The Refugee Claim Process in Canada
Updated: Feb 5
Why are you applying for asylum in Canada? What would happen to you if you returned to the country from which you are fleeing? Did you go to the authorities of that country, or did you seek protection with any organization? Why didn't you move to another city or province within your country in search of safety? These are some of the questions that immigration officers will ask someone who wants to apply for refugee protection in Canada and the final result of his or her asylum case will depend on the answer to these questions.
There are two ways to apply for asylum in Canada: at the airport or land or port of entry, or after you have entered Canadian territory. Neither option is better, or worse. Everything will depend on the individual circumstances of each case. However, suppose upon arrival at the airport the person is determined to seek refugee protection. In that case, it is better to do it immediately and not leave it for later, since this is something that shall have to be explained at a later time in the forms and the interview.
Some people do not apply for refuge when arriving at the airport for various reasons: ignorance, and in some cases fear and uncertainty as they want to ensure that Canada will be a safe place for them. In some other cases, people enter without any fear for their lives, but something changes in their situation once they are on Canadian soil, and it is no longer safe for them to return to their country. That is classified as Refugee Sur Place. Under international law, a person does not have to be a refugee or intend to seek refuge when leaving their country, or upon arrival in Canada; for example, those who decide to change their sexual orientation or religion, and fear reprisals in their countries. On the other hand, people who decide to change their political position, or become critical of the system in their countries, may also end up becoming a Refugee Sur Place.
Requesting Protection at the Port of Entry
If someone decides to apply for refugee protection at the airport or any other port of entry, they must go to immigration and tell them that they want to apply for refugee protection in Canada. They will provide them with an interpreter if necessary. The person will be taken to an office for an interview, and he or she will have to fill out some forms before leaving the airport, as well as some others online in the next 15 days. When refugee protection is requested at the airport, the officers collect the claimant’s fingerprints, and his or her photo and seize any official documents, such as a passport or ID card. In its place, they provide the claimant with an official photocopy of those documents that will be, from that moment on, their identification in Canada. That is to say, the person will never see his or her original passport again unless their claim for protection is denied.
The officer can determine on the spot if the application is eligible to be referred to the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, which is the final decision maker in asylum cases, or can give you a document to present to an interview at a later date. If you are not rejected at this point, it will be determined right there if you need financial assistance, temporary housing, winter clothing, a translator, etc., and they will give you two documents: one that indicates your status as an asylum seeker so that you can access different federal and provincial services, and another that gives you access to the Interim Federal Health Program. Furthermore, you can apply for a work permit at that moment, which usually takes 3-4 weeks to be issued. There you will have all the necessary assistance to fill out the forms and if you do not have the financial means, they will provide you with free legal advice through Legal Aid, which takes care of almost all refuge procedures for low-income people.
Read: How the Refugee System Works in Canada - Seeking Asylum at the US Border
Apply for Protection Once in Canadian Territory
If the person decides to apply for refuge once outside the airport, or after 1 week, 3 months, 6 months or even a year, then they only have the option of doing it online. They must create a profile on the official IRB portal, start a refugee application, and upload all required documents. The most important document is the Basis of Claim Form, which asks the claimant for all the details of their situation, the evidence, and their data. The IRCC will communicate with the applicant through this portal.
Once the application is sent, the person will receive a confirmation that will take between 10 and 15 days, as well as some instructions on the next steps of the process: when and where to go to provide their biometrics, surrender the passport, upload any missing documents, etc. Then, a week or 10 days later, the notification will be received with the date and place of the interview. This is the case of some friends who made a refugee protection claim after a year in Canada and had to do the entire process online. They did not have enough money to pay a lawyer. Currently, a refugee process in Canada can cost between 5,000 and 8,000 dollars, depending on the province and the complexity of the case. They first called Legal Aid, but they were not very happy with the lawyer they were assigned; in addition, not all services are free, so they approached us to help them, which is why we have been able to see the process very closely.
Interview with IRCC
In the interview with IRCC, it will be decided whether or not IRCC recommends the asylum application to the IRB (The Board). If not recommended, they will issue a removal order which can be an exclusion order (the person will be prohibited from returning to Canada for 12 months, or 5 years in case of misrepresentation, or false statements), departure order (must leave Canada in 30 days and inform the government of your departure, if you do not comply, it becomes deportation), or a deportation order (prohibits entry to Canada for life). In the event of receiving such an order, there is the possibility of appealing or requesting a pre-removal risk assessment or a judicial review. There are several resources before having to leave Canada, even with a deportation order, and in this case, it is advisable to consult a lawyer.
