. Exit permit from Mexico.
The first one is produced automatically by the [INM] when the maximum allowed time for keeping foreigners in irregular migration status within [IDC] expires, which is 60 working days (Migration Law, Art. 111). There are no further requirements for this exit permit from the IDCs.
The second is issued to foreigners with no proper, valid or outdated identity or travel documents, only if they head to the countries that issued such documents (i.e., if they were heading to Somalia …) and after the proper checks on alerted people lists have been done ([Regulations of the Migration Law], Art. 54).
In case that there is no trustable information about the foreigner's nationality or identity, or in case of difficulties for obtaining their identity and travel documents, the maximum time of stay of foreigners at the IDC is 60 working days (Migration Law, Art. 111, [para.] I). In such case, the INM must issue documents for their stay in Mexico as visitors with work permit, as long as the causes by which this document was issued prevail (for example, for humanitarian reasons).
In practice, some alleged Somali citizens have arrived to Mexico without proper travel or identity documents, and are presented at some of the IDCs (there are around 50 of them). Since there is no Somali diplomatic representation in Mexico, their very identity or nationality could not be properly established, and when 60 working days have passed, they must be set free from the IDC. In such a case, they get the exit permit from the IDC, and after that they could request their legal stay in Mexico as visitors with work permit.
Typically, the foreigners that obtain [an] exit permit from the IDC do not have reliable documents or they do not have documents at all. … [T]hey usually can get the exit permit from the IDC without providing their identity.
The exit permit from the IDC has immediate effects, and no time limit is applicable.
However, foreigners in this hypothesis have 30 working days to start the regularization process to get their documents as visitors to Mexico with work permit. Past this time, they will get the exit permit from Mexico (but only to be directed to the country that issued their dubious travel or identity documents, according to the Migration Law).
In practice, alleged Somali citizens that receive the exit permit from the IDC do not present themselves to the INM in order to receive the documentation as visitors to Mexico with work permit (for humanitarian reasons). Instead, they typically go to the frontier with the United States and try to cross it without documents in order to ask for asylum there. (Academic 9 Mar. 2018)
Sources report that the INM issues the exit permit free of charge (Milenio 11 Oct. 2016; Cuarto Poder n.d.) to [translation] "men, women and children" (Milenio 11 Oct. 2016). According to Cuarto Poder, a Chiapas newspaper, INM issues the exit permits to foreigners who cannot have their national identity verified due to the lack of consular representation in Mexico (Cuarto Poder n.d.). Media sources mention that people seeking to obtain an exit permit voluntarily entered an immigration detention centre called "Estación Migratoria Siglo XXI" (Cuarto Poder n.d.; El Universal 30 Aug. 2016). According to sources, Estación Migratoria Siglo XXI is located in Tapachula, Chiapas (El Universal 20 Oct. 2017; Global Detention Project n.d.) and operates under the "custodial authority" of the INM (Global Detention Project n.d.).
According to the Mexican newspaper El Universal, the exit permit is issued within 10 to 15 days, while waiting in the immigration detention centre (El Universal 1 Sept. 2016). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
Sources indicate that the exit permit is valid for 20 days (Milenio 28 Sept. 2016; Cuarto Poder n.d.; UN 6 Mar. 2018) or 21 days (The Guardian 6 Sept. 2016; Insight Crime 12 Sept. 2016). The BBC indicates that the exit permit is valid for 30 days (BBC 11 Mar. 2016).
According to the UNHCR representative in Mexico, the exit permit "gives a person 20 days to leave Mexico, allowing the person to transit through the country within the 20-day period" (UN 6 Mar. 2018). According to The Guardian, the "temporary travel document" allows "Asian and African migrants" to "continue unimpeded to the US border" (The Guardian 6 Sept. 2016). The BBC reports that the exit permit allows migrants to remain in Mexico [translation] "without the risk of being deported while seeking to leave [Mexican] territory" (BBC 11 Mar. 2016). Other sources indicate that the exit permit allows migrants to either regularize their migratory status in Mexico or to leave Mexican territory, within the permit's validity timeframe (Milenio 11 Oct. 2016; Cuarto Poder n.d.; El Universal 30 Aug. 2016). El Universal indicates that [translation] "any border" can be used to leave Mexico (El Universal 1 Sept. 2016). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
3. Humanitarian Visa
In an article on migrants who arrive in Mexico, including Somali migrants, the CBC reports of a case where a Somali migrant was provided a "humanitarian visa," allowing him to "stay in Mexico City for only a few weeks" (CBC 21 Feb. 2017). According to the UNHCR representative in Mexico,
[i]n certain cases when a person is in Mexico and
- has requested asylum in Mexico; and/or
- has been victim of a crime in Mexico; and/or
- is a young boy, young girl or unaccompanied adolescent; and/or
- a humanitarian cause exists that justifies the stay of the person in the country - according to criteria of the INM
a Visitor's Card for Humanitarian Reasons [Tarjeta de Visitante por Razones Humanitariana] (known colloquially as a "humanitarian visa" [visa humanitaria]) is issued. The card is valid up to a year and allows the person to legally stay and to work in Mexico. It is requested at the INM's Offices of Migratory Regulations [Oficinas de Regulación Migratoria] in Mexico. (UN 6 Mar. 2018)
Further and corroborating information on the issuance of humanitarian visas to Somali citizens could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
 The INM is a Mexican administrative organ that is part of the Secretriat of Governance (Secretaría de Gobernación) and seeks to strengthen the protection of rights and the security of national and foreign migrants (Mexico n.d.).
