Refugee Status FAQ

Last updated: 2 September 2020

Frequently asked questions about refugee status in Canada.

A refugee is a person who fears persecution if they go back to their country of nationality. Fear of persecution usually means a serious chance of physical harm or detention or some other form of cruel and unusual punishment. In some cases discrimination or harassment could be considered serious enough to amount to persecution.

No. The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship standard is whether or not there is a serious possibility that you would be persecuted if you go back to your country.

Some typical examples of refugee cases include:

  • Members of minority religious groups or ethnic minorities who fear persecution from the general population or non-governmental organizations where the police are unable or unwilling to protect them.
  • Members of an opposition political party who fear retribution because of their political opinion or their refusal to support the government.
  • People who are persecuted by a powerful criminal gang or mafia such as drug traffickers.
  • Homosexuals who are persecuted simply because of their sexual orientation.
  • Women who fear beatings from their husbands, violence or other serious forms of punishment from other family members.
  • Women who refuse to conform to expectations such as arranged marriages, dress code and genital mutilation. In fact Canada is a world leader in recognizing gender-based persecution and has issued guidelines to ensure that these claims are dealt with in a fair and sensitive manner.

In all the above cases refugees must explain what persecution they fear and why they cannot receive protection from their government.

Yes, in most cases Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, formerly CIC) respects the principle of family unity. Therefore, a family will typically have one hearing and one decision.

There is no guaranteed way to know if you will be accepted since a single decision maker of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board will hear your testimony and must decide if your claim is credible. That is why it is essential to provide documentary proof of your story and to be well prepared for your hearing, and to hire a lawyer who is an expert in refugee law. Since June 28, 2002, the government of Canada accepts refugees who fear cruel and unusual punishment, a risk to their life, or torture. However, your claim will not be accepted if your fear is one of generalized violence faced by everyone in the country, if it is based on a need for medical treatment, or if you can obtain protection from the authorities in any part of your country. Furthermore, if the Refugee Board believes that you are a member of a terrorist group, have participated in human rights violations or have committed serious non-political crimes, you can be excluded from refugee protection. If you are a citizen in more than one country, you must explain why you cannot obtain protection in all your countries of citizenship. If you can automatically obtain protection in another country then you could be denied protection in Canada.

Processing times vary significantly depending on the applicant's country of origin. Typically, they are between 10 and 20 months for government sponsored refugees and closer to 45 months for privately sponsored refugees.

You would have the right to remain in Canada while you apply for an appeal and make submissions for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. You may also make an application for permanent residence in Canada based upon humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Yes, almost from the beginning of the refugee process.

Yes. Children of refugee claimants can attend public elementary and high schools free of charge.

The federal government of Canada guarantees emergency medical treatment at no charge for those who cannot afford to buy their own medical insurance. Some medical clinics also offer free check ups to refugee claimants.

As of December 2004, refugees entering Canada by land from the United States are no longer allowed to make their refugee claims at the Canadian Port of Entry. However, this does not apply to refugees who make their refugee claim from inside of Canada, regardless of how they arrived. It does not apply to people arriving at Canadian airports even if they first passed through the U.S. Even in claims made at the U.S. - Canada border, exceptions apply for children under 18, and for refugees who have extended family members in Canada including parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts.

Yes, if you are outside your country, but this is very difficult in most cases. You must first apply to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). You usually have to show that you will be economically successful in Canada. Also, the refugee definition is more restrictive, you do not have the right to a lawyer at your interview, and the waiting period could be many years. You must also show that you cannot be settled in your country of present residence.

To learn more about your Canadian immigration options, fill out a free online assessment today.