Making a refugee claim 

Are you seeking asylum in Canada? 

Photo: ©UNHCR/Andrea DiCenzo

Seeking asylum in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic

Please note that the situation is quickly evolving, and that while UNHCR will endeavour to update the below information regularly, asylum-seekers should also verify the information with Government authorities.

Latest update: September 1st 2022

Hidden Row
Claiming asylum in Canada

Claiming asylum upon arrival at a Canadian airport

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are travel restrictions for foreign nationals boarding international flights who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated. Find out if you can travel to Canada on the Government’s website.

You can claim asylum at the airport with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canada’s law enforcement agency responsible for border control. Officials will do a security screening, verify your identity, and interview you to decide if your claim can be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Note that asylum-seekers allowed to enter Canada at the airport to pursue their claim might be requested to quarantine or self-isolate if not fully vaccinated.

You must use ArriveCAN to provide mandatory travel information before and after your entry into Canada.

Claiming asylum at an official land border post

If you are coming from the United States, you should know that the Canadian Government has restrictions on who can claim asylum at the border between Canada and the United States.

Under the Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), you cannot make an asylum claim at a Canadian border post unless you qualify for an exception to the Agreement.

The STCA is an agreement between Canada and the United States. Under the STCA, you are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country you arrive in (either the United States or Canada) unless you qualify for an exception to the Agreement.

List of exceptions

You can claim asylum at a Canadian land border post if you qualify as one of the following exceptions:

  • You are a U.S. citizen.
  • You are a stateless person and have lived in the U.S. for a significant period of time.
  • You have a valid Canadian visa, a work permit or a study permit.
  • You are under 18 and your parents are not in the United States.
  • You face the death penalty in your country or the United States.
    You have close family members who are living in Canada.

Note that asylum-seekers allowed to enter Canada to pursue their claim might be requested to quarantine or self-isolate if not fully vaccinated.

Find more information about the Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) on the Canada Border Services Agency’s website.

Proving your links to family members

One exception to the Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is having a close family member in Canada. You must prove your relationship to family members already living in Canada. The STCA recognizes a family member as one of the following: spouse, legal guardian, child, father or mother, sister or brother, grandfather or grandmother, grandchild, uncle or aunt, nephew or niece, common-law partner, or same-sex spouse with legal status in Canada.

Before entering Canada:

  • Let your family members in Canada know that you are coming.
  • Your relatives do not have to be present at the border, but it can be helpful if they can prove that they are your family members.
  • If not present, they will be called and interviewed.

When you enter Canada:

  • Show originals or copies of your identity documents, such as your passport, driver’s license, national identity card, birth certificate, or marriage certificate.

If you are in a common-law relationship and your partner is in Canada:

  • You must bring proof that you have been living together with your partner for at least one year.
    Proof can include shared ownership of residential property, joint leases, rental agreements, or bills for shared utility accounts (gas, electricity, telephone).

Claiming asylum upon crossing in-between official land border posts

You will be intercepted by the police and questioned about your entry. You can claim asylum and then be transferred to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canada’s law enforcement agency responsible for border control. Officials will do a security screening, verify your identity and interview you to decide if your claim can be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Note that asylum-seekers allowed to enter Canada to pursue their claim might be requested to quarantine or self-isolate if not fully vaccinated.

Claiming asylum from inside Canada

Inland claims are processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). You will have to submit your asylum claim through the Canadian Refugee Protection Portal. Officials will do a security screening, verify your identity and interview you to decide if your claim can be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), an independent administrative tribunal responsible for making decisions on refugee matters.

Note that a legal representative can help you complete your claim or submit a claim for you.

Find out what to do if you can’t submit your claim online.

For those who have a pending asylum application before the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB)

Temporary extensions of time granted for the Basis of Claim form

If you claimed asylum at a port of entry (airport, official border post), the IRB has extended the deadline to provide the Basis of Claim (BOC) form, an important document where you explain why you are afraid to go back to your home country:

    • If your claim was transferred to the IRB on or after 29 August 2020, you will have 45 days to give your completed Basis of Claim (BOC) form to the IRB.

For all other claims, the usual 15-day time limit applies. Read the practice notice on the temporary extension of time limits for filing the Basis of Claim form on the IRB’s website.

 

Virtual hearings

The Refugee Protection Division (RPD) is now scheduling virtual hearings for all refugee protection claims. That said, any claimants who prefer to have their hearing from an IRB office can advise the RPD of this when their claim is scheduled and the RPD will book an on-site hearing for them. The Member presiding over the hearing ultimately retains the discretion to determine the location of the hearing if there are reasons why it may be inappropriate for a given claim to proceed virtually. Find out more about the IRB’s measures related to COVID-19 on the IRB’s website.

 

Submission of documents

Even though the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada offices resumed operations, in-person correspondence will not be accepted until further notice. You can provide the RDP with documents by mail, by fax, or electronically. Read the instructions on sending correspondence on the IRB’s website.

For those filing an appeal before the Refugee Appeal Division of the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB)

Hearings postponed

As of 2 November 2020, the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) will now schedule virtual hearings for all appeals that require a hearing. Appellants or their representatives will be asked to confirm their availability for the proposed hearing date and can request an in-person hearing if they have specific concerns with holding the hearing virtually. The RAD will consider these requests on a case-by-case basis. Find out more about the IRB’s measures related to COVID-19 on the IRB’s website.

