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How does Canada’s Refugee System work?

Who are the Refugees?

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


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:

1. Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who need protection from outside Canada
2. 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. 

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. 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.

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

All the applications are carefully screened. This makes sure that there are no issues related to security, criminality, or health.

In-Canada Asylum Program

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. To name a few, people are not eligible to make a claim if they have:

  • been convicted of serious criminal offenses or

  • had previous refugee claims denied by Canada.

Help for resettled refugees

Under the Resettlement Assistance Program, the Government of Canada or Province of Quebec helps government-assisted refugees with essential services and income support once they are in Canada. This helps them to settle.

The refugee gets this income support for up to one year or until they can support themselves, whichever comes first. Canada provides Resettlement Assistance Program income support to eligible clients who cannot pay for their own basic needs.

Basic social assistance rates in each province and territory help guide the amount of money refugees get for shelter, food, and other things. The Resettlement Assistance Program also provides these services during the first four to six weeks after clients get to Canada:

  • welcoming them at the airport or other port of entry

  • helping to find a temporary place to live

  • helping to find a permanent place to live

  • assessing their needs

  • information and help getting to know Canada, and

  • referrals to other federal and provincial programs, and to other settlement services.


Private sponsors must provide financial and emotional support to any refugees they sponsor for the length of the sponsorship period, or until the refugee can support themselves. Access to settlement services continues until individuals become Canadian citizens.


Refugee status from inside Canada - Eligibility

Canada offers refugee protection to people in Canada who fear persecution and who are unwilling or unable to return to their home country.


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

If you are under a removal order, you cannot make a refugee claim.

Officers who review your refugee claim will decide if it will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The IRB is an independent board that decides 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 are not able to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on:

  • race

  • religion

  • political opinion

  • nationality

  • membership in a social group

A person in need of protection is a person in Canada who cannot return to their home country safely. This is because if they return, --- - they would be subject to a:

  • danger of torture

  • the 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:

  • have been recognized as a Convention refugee by another country that you can return to.

  • have already been granted protected person status in Canada.

  • arrived via the Canada-United States 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.

Safe Third Country Agreement

Canada has an agreement with the United States where people who want to make a refugee claim must do so in the first safe country they arrive in. This means that if you enter Canada at a land border from the United States, you cannot make a refugee claim in Canada. In some cases, this rule does not apply (for example, if you have family in Canada).


Determine if you are inadmissible

As of July 31, 2018, you will need to give your fingerprints and photos (biometrics) when you apply for a visitor visa, study or work permit, or permanent residence if you are from Europe, the Middle East or Africa.

Some people are not allowed to come to Canada. They are known as “inadmissible” under Canada’s immigration law.

There are many reasons we may not let you into Canada, such as:

  • you are a security risk,

  • you have committed human or international rights violations,

  • you have been convicted of a crime, or you have committed an act outside Canada that would be a crime,

  • you have ties to organized crime,

  • you have a serious health problem,

  • you have a serious financial problem,

  • you lied in your application or in an interview,

  • you do not meet the conditions in Canada’s immigration law, or

  • one of your family members is not allowed into Canada.

Normally, if you are inadmissible to Canada, you will not be allowed to enter. If you have a valid reason to travel to Canada, you may be issued a temporary resident permit.

If you have committed or been convicted of a crime, you have a few options.

If you have been convicted of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, you will probably be found criminally inadmissible to Canada. But as of March 1, 2012, you may be able to get a temporary resident permit for one visit without paying the C$200 processing fee.

For refugees under the blended visa office-referred program 

Determine your eligibility

To come to Canada as a refugee, you must be referred. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a designated referral organization, or a private sponsorship group can refer you. You cannot apply directly to us as a refugee.

To be referred, you must fall into one of these two refugee classes.

1) Convention refugee abroad class

You may be in this class if you:

 - Are outside your home country,
- You cannot return there due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on

  • race

  • religion

  • political opinion

  • nationality

  • membership in a particular social group. Examples: gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Convention refugees can be sponsored by:

  • the Government of Canada (government-assisted refugees),

  • a group of people or an organization (privately sponsored refugees), or

  • a mix of both (blended visa office-referred refugees).

You can also be a Convention refugee if you have the funds needed to support yourself and your family after you arrive in Canada. You will still need the UNHCR, a referral organization, or a private sponsorship group to refer you.

2) Country of asylum class

You may be in this class if you:

are outside your home country, or the country where you normally live, and
have been seriously affected by civil war or armed conflict, or
have been denied basic human rights on an ongoing basis.

The country of asylum class refugees can be privately sponsored. You can also be in this class if you have the funds you need to support yourself and your family after you arrive in Canada. You will still need the UNHCR, a referral organization, or a private sponsorship group to refer you.


How to apply
If you are referred, you will need to f to apply as a Convention refugee or as a humanitarian-protected person abroad. You will need to pass a medical exam and security and criminal check.

Who is not eligible?

You are not eligible if:

  • you have another stable option for protection, such as an offer to be resettled in another country,

  • you become a citizen of another country, which will then protect you,

  • you choose to return to the country you left, or

  • the reasons you left your country no longer exist.


How to proceed if you require assistance?

1. Email us ( Your issue and any documentation that you consider relevant


2. We review your documents and appoint a consultant/lawyer to contact you with the brief assessment


3. You decide whether to proceed.


All our cases are handled by experienced lawyers and RCIC immigration specialists.


Source & Copyright: The source of the above visa and immigration information and the copyright owner is the: Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Immigration Quebec

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