Law: International Migration and Refugee Law

People moving across national borders

Refugees from the Syrian Civil War who have escaped warfare are subsequently forced to navigate urgent and complex legal issues. A Filipino mother seeking reunification with her family in Europe faces similar obstacles. Both are confronted with the inter-relationships between humanitarian and human rights law, and the interactions between international and domestic legal systems.

International migration and refugee law must be therefore be analyzed from a multitude of angles and disciplines. This specialization studies international migration from the perspective of international and European law, and focuses on how they function in domestic legal orders.

The interplay between international, European and domestic law is a specific focus of this specialization and enables you to understand and analyze the complexity of the key issues of contemporary International Migration and Refugee Law.

International Migration and Refugee Law is a full-time, one-year specialization of the LLM master's programme at VU Amsterdam. The programme is structured as follows:

Four compulsory courses

Refugee and Family Migration Law
Migration and Legal Remedies
Legal Methodology
12 EC
6 EC
6 EC
12 EC
One integration course

Philosophy of International Law and Migration
Transnational Human Rights and Globalization
6 EC
One elective course of the specialization

Irregular Migration
EU Internal Market Law
6 EC
Two of the following

Irregular Migration
EU Internal Market Law
An elective course not from this specialization
6+6 EC

The range of elective topics allows you to tailor your study programme to your particular interests.
For more information about the courses please check the studyguide.

Refugee and Family Migration Law
Legal Remedies for Migrants
These in-depth courses are given by prominent specialists in the field. They will address topical issues, which relate closely to research carried out at VU Amsterdam.

Irregular Migration
This elective course reflects the research done at VU Amsterdam on the human rights aspects of irregular migration in the Mediterranean.

Philosophy of International Law and Migration
This integration course analyses topical issues of migration and refugee law on a conceptual and philosophical level. It will enable you to critically engage with the fundamental presumptions that constitute migration law.

Migration Law Clinic
Write tailored legal advice for lawyers in the context of real cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union under supervision of the researchers of the migration law section.

For more details, consult the academic calendar of the programme.

Graduates work in the numerous international (non-governmental) organizations involved in migration, e.g. UNHCR, IOM, the European Commission, EASO and Frontex. As international and national law on migration are profoundly intertwined, solid knowledge of international migration and refugee law is also most valuable for national institutions and organizations dealing with migration law, such as migration law firms, the judiciary, national and local governments or NGOs.

As migration law is particularly complex and intertwined with other areas of international law, you will also be perfectly well-suited for careers outside migration law, but still requiring profound insight in the most basic principles and workings of international and European law.

  • This specialization is unique as it is taught by leading academics in the field, and is embedded in one of the largest specialised research groups in migration law worldwide
  • The Faculty of Law of VU Amsterdam is distinctive in having legal, empirical and philosophical approaches to migration and refugee law, all in one joint research programme. This approach allows a broad, and at the same time in-depth, analysis of transnational legal issues
  • Students can design their own programme in line with their personal preferences: international law, European law, and domestic law; human rights, and labour and social rights; practical, academic, theoretical and empirical approaches
  • You can combine this master’s specialization with another specialization within the LLM programme at VU Amsterdam, such as Transnational Legal Studies or Dutch Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • The Netherlands has a large and active community of professionals working in the field of migration and refugee law including academics, lawyers, judges, and those who work for the Immigration Service, the Ministry of Security and Justice, and NGOs. This provides many opportunities to participate in meetings and seminars on migration law topics outside the regular study programme, or to do an internship.
  • Amsterdam encompasses 177 nationalities. This makes it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Therefore, Amsterdam is a most appropriate place to study international migration and refugee law.
  • Life in Amsterdam is affordable in comparison with some other large European cities.
  • There is an easy and fast procedure for obtaining a student visa for the Netherlands
  • After you have completed your master’s programme, you can apply for a residence permit in the Netherlands for the purpose of searching a job (for a maximum of one year)

Overview Law: International Migration and Refugee Law




1 year (fulltime)



1 April for students from outside the EU. 1 June for EU students with a non-Dutch degree. 15 July for all other students.


September 1st or February 1st




Economics, Business and Law

Marco Notabartolo die Sciara



"IMRL focusses not only on the legal aspects, but on the social aspects of the area of migration law as well."

Internship and volunteer experience can be exceptionally valuable to your career. Our wide network of contacts in the Netherlands and abroad provides you with a broad range of internship and volunteer opportunities to get you started.

