During 2015, a record 1.3 million refugees crossed into Europe. Between 2015 and 2016, more than 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU. By the end of 2016, authorities in the member states issued 593000 first instance asylum decisions.

In 2015, Sweden received 162877 asylum applications, a 300% increase since 2013. Due to the amount of incoming asylum application requests, the Swedish Migration Agency has seen an unprecedented growth in the processing and handling times. The increase of people seeking refuge in Europe has caused strains on local societies and government authorities alike, prolonging the waiting times for residence permits and asylum. Shortening asylum seekers’ waiting time and ensuring that the time spent waiting is well utilized are currently the two most pressing concerns for local, national and European government agencies alike.

The Welcome Card is an adaptable systemic solution to the current asylum seeking and immigration crises unfolding around the world. Specifically born out of a human-centered design approach led in Stockholm (Sweden), the solution proposes:

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a digital platform that allows asylum seekers (users) to navigate their own asylum seeking application process, by providing them with secure individual access to their case status on mobile and desktop.

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a physical card that allows asylum seekers and refugees to access early-inclusion activities and existing public services, such as transportation, language and skill-based courses, cultural and networking events, to experience communal living.

Challenges for Asylum Seekers

After the traumatic experience of fleeing their home, asylum seekers have difficulties dealing with the waiting time and stillness of the asylum seeking process. Currently, asylum seekers face an average waiting time of 12-21 months. During this period of time, most asylum seekers wish for more information about the process and about the expected time for a decision. Being able to engage with and participate in society not only eases the integration process during the waiting time, but also helps them cope with their personal pain. For an asylum seeker, challenges include: 

  1. lack of information regarding handling times and the application’s final decision; 
  2. difficulty in understanding legal and official information from national and local authorities; 
  3. dealing with the long waiting times, and obstacles to start integrating within the host community until a decision has been made; 
  4. lack of mobility (leaving/returning to the refugee home). 

Challenges for Migration Agencies 

As asylum applications have dramatically increased, the national migration authorities' work flow has not been able to keep up. National migration authorities across the EU are currently presented with an enormous backlog, as applications must be registered, handled and decided upon. Ensuring that information is provided in a clear and timely manner is oftentimes difficult, as human and financial resources are being diverted to handling incoming cases. For migration agencies, challenges include: 

  1. inability to answer personal questions and individual concerns from asylum seekers because processes and tools for simple and timely digital communication are lacking; 
  2. user-friendliness and capabilities issues in the existing digital services, which lead to impractical forms of communication between case workers and asylum applicants (phone calls, letters and office visits), and an overload of unnecessary requests; 
  3. long application handling times, due to limitation in staff. 
  4. ensuring a meaningful waiting time for applicants; 

Challenges for Local Municipalities 

Within the asylum application process, local municipalities are generally least concerned with the handling of requests, but similarly face the indirect outcomes of the challenges experienced by asylum seekers and migration agencies. For the local municipalities, challenges include: 

  1. continuous and sudden relocation of asylum seekers and refugees within and without their own jurisdiction during the asylum seeking application process; 
  2. lack of a centralized form of communication with the migration agency; 
  3. difficulty in investing on inclusion and integration due to relocation of asylum seekers and refugees;
  4. support from the local community to invest on support for asylum seekers and refugees due to taxing and costs concerns.
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Born from a human-centered design process that involved all stakeholders in the administration of welcoming in Stockholm (Sweden), The Welcome Card has set three systemic goals to be implemented. 

1. Ensuring the well-being of asylum seekers during, and after, the asylum seeking application process:

  • To create a meaningful use of waiting time by:
    • encouraging early inclusion activities, such as cultural events, language- and skill-based courses, and networking events;
    • providing access to public transportation.
  • To provide simple and easy access to one’s case status:
    • using a visual and user-friendly platform; 
    • promoting fast and direct communication between asylum applicants and case workers.

2. Revising the asylum seeking decision-making process for the national migration agencies:

  • To expedite handling times starting with:
    • directing 80% of communication on the digital platform and eliminating other forms of communication (phone calls, letters and office visits) between asylum applicants and case workers;
    • reducing the amount of unnecessary requests;
    • using a visual language that explains the process and promotes clarity of meaning;
    • expanding and simplifying the F.A.Q. section. 
  • To promote trust between asylum applicants and migration authorities:
    • ensuring quality of communication and clarity in the process;
    • eliminating conflict and promoting resolution in the decision-making process.
  • To foster collaboration between the Swedish Migration Agency and local governments to cultivate prosperity for the local hosting and refugee settling communities.

3. Fostering connection between asylum seekers, refugees and the local communities:

  • To create trust among communities by:
    • sharing information with the public on the asylum application process and refugee resettlement;
    • encouraging public spaces to become moments for social interaction and peer-to-peer engagement.
  • To facilitate the personal transition from being an asylum applicant to being a resident by:
    • preparing them to become well-equipped residents through early inclusion and immersion;
    • providing them with resources about Swedish law, workforce skills, social etiquette, culture and traditions.
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How it works:

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Step 1: upon arrival in Sweden, asylum seekers place a request for asylum and get registered with the national migration agency. Registered asylum seekers receive one Welcome Card per individual (based on age) to be used during the asylum application process, as both an identification card and as a key to their case status.

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Step 2: using RFID technology, the card is unique and personalized for the user. It can be carried by its owner to be utilized for communal activities and publicly available services in the area where they reside.

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Step 3: when tapping the Welcome Card on an RFID chip reader, or by using the log in credentials, asylum seekers can access their individual asylum application case status online or on a smart device.

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Step 4: with direct access to their case status and updated information at their fingertips, asylum seekers and refugees can now access communal activities as part of the public services available in their area.

 

Sources and more info

1.3 million refugees: the growing numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Europe, mainly crossing the Mediterranean Sea, through Turkey, Greece, Italy and the Balkan region, sparked a debate regarding if and how European countries should sustain this influx of people. Over 75% of those arriving in Europe had fled conflict and persecution in Syria (378,000), Afghanistan (193,000) and Iraq (127,000).
Pew Research Center, Key facts about the world’s refugee.

593000 first instance asylum decisions: the growing numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Europe, mainly crossing the Mediterranean Sea, through Turkey, Greece, Italy and the Balkan region, sparked a debate regarding if and how European countries should sustain this influx of people. Over 75% of those arriving in Europe had fled conflict and persecution in Syria (378,000), Afghanistan (193,000) and Iraq (127,000).
Pew Research Center, Key facts about the world’s refugee.

162877 asylum applications: in 2015, Sweden received the highest number of asylum requests, totalling 162877. Of this number, 35369 applications were filed by unaccompanied minors. The top three nationalities applying for asylum in Sweden were Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi.
The Swedish Migration Agency, Applications for Asylum Received. Rubrik Inkomna Ansökningar om Asyl, Migrationsverket, 2015. Full document can be viewed here.

300% increase since 2013: the total number of asylum applications by the end of 2013 was 54259.
The Swedish Migration Agency, Applications for Asylum Received. Rubrik Inkomna Ansökningar om Asyl, Migrationsverket, 2015. Full document can be viewed here.

12-21 months: although varying by state, the handling time for registering and deciding upon asylum applications in most European countries far exceeds the 6-month limit. As of 2017, asylum seekers in Sweden face an average waiting time of 471 days, varying by citizenship. The top three asylum seeking nationalities in Sweden are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi.
The Swedish Migration Agency, Applications for Asylum Received. Rubrik Inkomna Ansökningar om Asyl, Migrationsverket, 2017. Full document can be viewed here.