I Want to Claim Refugee Status in Canada

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The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada decides refugee claims.

You can make a claim for refugee status at a Canadian border or airport, or from within Canada. To be found to be a refugee, you must meet the definition of either a "Convention refugee" or a "person in need of protection." See definitions at the end of the article.

For information about refugee status, see Clicklaw for resources listed under the common question We want to start a refugee claim in Canada.

If you are detained, ask to speak to immigration duty counsel or call the Legal aid immigration line at 604-601-6076 or 1-888-601-6076. Duty counsel are lawyers paid by Legal Services Society (legal aid) to assist people in detention at the Canada Border Services Agency's enforcement centre in Vancouver. Duty counsel provide detainees with advice regarding procedures and their legal rights, and may appear on their behalf at detention hearings.

First steps[edit]

  1. Before you start a refugee claim, try to get help from a lawyer or settlement agency:
    • If you cannot afford a lawyer on your own, apply for legal aid. See legal aid representation in the Resource List for information about how to apply for legal aid or call the Legal aid immigration line at 604-601-6076 or 1-888-601-6076. To get legal aid you must be financially eligible and your refugee claim must have merit.
    • If you do not qualify for legal aid, contact an immigrant settlement agency.
    • Contact the Law Students' Legal Advice Program if you live in the Lower Mainland.
    • Pay for a lawyer or immigration consultant.
  2. If you are at an airport or at a Canadian border crossing, start your refugee claim by telling a Canadian Border Services Agency officer that you want to make a refugee claim. Staff at the Canada Border Services Agency will interview you. They will ask you to complete immigration forms and provide identity documents. If you come from the United States of America you might be returned to the USA because of the safe third party agreement between Canada and the USA.
  3. If you are already in Canada, you must submit the required forms to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada office to start your refugee claim. To find a list of offices, see Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in the Resource List of this guide. You must provide identity documents. For information on preparing refugee claim forms see the online tool Refugee Claim Process. It is advisable to complete the forms with the help of a lawyer.
  4. Once your immigration forms are complete, an immigration officer will interview you. The interview could take place when you first make your claim, or you might get an appointment to return for an interview. At your interview, the officer will decide whether you are eligible to make a refugee claim. If you are eligible, your case will go to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and you will get a date for your hearing.

Complete the immigration forms and answer questions at your interview with the immigration officer carefully and truthfully. The information you provide will be used at your refugee hearing. Keep a copy of the forms for your records.

What happens next[edit]

The next step is to prepare for your refugee hearing before the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Your refugee hearing will be held within 30 to 60 days after you are found eligible to make a claim. The time of the hearing will depend on the country you are from and whether you made your claim at a port of entry (border or airport) or at a local CIC office.

If you do not agree with what the Board decides, you may be able to apply to the Refugee Appeal Division or the Federal Court of Canada to have the decision reviewed. Talk to a lawyer or settlement worker about this.

Not all people are eligible to make a refugee claim in Canada. For example, people who are not eligible include those who:
  • have made a refugee claim in Canada in the past,
  • came to Canada from or through a designated safe third country where they could have claimed refugee protection,
  • are not admissible to Canada on security grounds, or
  • are not admissible to Canada because of criminal activity or human rights violations.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List of this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

Before you meet with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this guide. Make sure you take copies of all documents about your case.


Convention refugees are people outside their country of nationality or residence who are unable or unwilling to return to that country because of a "well-founded fear of persecution."

If you are a convention refugee, this means you have a good reason to believe you are in danger, and that the authorities in your country will not or cannot protect you. You may fear that you will be harmed because of your race, religion, political opinion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.

Persons in need of protection are people who, if returned to their home country or country where they normally live, would face:

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

To prove that you are a person at risk if returned to your country, you must show that all of the following apply:

  • you are not able to get state protection from your country,
  • the risk is specific towards you or your family,
  • you face the risk in every part of your country,
  • the risk is not the result of punishment for a crime you committed, unless the punishment violates international standards, and
  • the risk is not because of lack of adequate medical care.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Rochelle Appleby, March 2017.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.