top of page

How the Refugee System Works in Canada - Seeking Asylum at the US Border

The refuge was one of the options we considered upon our arrival in Canada because we saw it as the fastest and safest way to become permanent residents. We were under the impression that coming from a communist dictatorship would make us eligible to apply. We did not know that refuge protection or asylum was not just another immigration option, but a resource to offer protection to those who genuinely need it and a way to save lives.

There are dozens of immigration programs to immigrate to Canada. All the information is available on the website of the federal government All you need to submit an asylum claim is time, common sense and knowledge of English or French. We have completed our immigration process from beginning to end without any assistance so we speak from our experience.

The Canadian and United Nations legislations legally define the differences between genuine refugees and those seeking economic improvement. However, we were not seeking an economic improvement as such because, as we explained in another video, we did not leave Cuba due to economic problems, but because of political and ideological differences and disagreements with the Cuban regime. We wanted to be free and masters of our destiny. However, that still did not qualify us as candidates to apply for asylum in Canada.

Who can apply for asylum in Canada?

People with genuine reasons to fear for their lives or physical integrity, or people who fear persecution or severe punishment because of their race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a specific social group, or political opinions.

Who cannot apply for refuge?

Individuals who are already granted the status of protected persons in another country, those who are suspected of having persecuted others in the past, or people who have committed actions that constitute crimes under the Canadian law in force. And here we enter the non-negotiable subject of admissibility.

Any action committed outside Canada that constitutes an offence under the Canadian Constitution makes the individual inadmissible. For example, in accordance with the Constitution of Cuba, it is totally legal to "defend the revolution" at any cost, even with the use of arms. If an individual, in order to defend the Cuban revolution, has participated in hate demonstrations with stones and sticks, has tortured, threatened or even committed murder, it may be considered a heroic feat in Cuba, but in Canada, it is a crime and automatically makes the person inadmissible to apply for asylum or for any other immigration program. If somebody hides that information to obtain protection and even become a Canadian citizen, everything could be revoked if the truth is discovered, even after 30 years, because that citizenship would have been obtained by naturalization and not by birth.

There are two main programs to be granted refuge or asylum in Canada:

1- Humanitarian Resettlement and Refugee Program, which is for individuals in need of protection and who are outside Canada

2- Canada Asylum Program for people filing refugee protection claims from within Canada

Each of these two programs has different options that we will cover in future articles.

What help do refugees receive in Canada?

Either by the Government of Canada, the Province of Quebec, or private sponsors, each refugee receives essential services as well as financial and emotional support once they are in Canada for 6 months up to one year, or until they can financially support themselves, whichever takes place first. Some of the services and aids offered are:

- Reception at the airport or other port of entry

- Assistance to find a temporary/permanent accommodation

- Study or work permit

- Assistance with furniture, clothing, and food

- Free access to the Interim Federal Health Program

- Free access to the education system for minors

- Help and information about Canada

- Translators and interpreters in the refugee's native language

- Free English and/or French courses

- References to other federal and provincial programs and services

The regions receiving the largest numbers of migrants are North Africa and the Middle East. Refugees typically seek asylum in neighbouring nations, for example, Afghans migrate to Pakistan or Iran, Venezuelans migrate to Colombia and Cubans row ninety miles to South Florida. Canada has a unique refugee situation as it receives a very low number of refugees every year in spite of being one of the best countries in the world to seek asylum. According to preliminary federal data, in 2022 the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada processed only about 82,000 refugee applications.

Canada is surrounded by American territory and by water, with Cuba and Mexico being the closest emigrant-issuing countries. In order to enter Canada irregularly from these two countries, you have to cross the United States first. The difference between these countries is that Mexicans only require an ETA, whereas Cubans must apply for a visa. To board a plane, train or boat bound for Canada today it is necessary to get passed several filters, especially when you are coming directly from the country that poses the threat. Therefore, every Cuban who arrives legally in Canada and requests refuge protection must have a coherent and rational reason.

Despite Canada's geographical shielding, the country is one of the best in the world to request refuge. Canada not only has incorporated into its legislative framework all international agreements and treaties for the protection of refugees and the observance of human rights but also it is governed by the principle of non-refoulment and has in place the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The term "non-refoulment" refers to the non-devolution or forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they may be subject to persecution.


Under the Agreement, refugee claimants must apply for protection upon arrival in the first safe country, unless they are eligible for an exception to the Agreement. The U.S. is the only country designated as a safe third country by Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

This agreement is intended for persons crossing the border between Canada and the U.S. by land, provided that they are not U.S. citizens or habitual residents of the United States who are stateless persons. The crossing can also take place at airports if the person seeking refuge in Canada has been denied refugee status in the U.S. and is in transit through Canada after being deported from the U.S.

The Agreement has four exceptions that consider family reunification, the best interest of children and public interest:

- Exceptions for applicants with a relative in Canada who is a citizen or permanent resident, a protected person or an asylum seeker over the age of 18, a temporary resident with a study or work permit, or a person accepted in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

- Exception for minors, under the age of 18, entering the country unaccompanied by parents, or legal guardians, who are neither present in Canada nor in the U.S.

- Exceptions for the holder of documents such as valid Canadian visa (except transit visa), valid work or study permit, or travel document issued by Canada. This also includes individuals who are exempt from obtaining a temporary resident visa to enter Canada but require a U.S.-issued visa to enter the U.S.

- Exceptions to the public interest include individuals with charges or convictions that carry the death penalty in the U.S., provided that the applicant has not been declared inadmissible to enter Canada for security reasons, for violating human or international rights, or for serious crimes, or if the Minister considers that the person poses a danger to the population.

Under this agreement, a person who has been denied asylum in the U.S. could reach the Canadian border and apply for asylum and vice versa. For those who have a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, uncle, brother, or nephew in Canada with legal immigration status, it would also be possible to apply for refuge protection without having to do so in the U.S. first.


The 'simplicity' of the asylum process in Canada revolves around its policy of relying on the honesty of the applicant, something that is part of the North American nature and culture and from which many false asylum seekers unscrupulously take advantage. Canada will not contact anyone in the country where an asylum seeker is persecuted to verify his or her testimony or evidence since the priority is to protect his or her privacy and physical integrity. This leaves plenty of room for decision-makers to grant refugee protection or not based on the credibility of the individual’s verbal testimony and on the documented evidence from others who have suffered similar abuses before.

There is a website that is consulted by the agents of the Refugee Board to investigate the social and political situation of the country in question. They document examples of human rights violations there.

This website shows that Cuba has a long record of violation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights of its citizens. So, it could be said that Cubans who manage to properly put together their refugee case have great chances of being approved. Many people even present their cases without any substantial physical evidence and they get approved.

Unfortunately, the same qualities that make Canada one of the greatest and most generous nations can work against it: no Canadian authority is responsible for verifying that refugee beneficiaries do not return to the country from which they claimed to flee the day after receiving their Canadian passport or travel document.

To conclude, we want to reiterate that refuge protection does not constitute a path to immigration and that we must act with responsibility and allow other people who do need it, to access this option that could save their lives.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page