If during the interview, IRCC decides to recommend you to the IRB to continue with the asylum process, they will also give the applicant this removal order, but it will be stayed, or shall not take effect until the IRB decides to reject the case, or it will be annulled if the refugee case is accepted and the applicant becomes a protected person. When IRCC recommends the application to the IRB, then the person becomes a refugee claimant with temporary status in Canada. At this time, it is possible to apply for a work permit and enjoy almost all the privileges that Canadians have while waiting for the final hearing. After being recommended by the IRCC, the IRB will get reach out through the official portal, or by email to notify the date, place and format of the final hearing. Hearings are currently taking place online unless the applicant fills out a form to have an in-person hearing. To this hearing, the applicant can go alone, with his lawyer, or with the person representing him, and the free services of an interpreter can also be requested.
What worried our friends the most was the preliminary interview with the IRCC since they did not know what they will ask. The reality was that they did not ask them anything at all. The immigration officer who received them told them that the file was very well presented and that the Cuban cases were generally recommended to the IRB due to the history of systematic human rights violations in that country; unless an anomaly or a case of misrepresentation was detected. He told them so and without further ado he gave them all the documents. However, while waiting their turn, they saw how other people were being interviewed for a long time in the other rooms. In this interview, what they want is to check the information that has already been provided in the main Basis of Claim Form. It is important to be consistent in the answers; that do not differ from what was already previously written in that form. Everything will revolve around demonstrating that the person is really in danger if they return to their country, or that they have credible fear. It is not necessary to cry or make a scene to convince the officer since they do not make any decision on the application. They seek to verify that the applicant is eligible to be recommended to the IRB.
If the person does NOT fall into one of the following categories, the IRCC will most likely recommend them to the IRB:
· The applicant is recognized as a Convention refugee, that is, there is another country to which he can return
· He or she has already been granted protected person status in Canada
· He or she arrived across the border between Canada and the United States (unless he or she qualifies for one of the Safe Third Country Agreement exceptions)
· He or she has a pending refugee claim in another country
· He or she is not admissible to enter Canada for security reasons, or due to criminal activities or human rights violations
· He or she submitted a previous asylum application to the IRCC and was found ineligible
· He or she submitted a previous asylum application to the IRB and was found ineligible and
· The person abandoned or withdrew a previous application for asylum in Canada
All the information is available, as always, at www.canada.ca, and this time, a new and even more important website is provided for it: that of the Refugee Board https://irb.gc.ca/en
Hearing with the IRB
Finally, on the day of the final hearing, the person must be well prepared to answer each question that is asked. There is usually no evidence to support a testimony due to the circumstances in which the individual had to flee his country, but the statements he makes must be coherent and genuine. He should try to gather any possible evidence: recordings or letters from friends sent to his postal address in Canada with their testimonials in writing or audio format, photos, newspaper clippings with news where the person is implicated, or any event mentioned in his testimony, videos, medical reports of injuries, police reports, police subpoena, etc. Everything must be delivered to the IRB in advance, nothing new should be brought in on the day of the hearing, and everything has to be translated into English or French by Canadian-certified translators. The hearing can last between one hour and three hours, depending on the complexity of the case, if only one person is testifying, or if other members of his family must also testify, and how many people attend and decide to ask you questions, plus the interpretation time, if necessary. Most hearings do not exceed one hour.
If the application is approved, the applicant is immediately eligible to begin permanent residence proceedings in his name, for his partner and his children, stepchildren or adopted children under the age of 18, even if they are not present in Canada. If his application is rejected by the IRB, then the removal order becomes effective and if he decides not to appeal the Board's decision, the person only has a few days to leave Canada.
A Word from Us
You can only apply for refugee protection from the Government of Canada if you are on Canadian territory, if you fear persecution or cruel treatment in your country of origin, or if you arrive at the border with the United States and are eligible for one of the Agreement's exceptions of Safe Third Country, discussed in the previous article. You can request refuge at the airport, or once you have entered the country. In either case, it will be necessary to fill out the Basis of Claim Form which is the basis of the application and pass a preliminary interview with IRCC to be recommended to the IRB. If recommended, it is possible to remain in Canada with a work permit and access to almost all federal and provincial services until the case is decided at the final hearing with the IRB. The whole process takes between 18 and 25 months. If it is rejected, you can appeal the decision and wait in Canada for the result of this appeal.