Be Informed, Connected, and Prepared

Learn tips and strategies to engage the legal process and to navigate the refugee protection system. Get good information. Stay connected to experts. Prepare every step of the way.

Starting the Refugee Claim

Common Questions

You may start your refugee claim upon arrival in Canada or once you are already within Canada. You may have questions including:

  • How do I start my refugee claim?
  • How long will the process take?
  • What will happen to me if I receive a negative decision?
  • When will I be reunited with my family?
  • How do I get help?
  • Can I trust the Canadian Officer?
  • Will they believe my story?

These are common questions that many people in your situation have. It is very normal to have limited or no knowledge of the refugee claim process. The answers to the above questions vary based on the individual circumstances. There are many people who may help you through the steps.

Prepare for your eligibility interview

Be well prepared for your eligibility interview and remember to keep copies of all the documents. Consistency is key through the refugee claim process.

Be aware of your options

Do research and get legal advice before you start your claim. Ensure that making a refugee claim is the best option for you and be aware of the potential risks when you start a refugee claim. Certain policies can impact your decision and the consequences (i.e. if you arrived at Canada’s port of entry from the United States you may be ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada and may be sent back).

Slow down

Slow down and take your time when completing your BOC. The BOC is very important evidence at your refugee hearing and you may be cross examined on the information in your story. The BOC should include all the events in your life to meet the definition of a refugee. 

Manage your expectations

This can be a complex and lengthy process. In most cases, you only have one chance to ask for refugee protection, so take things one step at a time. Make sure you take care of your own physical and emotional wellbeing.

Telling your story

You may have to tell your story many times to many different people, including CBSA officers, IRCC officers, your legal representative and the Member at your hearing. This may make you feel vulnerable – prepare yourself, as this may be difficult. Be 100% honest. If you are honest at every point, then your answers will be consistent.

Advice from friends and relatives

Beware who gives you advice about your refugee claim. Legal advice should be from your legal representative. Advice and information from family and friends who have been through the refugee determination process may not be good for you, as each refugee claim is determined on its own merits. If you do not have a legal representative, get information from a trusted settlement worker.

Preparing Your Case

Write your story and history

It will be helpful to write out your story and your 10 years of employment, address and travel history. This can help you to start thinking about what evidence is important to your claim. It is better to err on the side of caution and include all details that may be important. The IRB-RPD may make a negative credibility determination if they believe you have been hiding important points or if you add important information at your hearing that was not included before.

Start gathering your evidence

Start gathering documents to support your claim. This evidence includes:

  • Identity documents that prove who you are
  • Relevant evidence that supports your case
  • Documents that tie the conditions in your country to your claim
  • Letters or affidavits from people who know about your claim and can confirm the information
  • Witness testimony at your hearing
  • Places you visited and dates 
  • What government agency you asked for help in your country
  • Other places you stayed within your country to avoid persecution.

Try to get all evidence and documents sent from your home country as soon as possible. Certain information, such as police or hospital reports, may be difficult to obtain and/or may take a long time. If you are unable to get some pieces of evidence or documents, it is recommended that you keep a record of your attempts to gather this information.

Review all documentation and evidence

You may receive letters of support that are not 100% consistent with your BOC. In this situation, you may need to contact the writer and explain the differences in your testimony. You should talk to your legal representative about how to deal with this type of situation. Many cases are decided based on credibility.

Translate all documents

All evidence must be translated into English or French, which can take time. Ensure it is done as soon as possible. Confirm with your legal representative which documents need to be translated.

Keep a copy of all your documents

Keep photocopies of all your documents:

  • Your BOC and other immigration forms
  • Your narrative
  • All evidence that you submit or that was submitted by your legal representative
  • Any letters, documents or appointment notices sent to you by the IRB, CBSA or IRCC
  • Applications and letters you or your legal representative sent to the IRB, CBSA or IRCC.

Get a file folder to keep your documents organized and safe. Keep your documents until you become a Canadian citizen.

Update your address

Keep your address updated throughout the process. This is important for receiving communication throughout and after the refugee claim process.

Working with Your Lawyer or Other Legal Representative

Provincial processes and connecting to a legal representative

Get legal aid if it is available in your province, and if you qualify. If possible, try to connect with a lawyer before you apply for legal aid.

Be honest

Be honest and forthcoming with your legal representative. It may be difficult for them to help you if you hide information.

Be prepared

Be prepared before you meet your legal representative. You may want to send questions by email before your meeting, or write them down before the meeting. This will make the best use of your time with your legal representative.

This is your refugee claim

Remember this is your claim for refugee protection. Even if you have a legal representative, you should be personally active in preparing documents, gathering evidence and witnesses, and preparing to testify. It is your responsibility to be aware of your important dates and deadlines. If you miss a deadline, your claim may be declared abandoned.

Although parts of the refugee claim process are out of your control, it is important to take control of what you can. To help with this, make sure that you have enough information to understand and navigate the process. This will help you feel more prepared and feel comfortable with decisions that are being made.