 The UNHCR representative in Mexico also mentioned that [translation] "the closest thing related [to a transit visa] that exists is the tourist visa that allows the stay and transit through the country for a period of 180 days," and confers the status of "visitor without permission to conduct remunerated activities" (UN 6 Mar. 2018). Both the Head of the Consular Section of the Embassy of Mexico in Canada and the representative of the Embassy of Mexico in Kenya also stated that any person who wants to travel through Mexico to a third country [or "travel to Mexico" (Mexico 27 Feb. 2018b)], if required, must apply for a visitor visa without permission to conduct remunerated activities [visa de visitante sin permiso para realizar actividades remuneradas], while complying with the requirements (Mexico 27 Feb. 2018b; Mexico 26 Feb. 2018).
Academic, Universidad La Salle, Mexico City. 9 March 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.
Associated Press (AP). 30 August 2016. "Mexico Issues Transit Visas to Surge of African Migrants." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018]
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 11 March 2016. Alberto Nájar. "La sorprendente y silenciosa migración de africanos que cruza por México." [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018]
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). 21 February 2017. Lisa Laventure. "'I Am a Man With No Land': African Migrants Wait in Limbo, Dreaming of Sanctuary in Canada." [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018]
Cuarto Poder. N.d. R. García and R. Victorio. "Otorgan oficio de salida a migrantes." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
El Universal. 20 October 2017. Dennis A. García. "Emite CNDH recomendación por suicidio de dos migrantes salvadoreños." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
El Universal. 1 September 2016. María de Jesús Peters. "La ruta de la migración africana: Congo-Brasil-México." [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018]
El Universal. 30 August 2016. Astrid Sánchez. "México enfrenta una oleada de africanos." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
Global Detention Project. N.d. "Tapachula Estacion Migratoria (Siglo XII)." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
The Guardian. 6 September 2016. "Passage Through Mexico: the Global Migration to the US." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018]
Insight Crime. 12 September 2016. Tristan Clavel. "Migración entre África y Latinoamérica muestra nuevas rutas de contrabando." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
Mexico. 27 February 2018a. Embassy of Mexico in Ethiopia. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.
Mexico. 27 February 2018b. Embassy of Mexico in Canada. Correspondence from the Head of the Consular Section to the Research Directorate.
Mexico. 26 February 2018. Embassy of Mexico in Kenya. Correspondence from a representative of the Consular Section to the Research Directorate.
Mexico. N.d. Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM). "¿Qué hacemos?" [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
Milenio. 11 October 2016. Issa Maldonado. "Continúa crisis migratoria de africanos en Chiapas." [Accessed 28 Feb. 2018]
Milenio. 28 September 2016. Fanny Miranda. "Llegan a México 12 mil africanos en un mes: INM." [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018]
Thomson Reuters Foundation. 16 January 2017. Anastasia Moloney. "Surge of African Migrants Brave Latin America Jungle Trek for US Dream." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018]
United Nations (UN). 6 March 2018. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Correspondence from a representative of the Mexico office to the Research Directorate.
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Aeromexico; Asylum Access; Chiapas – Fiscalía de Inmigrantes; International Organization for Migration; Mennonite Central Committee; Mexico – Embassy in Guatemala, Instituto Nacional de Migración; Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Migration Policy Institute; Professor and Researcher in migration at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales; Secretaría de Asuntos Migratorios del Comité Ejecutivo Nacional del Partido Revolucionario Institucional; Sin Fronteras IAP.
Internet sites, including: Aeromexico; Agencia EFE; Al Jazeera; Avianca; Conectas; Deutsche Welle; ecoi.net; Eje Central; El País; Global Voices; Mexico – Consejo Nacional de Población; Secretaría de Gobernación, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores; The New York Times; Public Radio International; UN – Refworld; The Washington Times.