Refugee claims in Canada

Vanessa Friesen

There is a lot of misinformation online regarding refugees in Canada. If you are hoping to claim refugee status in Canada, or if you are a Canadian who wants to make an informed decision on what government policies to support, it is important to have accurate information on the criteria and process necessary to be admitted to Canada as a refugee.

What criteria do refugees have to meet to be admitted to Canada?

People who are accepted as refugees in Canada are people who face serious danger in their home country. To receive convention refugee status in Canada, a refugee claimant has to prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country because of protected characteristics. This means that people are trying to harm you because of your race, religion, political beliefs, nationality, or membership in a social group such as women or sexual orientation. Canada also admits persons in need of protection, meaning a person who cannot return to their home country because they would face danger of torture, risk to their life, or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Refugees also need to prove they are not a security risk and do not have a serious criminal record.

Refugees who walk across the border to make a refugee claim are not queue-jumping. The Safe Third Country Agreement means that Canada does not accept refugee claims from people located in the United States, with some exceptions. This even applies to people who are not American citizens but have travelled through the United States. Almost anyone who makes a refugee claim at a port of entry from the United States into Canada will be denied entry into Canada. This is why refugees walk across the border into Canada, avoiding ports of entry: it is the only option available to them. The Safe Third Country Agreement is currently being challenged in Canada’s Federal Court, but for now it is still in effect.

Refugees who walk across the border to claim refugee status are required to prove their claim, same as refugees who make their claim from another country. Half of the refugee claims made by people who walked into Canada are unsuccessful, and unsuccessful refugee claimants are deported back to their home country.

The refugee claim process:

To apply for refugee status, claimants can either apply online or at a port of entry (but not from a port of entry at the Canada-United States border, with some exceptions). If your application is complete, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) will send you an Acknowledgement of Claim letter, an appointment to attend an interview, and instructions to attend an immigration medical exam.

At the interview, IRCC will decide if you are eligible to apply to claim refugee status. If you are eligible, the IRCC will refer you to the Immigration and Refugee Board (“IRB”). The IRB will schedule a hearing where they will decide if your refugee claim is approved or denied. You can apply to work or study in Canada while waiting for your refugee claim decision. If you are not eligible to claim refugee status you will be given a removal order, which means you must leave Canada. If the IRB accepts your claim you get protected person status, meaning you can stay in Canada and apply for Permanent Residence in Canada. If the IRB rejects your claim you will have to leave Canada. You may be able to appeal this decision or have other options to stay in Canada.

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The information provided in this article is only a brief overview. Immigration and refugee claims are very complex and the law and procedure can change at any time.

Also, during the covid-19 pandemic, travellers to Canada including refugees should be aware of restrictions such as the border being closed to non-essential travel and the requirement to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. These requirements might change at any time, so if you are travelling to Canada be sure to check for up-to-date information.