Understand Refugee Protection in Canada

Learn about refugee protection in Canada and if you can make a claim. Get to know the three government agencies you will work with.

Refugee Claim Process Explained

Who is a refugee?

The Canadian government says you are a refugee if you are not safe in your own country. If you go back, you may be harmed or lose your freedom because of who you are or what you believe. You must live somewhere else. 

Asking for refugee protection in Canada is called making a refugee claim. Even if you were treated badly in your country or it is a dangerous place, you may not be allowed to stay in Canada. You must show that you are a Convention Refugee or a Person in Need of Protection.

Convention Refugee

To be a Convention Refugee, these six sentences must be true for you:

  • If I return to my country, I will likely be treated very badly.
  • I would be treated badly because of who I am or what I believe.
  • I am honestly scared to return.
  • I have good reason to be scared to live in my country.
  • My government cannot protect me.
  • I cannot live safely or properly in any other part of the country.
Person In Need of Protection

To be a Person In Need of Protection, you must show show that 1 or 2 is true:

  1. If I return to my country, the people who have power will likely torture me.

    OR
  2. If I return to my country, I could die or be treated cruelly,

    AND

    • My government cannot protect me,
    • I cannot live safely or properly in any other part of the country,
    • I am at risk but not everyone in my country has this risk,
    • I am not at risk only because my country wants to punish me for doing something that is a crime in Canada, and
    • I am not at risk only because of poor health care in my country.

See Understand the Legal Definitions for more information.

Can I make a refugee claim?

The Canadian government will decide if you can make a refugee claim. It is important to understand who can make a claim. Get legal advice before you ask for refugee protection.

Who is not allowed

You might not be allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada if:

  • You are a convention refugee in another country that you can go to.
  • You made a refugee claim in United States, United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand.
  • Canada already told you that you cannot make a claim.
  • You made a refugee claim in Canada that did not go ahead for some reason.
  • Canada sees you as dangerous or a criminal, or you have abused human rights.
  • Canada already made you a protected person.
  • Canada has ordered you to leave.
  • At a United Staes-Canada land border, you could not enter because of the STCA.
The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)

If you enter Canada from the USA, an agreement called the STCA makes it hard to ask for refugee protection. This is true at official border crossings, or for two weeks after entering Canada by water or at any other unofficial place.

You can only make a refugee claim if:

  • You have a family member in Canada.
  • You are a child under 19, travelling alone, and you do not have a parent or legal guardian in the United States.
  • You have a valid Canadian visa, or a study or work permit.
  • You are facing the criminal death penalty in the United States or in your country.
  • You are stateless.
  • You are a citizen of the United States.

A border official will ask you questions to see if you qualify for one of these exceptions. If you cannot, you might have to leave Canada. If possible, speak to a lawyer or legal representative about other ways for you to try to stay in Canada.

Overview of the refugee claim process

To stay in Canada, you must show the government that you are what Canada calls a refugee. You must also show that you are telling the truth. You do this by gathering evidence and by being honest, clear, and detailed about what happened to you.

Start your refugee claim

The first step in making a refugee claim is to let the Canadian government know you want protection. There are two ways to do this. You must be in Canada. 

  • If you are inside Canada: fill in an online form and give it to IRCC, or
  • If you are at the border, airport, or detention centre: tell the CBSA officer that you want to make a refugee claim.

CBSA or IRCC decides if you are allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. If you can, they send your claim to the IRB-RPD.

Your refugee claim hearing

You will have a hearing (a videoconference) about your claim. You must show you are a Convention Refugee or a Person in Need of Protection. If you have status in more than one country, you must show that you are at risk in each one.

At your hearing, a person from the IRB-RPD (a Member) listens to your story and what your witnesses say. They look at your BOC Form, notes from IRCC or CBSA, and anything else that you gave them. 

After your refugee claim hearing

After your hearing, the IRB-RPD tells you if your refugee claim is accepted. If it is accepted, you can apply to become a permanent resident. If your claim is rejected, you might be able to appeal (ask for a review). Speak to a lawyer or legal representative to find out about your options. 

Meet the Three Government Agencies

There are three government agencies that work with refugees. Each agency has different roles and responsibilities:

  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) 
  • Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
  • Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB)

These agencies do not automatically share information with each other.

Role of IRCC

If you start your refugee claim inside Canada, you give your application to IRCC.
If they decide you can make a claim, they send it to the IRB-RPD.

But the IRCC may oppose your refugee claim. They tell you or your legal representative this in a letter (called a Notice of Intervention). Then they send documents, or a person called the Minister’s Counsel, to argue against you at your hearing.

You can also apply to the IRCC for:  

Role of CBSA

If you start your refugee claim at a Port of Entry (land border, airport, or seaport) or from a detention centre, you tell a CBSA officer that you want to make a claim.

After talking to you, CBSA may decide that you can try to get protection in Canada. They help you start your claim. They tell the IRB-RPD that you are making a claim.

But CBSA may oppose your refugee claim. They tell you or your legal representative this in a letter (called a Notice of Intervention). Then they send documents, or a person called the Minister’s Counsel, to argue against you at your hearing.

CBSA also:

  • controls Canada’s borders and decides who can enter Canada
  • removes refugee claimants who cannot stay in Canada.

CBSA can put you in jail if:

  • they cannot be sure of who you are,
  • they believe you are dangerous, or
  • they believe you will not follow immigration laws.

If you are put in jail, you have the right to a lawyer or legal representative. There will be a hearing about letting you out of jail.

Role of the IRB

The IRB’s Refugee Protection Division (RPD) decides if you can get refugee protection in Canada.

The IRB-RPD:

The IRB has three other parts. You may also be involved with:

Keep your address up to date

Change your address with the IRB-RPD

There are two ways to give the IRB-RPD your new address or phone number:

Be sure to include:

You can send the form or letter to the IRB by mail, fax, or email.

Change your address with IRCC

To change your address with IRCC, go to the Webform and follow the steps to put in your new address.

Tips for filling in the Webform:

  • Select “Change of Contact Information” where it says to put in your “type of application/enquiry.”
  • Find your UCI number on your Refugee Protection Claimant Document or on any letters from IRCC.
Change your address with CBSA

At your interview with CBSA, an officer will give you instructions on how and where to give CBSA your new contact information.