Communication with your legal representative

Communicate with your legal representative on how and when you stay in contact. This will ensure you both share the same expectations. Be respectful of the legal representative’s time. You are going through these procedures together.

Keep in touch with your legal representative during the process, but ensure that you have a specific reason for contacting them. Legal representatives may have different demeanors. Understand the character of your legal representative so that you have a smooth journey together and get the help you need.

Waiting Period

Be patient

Waiting is a normal and common part of the refugee claim process. There is no standard period of time to wait between submitting your claim and your refugee hearing date, or between your hearing date and the decision being made and sent to you. While one agency, the IRB-RPD operates in three regions in Canada and refugee claim process waiting times may be quite different between the three.

Establish yourself in Canada

During the waiting period, you can use this time to settle yourself and family members. This can include improving your English or French language skills, finding employment, staying physically active, volunteering in the community, joining newcomer activity groups and getting to know some of your neighbours.

Continue to prepare for your hearing

This can include:

  • Attending a Ready Tour at the IRB-RPD. This will allow you to learn how to prepare for your hearing day, meet IRB staff, get oriented on the events and participants that may be in your hearing, and ask any questions you may have about the process
  • Reviewing your BOC, narrative, and the evidence you submitted to stay familiar with it 
  • If you find inconsistencies in your BOC, narrative, eligibility interview notes, evidence and other forms and applications (including overseas visa applications), you can point these out to your legal representative and consider sending amendments to the IRB-RPD
  • Keep up on the news from your country.  If relevant news articles or reports become available, provide these to your legal representative.

Getting the Support You Need

Connect to a settlement organization

Connect to a settlement service organization or community resources for help with housing, school registration for your children, language classes, and more. As a refugee claimant in Canada, there are free services available to you. Settlement service providers can help you look for a job, access language classes, find a home, sign-up your children for school, and learn about community services.

Eligible for IFHP coverage

As a refugee claimant, you are eligible for Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) coverage. This provides medical coverage similar to provincial health care insurance. This includes hospital services, services provided by health-care professionals, additional services such as vision and urgent dental care, and prescription drug coverage. This coverage continues until you leave Canada or become eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.

Access mental health supports

You may experience mental distress as you navigate the refugee claimant process, with its uncertainty and complexity. You may also have experienced  trauma in your home country, and during your journey to Canada. There are services in Canada that may be helpful for you. The IFHP provides some coverage for mental health services.

Do not isolate yourself

Do your best to avoid isolating yourself. Connect with other refugee claimants or newcomer support groups that will provide you with a safe space where you can share your lived experiences. Make new friends and keep in touch with your friends back home and family where possible.

Your Hearing Day

Take care of yourself

Take care of yourself the day before your hearing (i.e. make sure you get enough sleep).

Expect questions

Be prepared that you will be asked questions about your case. For example, if you did not immediately make an in-land claim, you may be asked why you did not make a claim earlier.

Variation among Members

The decision on your refugee claim is made by the Member at the IRB-RPD. Each Member is unique and brings their own history, interests, experience, and training to your case. The mood of your hearing may be very different from others you have heard about, based on the Member and you and your case. The Member’s decision should reflect a fair application of refugee law.

Be honest

It is better to say that you do not know information, or that you are unsure, rather than making information up. At the same time, you need to make an effort to give as much information as you can to help the Member understand your story.

 Working with an interpreter

The IRB-RPD will provide a professional interpreter in your language and dialect for your refugee hearing at no cost to you. Even if you understand English or French reasonably well, it is a good idea to have an interpreter present to avoid misunderstandings.  The role of the interpreter is to make sure that you and all the other participants in your hearing understand each other clearly.  Before your hearing starts, take the opportunity to speak with your interpreter to make sure that you understand each other well. When you are providing your testimony, you need to speak in short phrases in order for the interpreter to provide an accurate interpretation.

Virtual hearing

For virtual refugee hearings, make sure that you have:

  • Access to reliable, secure, high-speed internet that will allow you to video conference
  • Downloaded Microsoft Teams software
  • A quiet and private space to participate in your hearing.

Please note that currently all IRB hearings are scheduled as virtual hearings by default; however, hybrid or in-person hearings may be scheduled on request or at the discretion of the Board.

After Your Hearing

No standard timelines

There are no standard timelines for receiving a decision. You may receive a positive or negative decision from the Member at the end of your hearing. In some instances, the Member may require more time to make a decision and you will receive the decision from the tribunal via regular mail. A delayed decision may be stressful for you, but it does not necessarily mean you will receive a negative decision.

Options if you receive a negative decision

There are legal options if you receive a negative decision. Talk to your legal representative.

Be cautious about losing status

If you receive a positive decision, you can apply for permanent residency for yourself and your family members. Delays may require you to renew your work permit and may lead to other complications. In addition, if you are granted refugee protection, you may not return to your country of origin. If you do return to your country, the government may refer your case back to the IRB-RPD for another hearing.