If there is an internship you want to pursue or if you are already aware of an appealing internship, get in touch with the internship coordinator, Marcelle Reneman (

For fifteen years now, the Migration Law research programme of VU Amsterdam has been one of the most prominent programmes in the field. It aims at tracking the multiplicity of complex developments in migration law that take place at the global, European and national levels. Research topics include asylum and refugee law, and family reunion law. This extends to research into the human costs of border control, the intersection between the family and migration law, the role of the judiciary, the relation between (irregular) migration and the welfare state, the EU principle of mutual trust and the role of time in migration law. Methods are varied, focusing on legal doctrinal, sociological, philosophical questions as well as more practice-oriented matters.

The excellent quality of the programme is reflected in the scholars’ numerous publications and in two VICI grants from NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) in 2010 (Van Walsum) and 2013 (Spijkerboer), a NWO VENI grant in 2010 (Brouwer), a NWO Research Talent grant in 2012 (Battjes and Stronks) and an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2017 (De Hart). Members have conducted research for the European Commission, the European Parliament, UNHCR, WODC and Vluchtelingenwerk.

The research group is very visible in the public debate, and its scholars are active in advisory committees to the government and non-governmental organizations and publish frequently on, where topical migration law issues are explained for a broader public.

Student experiences


"International Migration and Refugee Law (IMRL) focusses mainly on a thorough analysis of the legal aspects of migration, with a particular attention on the interconnection of European and International legislations on the topic. At the same time, however, it allows students to approach the subject from several angles and perspectives, thanks to a broad choice of elective courses and to the variety of nationalities represented in the classes. IMRL’s student, indeed, come from all over the world and attribute knowledge about their national legislation and earlier law education. You are given the opportunity to look further than your own perspective. IMRL provides a diverse study program with high skilled VU-based professors teaching small groups of motivated students, as well as numerous guest lectures and seminars. All this elements, together with the fact the VU one of the biggest research group on the subject of migration law, were reasons for me to apply this master’s track. I experience IMRL as an intensive, challenging and stimulating master."

Esther Umelue

"Starting the master specialization International Migration and Refugee Law (IMRL) was an eye opener for me, the challenging courses motivate me to put in my best effort. The professors are very cooperative and encouraging as well, having only a small group of students there’s a lot of interaction and opportunity to discuss or ask questions. With the VU Amsterdam having one of the biggest research groups on Migration Law there is a lot of exposure to new knowledge which makes me long for more information. What I like the most about the courses is that I’m learning the many aspects of current issues and with this gained knowledge I will be of help in society, whether that’s in an European country or in Nigeria, where I completed my earlier education. IMRL makes you aware of the present issues in everyday life and how the legislation does not cover these issues sufficiently enough."

Fiona Skevi

"With my master’s track I wanted to learn in depth about Migration and Refugee law in Europe. International Migration and Refugee Law (IMRL) is one of the few LLM master tracks that offers this specialization and gives you the opportunity to compose your own schedule by picking the courses you are most interested in. IMRL is a very demanding and intensive master’s track, but in a motivating way. The well-known professors challenge you to not only attend the high quality courses but also embark in extracurricular activities. For example, I applied and got selected for the Migration Law Clinic, in which I have the opportunity to gain but also apply knowledge in the field of migration and refugee law by doing research and writing expert legal advices on real cases. IMRL has a very informal surrounding, the teachers are very accessible and encourage you to pursue your initiatives." 

Melissa Gerber"I am a law graduate from Cape Town, South Africa. I am enrolled at the VU Amsterdam, studying an LLM programme, International Migration and Refugee law. I first came to the VU during my final semester of my bachelor degree as an exchange student, and knew instantly that I had to return to complete my masters here. The VU is multicultural, diverse and a friendly place to learn and grow as an individual. The town of Amsterdam is one of the prettiest towns on the face of this planet, and Dutch life is second to none. 

If you are looking to expand your academic knowledge, grow and learn in a multicultural society and explore the beauty of Amsterdam, the VU is the place for you!

International Migration and Refugee law is a very specialized master programme. The VU Amsterdam IMRL department offers one of the biggest and most diverse research facilities in the world. The programme delves deep into the intricate legal instruments involved in migration law and considers fundamental human rights against the backdrop of migration and refugee law."

