Canadian refugee protection programs

Refugees are people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They are not able to return home. They have seen or experienced many horrors.

A refugee is different from an immigrant. An immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country. Refugees are forced to flee.

Canadian refugee protection programs

The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:

  • the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who need protection from outside Canada and
  • the In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada
  • Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program

    Refugees who come to Canada have left their homes, and in many cases they have had to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they have to start their lives over again.

    The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with private sponsors, identifies refugees for resettlement. A person cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement. After they are identified, it takes time to process the cases.

    Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some do this on an ongoing basis. They have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees. These groups are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders.

    Sponsorship Agreement Holders can sponsor refugees themselves, or work with others in the community to do so.

    Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are people or groups in the community who have come together to sponsor refugee(s). They do not generally sponsor refugees on an ongoing basis.

    The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada.

    Under our laws, we must carefully screen all resettlement cases. This makes sure that there are no issues related to security, criminality, or health. We work with our security partners to complete this work as quickly as possible.

    Sponsorship Agreement Holders

    To be eligible to become a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), your organization must be:

    • incorporated (a legally created organization),
    • physically located in Canada, and
    • approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as a SAH before you apply to sponsor a refugee.
  • Apply to sponsor a refugee after you are approved to be a Sponsorship Agreement Holder

    Once we have approved you to become a SAH, you can apply to sponsor a refugee. When you sponsor a refugee, your organization must agree to give emotional and financial support to the refugee for the full sponsorship period. Usually this period is one year.

    You can also work with other groups in the community to sponsor refugees under your agreement. In doing so, you remain responsible for the emotional and financial support provided to the refugee(s). These groups are known as “Constituent Groups.”

    Groups of Five

    A Group of Five (G5) is five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have arranged to sponsor a refugee living abroad to come to Canada.

    G5s may only sponsor applicants who are recognized as refugees by either the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or a foreign state. The principal applicant MUST already have refugee status. Having refugee status means that an authorized body has found that an individual meets its refugee definition. This authorized body can either be the UNHCR or the government of the country (i.e., foreign state) where the refugee is now living.

    You must include the document proving recognized refugee status with the refugee sponsorship application you submit.

    Community Sponsors

    Some community organizations can sponsor refugees to come to Canada.

    The organization must agree to give emotional and income support to the refugees for the full sponsorship period. This is usually one year.

    Community Sponsors may only sponsor applicants who are recognized as refugees by either the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or a foreign state.

    The principal applicant MUST already have refugee status. Having refugee status means that an authorized body has found that a person meets its refugee definition. This authorized body can either be the UNHCR or the government of the country (i.e., foreign state) where the refugee is now living.

    You must include the document proving recognized refugee status with the refugee sponsorship application you submit.

    Blended Visa Office-Referred Program

  • The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with private sponsors in Canada.
    • The UNHCR identifies the refugees.
    • The Government of Canada gives up to six months of income support.
    • Private sponsors give another six months of financial support. They also give up to a year of social and emotional support.

    The Interim Federal Health Program provides limited, temporary coverage of health-care benefits for refugees and refugee claimants until they become eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance or leave Canada.

  • The asylum program works to provide refugee protection to people in Canada who:
    • have a well-founded fear of persecution or
    • are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries

    Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum. For example, people are not eligible to make a claim if they have:

    • been convicted of serious criminal offences or
    • had previous refugee claims denied by Canada.

Eligibility

Some people are not eligible to claim refugee protection in Canada.

Note: If you’re under a removal order, you can’t make a refugee claim.

Officers who review your refugee claim decide if it will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The IRB is an independent board that makes decisions on immigration and refugee matters.

The IRB decides who is a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection.

Convention refugees are outside their home country or the country they normally live in. They’re not able to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on

  • race
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • nationality
  • being part of a social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation

person in need of protection is a person in Canada who can’t return to their home country safely. This is because, if they return, they may face

  • danger of torture
  • risk to their life
  • risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment

Your refugee claim may not be eligible to be referred to the IRB if you

  • are recognized as a Convention refugee by another country that you can return to
  • were granted protected person status in Canada
  • arrived via the Canada–United States (US) border
  • are not admissible to Canada on security grounds or because of criminal activity or human rights violations
  • made a previous refugee claim that was not found eligible
  • made a previous refugee claim that was rejected by the IRB
  • abandoned or withdrew a previous refugee claim

The IRB website has more information on making an asylum claim in Canada.

Safe Third Country Agreement

Canada has an agreement with the US that says people who want to make a refugee claim must do so in the first safe country they arrive in.

This means, if you enter Canada from the US at a land border, you can’t make a refugee claim in Canada. In some cases, this rule does not apply (for example, if you have family in Canada).

How to apply for refugee status

1. Decide where to apply

There are 2 ways to apply for refugee status in Canada:

Apply at a port of entry

You can apply for refugee status at any port of entry. This means an airport, seaport or land border.

The officer you make your refugee claim to decides if your claim is eligible to be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). If your claim is eligible, you

  • are given a document confirming that your claim has been referred to the IRB
  • have 15 days to complete all the forms in the application package and submit them to the IRB

Apply at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada office

You can make a refugee claim in Canada at certain Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offices. If you choose to apply at an IRCC office, you

  • must have all the forms in the application package completed and with you
  • will not be scheduled for an interview with an immigration officer until you show in person that you have completed all the forms

If the officer decides that your refugee claim is eligible, you are given a date for your IRB hearing.

Refugee claims in Canada—Options for refused applicants

On 23 July 2015, the Federal Court rendered a decision impacting the right to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada. Please check the IRB website for more information.

If you are in Canada and have had either a refugee claim or a permanent resident application refused, there may still be options for you.

Canada does not want to send people back to a country where they will be in danger or would face the risk of persecution. It is not guaranteed, however, that an applicant will be found eligible under any of these processes.

Find out if you can use any of these options to stay in Canada:

Pre-removal risk assessment
If you are told to leave Canada, you may be able to apply under this process. If so, an officer reviews the documents related to your case and any other evidence.

Apply to the Refugee Appeal Division at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
If you received a negative decision on your refugee claim, you may be able to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. But some failed claimants are not eligible to apply. Find out more about the RAD.

Apply to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review
You can have a lawyer ask the Federal Court of Canada to review the decision made on your case.

Humanitarian and compassionate grounds
In some exceptional circumstances, people are allowed to become permanent residents under these grounds.