 

Submission of documents

Currently, you are able to provide the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) with documents by mail, fax, email or ePost Connect. In-person correspondence will not be accepted until further notice. The RAD will use Canada Post’s epost Connect to exchange documents electronically with registered users. Read the instructions on sending correspondence on the IRB’s website.

For those applying for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA)

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is still accepting Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) applications at this time. You also have now the option to submit and communicate about your application online. Find out more about PRRA application deadlines on IRCC’s website.

For those awaiting a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) hearing, your hearing may be held either:

    • On site at an IRCC office;
    • Remotely, via videoconference.

An IRCC officer will determine if a remote hearing is appropriate in your case.

In regards to detained individuals

Precautionary measures have been taken to limit the risk of virus contamination.

Please note the Immigration Division’s (ID) intention to resume in-person hearings on 14 September 2020. Detention reviews and detained admissibility hearings will continue to be conducted primarily by teleconference until further notice due to ongoing health-related restrictions on the transportation of detainees and limitations on access to detention facilities. Read the practice notice on the resumption of in-person hearings on the IRB’s website.

For those who lost their income due to COVID-19

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are directly affected by COVID-19 and are not entitled to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. The CRB is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). If you are eligible for the CRB, you can receive $1,000 ($900 after taxes withheld) for a 2-week period. Find out more about the eligibility criteria and the application process on the Government of Canada’s website.

Processing of refugee claims and appeals for individuals applying under the Government of Canada’s special measure

The Government of Canada announced that, starting 14 December 2020, it will be accepting applications for permanent residence from pending and unsuccessful refugee claimants who worked in Canada’s health care sector and provided direct care to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the practice notice on Refugee Protection Division (RPD) and Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) processing for individuals applying under public policies from the Government of Canada.

 

Medical assistance

Access to COVID-19 clinics for free contagion testing is open to all people regardless of immigration status.

The Interim Federal Health Program coverage covers all diagnostic tests and treatments for COVID-19, as well as any other medical situation (with rare exceptions).

For medical assistance about COVID-19, you can reach the following numbers:

    • 1-833-784-4397 (federal information line)
    • 1-877-644-4545 (Québec)
    • 1-866-797-0000 (Ontario)
    • 1-888-268-4319 (British Colombia)
    • 1-888-315-9257 (Manitoba)
    • 1-811 (Alberta)
    • 1-811 (Saskatchewan)

Find out the latest information from the Government of Canada on COVID-19.

For more information on additional supports and up-to-date resources in your local community, please refer to your local Public Health Units or municipal information sites.

Seeking asylum in Canada

 

If you are seeking asylum in Canada, you will find in this section resources to help you understand the Canadian asylum system – from learning more about how to make a refugee claim to finding out what happens when you claim asylum at the border. 

If you fear persecution in your country, you may seek protection once in Canada by presenting an asylum claim to the Canadian authorities.  Find out who can get refugee protection in Canada. 

How to make a refugee claim

You can make a refugee claim either  upon arrival in Canada at a port of entry  (airport or land border) with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or  inside Canada  at the nearest Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is Canada’s law enforcement agency responsible for border control. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is the department of the Government of Canada responsible for matters dealing with immigration to Canada, refugees, and Canadian citizenship. 

Arriving at the border from the United States

Note that the Canadian government has put restrictions on refugee claims made at official land ports of entry. Under the Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA),  persons coming to Canada from the U.S. cannot make an asylum  claim at official Canadian border  posts  unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement.  Learn more about  who can claim asylum at the border  and  how to prove your link to family members in Canada. 

If you make a refugee claim upon crossing the border  in-between official border posts, you will be arrested by the police and questioned about your irregular entry. You will then be brought to the nearest official border post to have your asylum claim processed.  Find out what happens when you claim asylum at the border. 

The process of claiming asylum in Canada

Once you have made an asylum claim, CBSA or IRCC officials will first conduct an interview to verify your  identity, perform a  security screening  and determine if you are  eligible to have your asylum claim referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), an independent administrative tribunal responsible for making decisions on refugee matters. It is a federal institution that operates at arm’s length from the Government of Canada.  Learn more about  proving your identity and find out  who will decide whether your asylum claim is accepted or rejected. 

If your claim is eligible to be referred to the IRB, you will be given a very important document called the  Basis of Claim formin which you will explain why you are seeking protection in Canada. You must fill out the Basis of Claim form within the specified timeframeThe  IRB  will consider the information you provide in the Basis of Claim form, your testimony at a  hearing  and other related evidence to decide if you qualify for refugee protection. If you are a refugee claimant preparing for your hearing, get ready with the Refugee Hearing Preparation Guidea collaborative initiative developed in 11 languages for each region of Canada. 

If your claim is not eligible to be referred to the IRB, you may have access to another process called the  Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA),  which will be conducted by an immigration officer from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Regardless of whether your refugee claim is assessed by the IRB or through a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) by IRCC, the authorities will evaluate your fear of persecution and decide whether or not to grant you international protection. 

Please note that in Canada, UNHCR is not involved in the various processes related to individual cases. UNHCR Canada does not offer direct services for asylum-seekers and will refer you to other available services in Canada for assistance should you contact our offices. For more information on where you can ask for help, how to apply for asylum, and what rights and duties you have as a refugee or asylum-seeker in Canada, please visit  UNHCR’s Help section. 

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