Master's track International Migration and Refugee Law

Admission & Contact

Admission is based on a selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. 

In order to gain admission to this specialization, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 EC or equivalent.

Specific admission requirements for the Master of Laws for Specialisation in International Migration and Refugee Law: 

The admission requirements are as follows:

  • Applicants should have at least a Bachelor's degree in Law. 
  • Applicants who do not have a Bachelor in Law but in another subject are still encouraged to apply, provided that they have completed at least 60 EC credits worth (one year) of law subjects, including some international and European Law. This may be relevant for people with e.g. political science or liberal arts degrees and ‘Law and (..)’ degrees. 
  • Applicants who do not meet the abovementioned requirement can exceptionally be admitted as well, provided that they have a sound academic background and considerable experience in the field of law. 
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam requires non-Dutch applicants to take an English test. You can already apply online without having the test results. In case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Please refer to the language requirement page for the minimum requirements regarding the English language test and in which cases exceptions can be made to this rule and the deadline for handing in the test results. Also check the FAQ to see which exceptions can be made. Students can email their language test results to:
If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet admission criteria  

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

For Dutch Degree Holders 
For the online application, Dutch degree holders can follow the online application procedure for Dutch students. The deadlines as stated in the overview above apply.
For questions see our contact details under Contact & Information days below.

For International Degree Holders 
For the online application, international degree holders can follow the online application procedure for international students.
The deadlines as stated in the overview above apply. 
For questions see our contact details under Contact & Information days below.
Please note: in case international students would like to apply for university housing, we cannot guarantee this housing if the application is made after 1 April.
N.B. In the national application system Studielink, please select the Master's programme ‘Rechtsgeleerdheid’ (Master’s of Law). You can select the specialisation International Migration and Refugee Law at a later stage in our Vunet student portal.

In case of non-Dutch degrees we need to evaluate the level of your Bachelor degree. Therefore we ask international students to provide the following documents via VUnet. All documents should be provided in English or Dutch. 
  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (no translation needed) 
  • Transcript of records 
  • If available, a copy of your diploma
Note: In the national application system Studielink, please select the Master’s programme ‘Rechtsgeleerdheid’ (Master’s of Law). You can select the specialization International Migration and Refugee Law at a later stage in our Vunet student portal.

Step 3: Await decision on admission  
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam.

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!  
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. 

• Extra information for Dutch students
• Extra information for International Degree holders.

When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam.

Additional information for International Students

Further information about;  
Application fee  
Tuition fees

Contact for International Degree Students  
For detailed questions about the Master’s programmes or the application procedure contact your International Student Advisor at the International Office:

Laura Smit 
T: + 31 (0)20 598 6205 



VU Amsterdam offers various scholarships to international Master's students. 

Other scholarships

  • Students in China can contact their local NESO offices (Netherlands Education Support Office) in either Beijing: NESO Office Beijing.
  • Indonesian students can contact their NESO Office Jakarta for more detailed information.
  • All other students may contact Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education, or visit Grantfinder, about studying in the Netherlands and financial aid, or their local Royal Netherlands Embassy.
Visa/Residence permit

Students from non-EU/EEA and Visa required countries who will stay for a period longer than 3 months, are required to obtain a permit for temporary stay (MVV- Machtiging tot Voorlopig Verblijf) in order to enter the Netherlands. The university applies for this visa by a so-called ‘accelerated visa procedure’. Students can not apply for a MVV themselves. 
More information on the application for your residence permit 


Before you come to the Netherlands, you should inquire whether your current health insurance will suffice in the Netherlands or if you need a supplementary cover. If you are insured with your own company for your stay in the Netherlands, take a proof with you that you are. 
More information on insurances

Contact a student ambassador

Some international students are happy to tell you about their experiences with living and studying in Amsterdam. These Student Ambassadors come from all over the world and have attended various bachelor's and master's programmes.

Our student ambassadors are listed on the webpage below. Reach out to them and get their stories about being a student at VU Amsterdam!

Information for international students > International degree holders > Contact our student ambassadors 

Questions on programme and course contents
If you have questions regarding the programme, please contact mr. dr. Martijn Stronks, programme coordinator of IMRL, via

Questions on admission and application
If you have a Dutch degree and you have any questions on admission or application, please contact

If you have an international degree, please contact our Admission Officer, ms. Laura Smit:

General questions
If you have any general questions after reading the website, please contact our Communications department: