Making a Refugee Claim in Canada
If you want to make a refugee claim in Canada, there are three general steps you must take along the journey. To become an official refugee in Canada, you’ll need to:
- Fill out the application form
- Be scheduled for and attend an interview
- Wait for and then attend your hearing
You’ll find out if your refugee claim has been accepted at the hearing.
Who Qualifies For Refugee Status?
Receiving refugee status means that Canada has agreed to offer your protection from some danger in your home country. Examples of dangers that legitimate refugee claimants may face are:
- Risk of death
- Risk of cruel or unusual punishment
Some experts recommend that you apply for refugee status as soon as possible once entering the country. If you delay, it may appear as if you’re not really afraid to return to your country, which may negatively affect your claim later on.
How Long Does the Process Take?
Wait times to attend an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hearing are on the rise. As recently as 2017, the wait took up to 16 months. Now, the process takes even longer, with wait times extending past 20 months to complete the process from start to finish.
However, while wait times will remain lengthy, the Canadian government has made recent efforts to increase trained staff that can move the process along more quickly, and they hope to eventually reduce the wait time to something closer to a year.
Where Can I Apply, and What is Involved?
If you are already inside Canada and want to apply for refugee status, the Government of Canada will want to know some information about your background, your family, and the reason why you want to make a refugee claim in Canada. Simply download the application form, which you can find here for free on the Government of Canada website. Once you have completed the form, you can apply by going to an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office.
If you bring the completed application form to an IRCC office, an immigration officer will verify that all the paperwork is complete. If it is, and if the officer finds you eligible, the officer will:
- Schedule you for an interview
- Provide you with an acknowledgement of claim letter
- Provide instructions so you can complete your medical exam
If you are arriving from outside of Canada, the Government of Canada will want to know the same information as above regarding your background, your family, and the reason you are making a refugee claim in Canada. The main difference is that instead of going to an IRCC office, you’ll instead arrive at a port of entry.
A port of entry is defined as any airport, seaport, or land border. Since it is likely you will not have had the chance to print and fill out an application form before arriving at a port of entry, one will be provided for you.
Once the application form is filled out to the immigration officer’s satisfaction, and if the officer finds you are eligible to apply, the officer will give you two important documents:
- A Confirmation of Referral letter
- A Basis of Claim form
The Confirmation of Referral letter will act as proof that Canada has officially referred your refugee claim to the IRB. You will have 15 days to fill out the Basis of Claim form. Once it is filled out, you should bring the completed form to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) office indicated in the Confirmation of Referral letter.
Can I Be Detained at My Eligibility Interview?
It is possible you could be detained at your initial interview. Some of the reasons an immigration officer might choose to detain you would be if they needed time to confirm your identity, or if they believe you are a threat to Canada.
You also might be detained if you are deemed ineligible to apply for refugee status and the immigration officer thinks you won’t voluntarily remove yourself. In this case you might be detained while travel documentation is collected that will allow you to properly leave the country.
If you’re not sure if you are eligible to apply for refugee status, we would advise you to call us beforehand for a 1 hour online immigration consultation.
Can I Work or Study in Canada While Waiting For a Decision?
Yes, if you are eligible to apply for refugee status you can apply to work or study here while you wait.
Refugee claimants can apply for either a study permit or an open work permit at the same time you apply for refugee status. You can do this by using the “Schedule 12 – Additional Information” part of the application package. As long as you pass your medical exam, we’ll mail those permits to you at a later date.
Keep in mind: Study permits require an acceptance letter from a designated learning institution. However, children do not need an acceptance letter to go to kindergarten, elementary or secondary school.
What is the Hearing Like?
When your claim is ready to be heard, the RPD will send you a written Notice to Appear. This means you will need to attend a hearing.
The hearing is where those seeking asylum in Canada will find out if they have been officially accepted or not. This hearing will take place in private, and usually takes half a day to complete. The people at the hearing will be:
- Member: This is the person who makes the decision about your claim.
- Minister’s Counsel: ThisCanadian government representative may attend the hearing to oppose your claim.
- Your Counsel: If you have hired a lawyer or an immigration consultant, they will help you make your claim.
- Interpreter: If you require one, an interpreter will be provided for the hearing.
- You + Observer: You may have a friend or family member attend the hearing along with you.
Children under 12 who are seeking asylum generally don’t need to appear unless requested, but sometimes older children will need to participate in the hearing. Find out more about what will happen at the hearing here.
To prepare for a hearing and improve your chances of success, it is usually a good idea to contact an expert in the field like those at Tudor House Immigration Services.
I Received My Decision: What’s Next?
If you are accepted as a refugee to Canada, you will be given a written Notice of Decision from the RPD. They will explain their decision, and send a copy of the decision to both the IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The IRCC or the CBSA has the right to appeal the decision if they disagree. If they do, they will appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) or send the case to the Federal Court of Canada for review. They only have 15 days to do so.
All those accepted will also receive the status of “protected person,” and may then be eligible to apply for permanent residence.
If you are rejected, you can also appeal to the RAD, and the same 15-day time limit applies. If you are not eligible to appeal to the RAD, you have the option of appealing to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review. But if you choose not to appeal, then you are expected to leave Canada voluntarily.
Get Help From the Experts
To be as prepared as possible for your refugee application, it is always a good idea to contact an expert who can provide accurate legal advice, and who can make sure the application process goes as smoothly as possible. They will make sure you have the correct documentation, help you collect it and organize it, verify that the forms are properly filled out, and help you prepare for your hearing.