Public transport travel card for asylum seekers
Asylum seekers can get free public transport on Translink buses and trains for six months. Check if you are eligible for this travel card trial scheme.
Who can get free transport
You can get an iLink travel card if you are an asylum seeker aged five or over living in Mears accommodation on 1 November 2023, and do not already get free travel using a SmartPass.
If you arrived in Northern Ireland after 1 November 2023, or you do not live in Mears accommodation, you are not eligible to get this iLink travel card.
iLink travel card
Your iLink travel card will allow you to travel:
- on any Translink bus or train
- at any time of day, on any day of the week (including weekends)
- to any location within Northern Ireland only (asylum seekers should not enter the Republic of Ireland – this could result in your asylum claim being treated as withdrawn)
Your iLink travel card will be activated the first time you use it on a Translink bus or train and it will expire six months later.
You might want to take a note of the date when you first use your iLink travel card so that you will know when it will expire.
After this time, you will need to pay standard fares if you wish to travel on public transport.
You will not be able to claim a refund for the value of your card from Translink and are not permitted to give it to someone else to use. If you feel that you will not use your card, return it to Mears as soon as possible.
When you will get your card
Mears will distribute the iLink travel cards between 1 November 2023 and 31 January 2024.
It does not matter if you get your card later than other people because you will have the same amount of time to use it.
You will need to be patient – do not ask Mears staff when you will get your iLink travel card, or contact Mears before 31 January 2024, as they will not be able to provide you with this information.
Mears will only distribute the iLink travel cards directly to primary asylum applicants. The primary applicant is the person whose name is on the asylum claim.
If you are a single adult, you will get your iLink travel card directly.
If you are part of a couple or a family, the primary applicant will get one card for themselves and one for each eligible person linked to the claim, such as their partner, children, or other dependents.
Living in initial or contingency accommodation
If you live in initial or contingency accommodation (this could be in a hotel or a guesthouse), Mears will set up ‘clinics’ for each site and will give you your iLink travel cards at these clinics.
You should have received in writing the time, date, and venue of the clinic for your hotel site.
This information will also be displayed on posters in your hotel site.
Living in dispersal accommodation outside Belfast
If you live in dispersal accommodation (this usually means a house) outside Belfast, Mears will give you your iLink travel card at your monthly housing inspection in November.
If you miss your November housing inspection, Mears will give you your iLink travel card at your monthly housing inspection in December.
Mears will write to you seven days before your housing inspection is due to let you know the date of the inspection.
Living in dispersal accommodation in Belfast
If you live in dispersal accommodation (this usually means a house) in Belfast and still have not received your iLink travel card, you will now get your card at a clinic at Mears’ office.
Clinics will be held from Monday 11 December to Friday 15 December 2023.
A clinic will be organised for each postcode in Belfast and you will get a letter inviting you to the clinic for your postcode.
You should only attend Mears’ office on the date in your invitation letter. If you try to attend Mears’ office on a different date, you will be asked to leave and return on the date specified in your letter.
If you are the primary asylum applicant, it is your responsibility to go to your clinic or housing inspection. Mears will not hand out travel cards at any other time.
If you miss your clinic or housing inspection
If you miss your clinic or your housing inspection in November, you will be given a date for a new clinic or a new housing inspection in December.
If you do not go on this new date, you may lose the chance to get an iLink travel card.
Using your iLink travel card
Take your iLink travel card out of your wallet before you use it. If you do not do so, the card reader may take the fare for your journey from another debit or credit card in your wallet. If this happens you will not be able to get a refund of the fare cost.
On Metro, Ulsterbus or Goldline bus
- get on to the bus and look for the ticket machine beside the driver
- hold your iLink card against the reader on the ticket machine, with the front of the card facing upwards
- when the ticket machine reads your iLink card, it should bleep once, and a green light will appear
- the machine will then issue a ticket which you should keep with you on your journey
On Glider bus
- find the ticket validator machine at the Glider stop (this is not the large ticket machine in the middle of the shelter – it is a small, waist-high podium at the end of the shelter)
- before you get on the Glider bus, hold your iLink card to the target below the screen on the ticket validator
when the ticket validator accepts the card, the machine will bleep once and a tick (✔) will appear on the screen
- the ticket validator does not issue a ticket or receipt – it just checks that your iLink card is valid to make a journey and records when you scanned it
At rail stations
- hold your iLink card to the target at the bottom of the validator machine at the barrier to the train platform
- when the validator reads the iLink card, the machine should bleep once, and a green light should appear
- the validator machine does not issue a ticket or receipt - it only checks that your iLink card is valid to make a journey
- if there is no barrier to the train platform, staff at the train station or the conductor on the train will validate your iLink card for you
School bus passes
If your child already has a bus pass to travel to school, they will also get an iLink travel card.
Your child should use their new iLink travel card to get to and from school. They can also use their iLink travel card to travel in the evenings and at weekends.
It is important to keep your child’s school bus pass safe, as your child can start using their school bus pass again to travel to and from school when their iLink travel card expires.
Asylum support payments
Getting a card will not affect your asylum support payments.
Lost, damaged, or stolen cards
You are responsible for the safety of your iLink travel card.
Make sure you keep your iLink travel card somewhere it will not get lost or be damaged. For example, your card will be safer in your wallet than loose in your pocket.
If your child has an iLink travel card, it might be safer for you to keep it while it is not being used.
If you live with others, it is a good idea to write your name or mark your iLink travel card so that you can identify it as yours.
If you lose or damage your iLink travel card, it will not be replaced as there are no extra cards.
Mears, the Department for Infrastructure, and Translink will not be responsible for any cards lost, stolen or damaged.
Report a lost, damaged, or stolen card
If you lose or damage your iLink travel card, or if your card is stolen, you must report it within 48 hours so that it can be ‘hot-listed’ – this will stop other people using it.
If you do not do this, you may not be able to take part in any future transport schemes.
Claiming for travel expenses
You cannot claim travel expenses for any journey you make using your iLink travel card (for example for health-related appointments, from a voluntary organisation or Home Office). This would be a fraudulent use of the card.
If you claim or attempt to claim travel expenses for a journey you make using your iLink card, it will be deactivated and you will no longer be able to use it.
You will also be unable to take part in any other transport initiatives in the future.
Filling out the survey – why it’s important
Before this ‘Local Links’ iLink travel card pilot scheme ends, Mears will email you a link to take part in a voluntary survey.
This survey will ask questions about how you have used the iLink travel card and if it has helped you.
This information will help understand the needs of asylum seekers and how free transport could help others in the future.
Make sure that you have given Mears an up-to-date email address to allow them to send you this survey.
If you need any further information on the travel card pilot scheme, contact Red Cross by email at:
You can also phone 028 9073 5391 or Whatsapp Red Cross on 07517 998 088.
All cards should be distributed by 31 January 2024. Do not contact Red Cross before this date to ask when you will get your card.