A foreign national can claim refugee protection either from inside Canada or from outside Canada.
Those who claim refugee protection from outside Canada must be referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a designated referral organization or through a private sponsorship.
Refugee Status from Inside Canada
If you are in Canada or arrive at a Canadian port of entry, and you fear return to your home country, you may be eligible to apply for refugee protection in Canada.
A claim for refugee protection will be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and it is a board member that will determine if you are able to remain in Canada as a Convention Refugee or as a person in need of protection:
- A Convention Refugee is a person who is not able to return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a social group (such as women, people with a disability, or people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender)
- A person in need of protection is a person who is not able to return to their home country as they would be subjected to danger of torture, risk to their life, or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment
A foreign national’s refugee claim may not be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada if they:
- Have already been recognized as a Convention refugee by another country (and they are able to return to that country);
- Have already been granted protected person status in Canada;
- Are inadmissible to Canada due to criminality or human rights violations;
- Made a previous refugee claim in Canada and:
- They were found ineligible, or;
- Their claim was rejected by the IRB; or
- They withdrew or abandoned their previous claim;
- Arrived via the USA-Canada border (Safe Third Country Agreement).
Arrivals via the USA-Canada Border
Canada and the United States have signed an accord called the Safe Third Country Agreement. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, foreign nationals are required to request refugee protection in the first country that they arrive in, unless they fall under one of the exceptions. Therefore, if a foreign national first arrives in the United States, they are supposed to claim refugee protection in the United States, and not at a Canadian port of entry.
There are four main exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement:
- Family Members in Canada;
- Unaccompanied minors;
- Document holders; and
- Public interest.
Applying for Permanent Residence as a Refugee or Protected Person
If the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada accepts a foreign national’s refugee claim, they will be allowed to apply for permanent residence status in Canada.
As part of the application, a foreign national must list all dependents and family members (for example, spouse, common-law partner and all dependent children). The foreign national’s dependents will also be allowed to come to Canada as permanent residents. If a foreign national does not know the whereabouts of a family member, they must still list them in the application, as it may still be possible for them to come to Canada at a later date. They may come to Canada up to one year after the foreign national has become a permanent resident of Canada.