Seeking Asylum in Canada-What the U.S. Can Learn about the Canadian Process
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. Welcome to Canada.” Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau
Over the past year, Canada has experienced an unprecedented wave of petitions for asylum. The surge has put a strain on Quebec’s capacity to accommodate new arrivals. More than 25,000 asylum seekers were intercepted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the period of January 2017 through March 2018.
They crossed from the United States.
During the first trimester of 2018, asylum petitions more than doubled those filed during the same time period last year. Since the Trump administration has ended the temporary protected status-TPS, for immigrants from 4 counties, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan, asylum petitions to Canada are expected to rise to unprecedented numbers, stressing resources and Canada’s ability to maintain its welcoming policies.
What is TPS? How does it Affect Immigrant beneficiary groups in the US, and What is its Impact on Canada?
The U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 extended temporary protected status (TPS) to immigrants from certain countries affected by armed conflict, environmental disasters, and other extraordinary conditions. TPS has allowed recipients to live and work legally in the US until the Department of Homeland Security deems it safe to return to their countries of origin.
In some cases, people with temporary protected status have been in the United States since the 1990s.
Protected status for the following countries is also set to end:
Sudan: November 2, 2018 About 1,050 people benefit from TPS. Protection is set to end citing improved conditions in the country.
Nicaragua: January 5, 2019 TPS for roughly 5,300 Nicaraguans expired on January 5, but the program won’t officially end until early 2019. TPS protection followed the Hurricane Mitch devastation.
Haiti: July 22, 2019 In November, the DHS announced it would end TPS for nearly 59,000 Haitian immigrants. TPS protection followed a catastrophic earthquake in 2010.
El Salvador: September 9, 2019 Salvadorans were first granted temporary residency protections in 1990 amid El Salvador’s brutal civil war. Today, they total 260,000 approximate beneficiaries.The program was extended by Presidents Bush and Obama. The Trump administration announced its end.
In the case of Salvadorans, 88 percent are part of the US workforce and they are parents to 192,700 U.S. citizen children, according to the Center for Migration Studies, cited in the American Jesuit Review.
Other TPS upcoming deadlines:
Nepal: June 24, 2018
Honduras: July 5, 2018
Somalia Sept. 17, 2018
Yemen September 3, 2018
South Sudan May 2, 2019
“It’s really important that Congress works to fix this situation, especially for long-term recipients that have been here for many years,” Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy and public affairs said at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “They have made so many contributions, own homes, run businesses and are leaders in our churches. These are people who we want to ensure continue to be part of our society.”
Ending TPS will cause an economic, social and familial crisis to over 400,000 beneficiaries. The effect of this massive displacement will also have serious repercussions on the beneficiaries’ home countries, and on our next door neighbor, Canada.
What has been the Effect of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies on Canada?
Unprecedented Petition Claims & Visa Abuses
In addition to the unprecedented numbers of asylum petition claims, Canadian officials have reported visa abuses by travelers who come to the US on a travel visa with the intention of seeking asylum in Canada.
A rise in Unofficial Border Crossings
Most of the illegal border crossings to Canada are occurring in Quebec.
Half of Canada’s 49,775 asylum claims in 2017 were made in that province.
Misinformation campaigns and social media rumors that asylum seekers get a free pass in Canada have presented a challenge: “It is unfortunate that these very vulnerable people were convinced that admission as a refugee in Canada and here in Quebec would be simple, even automatic. That’s not the case at all. There is no guarantee that asylum applications will be accepted, given the strict rules that govern them,” stated Quebec’s premier, Philippe Couillard.
Fear of Deportation and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the US
Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. is driving many to seek asylum in Canada. However, fear of deportation from the United States isn’t enough to make an asylum case in Canada.
End of TPS protection to vulnerable populations
TPS recipients from the U.S. are fleeing to Canada to avoid deportation.
Pact between the US and Canada
The pact known as the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States requires people to apply for refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in — under which, the US is considered a safe country.
Because of this, people who seek refugee status in Canada from the US will be turned away at official border crossings. As a result, people are bypassing official entry points and entering the country throughout remote and freezing locations, risking their lives on foot, without going through immigration.
Haitian asylum seekers are about to test Canada’s refugee system in a big way. An RCMP officer announces to a group of asylum seekers that identified themselves as from Haiti that they will be crossing illegally into Canada as they wait in line to to enter at the U.S.-Canada border in Champlain, N.Y., Aug. 7, 2017. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
Asylum Petitions and Refugee Claims in Canada
Before the massive influx of asylum seekers, refugee claims to determine eligibility could be made within 1 day, and cases were heard by the IRB within 60 days. Looking at Quebec, specifically, the process has been greatly impacted.
While waiting for a Hearing, Asylum Seekers Can Access Multiple Services
- Social Assistance
- Education-Parents can enroll their children in schools. French-language pre-school, elementary and secondary school is free for children between the ages of 5 and 18, but in order to enroll, claimants need to present their Refugee Protection Claimant document issued by the federal immigration ministry.
- They are encouraged to find a more permanent place to live since parents wanting to send their children to school face the additional barrier of needing a home address to enroll their children.
- A permanent address also facilitates the receipt of social assistance checks, which are provided to the asylum seekers until they find jobs.
At the Border
Individuals can make an asylum claim in Canada at a port of entry, at a Canada Border Services Agency, or at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) inland office.
When asylum seekers arrive at the border with Canada, their identification is verified and they are taken to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) where they undergo a health and security check and complete a Basis of Claim Form.
If the claim is determined eligible, they are referred to the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) for a hearing. During the hearing, the IRB considers each case according to the United Nations definition of a Convention refugee-which was adopted into Canadian law-and within the consideration of a person’s need for protection.
No enforcement actions are taken against people seeking asylum.
At the start of the process, asylum seekers also declare how much money they bring. Based on their financial circumstance, they are placed in one of the temporary housing centers until permanent housing can be located.
Within 21 and 35 days, they receive their first social assistance check. The wait can be longer, depending on demand, according to Paul Clarke, the executive director of Action Réfugiés Montreal.
Family members from Somalia are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (Paul Chiasson/CP)
Waiting for the Interview
Asylum seekers in Quebec wait for their eligibility interview in either temporary housing or by staying with family. In the meantime, they apply for social assistance— $649 per month, per person, or $1189 for a family of four —states CBC news, from Montreal, Canada.
The interviews are conducted by an officer from the Canada Border Services Agency or by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship agency in Canada. The officer verifies whether the asylum seeker meets the criteria.
Once the claimants are marked as eligible for asylum, they are referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) for a hearing.
Typically, cases are heard within 60 days.
What Happens During a Hearing?
During their hearing, they must demonstrate that they face a risk of torture, a risk to their life, cruel and unusual punishment or treatment, or persecution because of:
- Political opinion.
- Membership in a particular social group, which can include sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status or domestic violence.
Following the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) Hearing:
If the IRB accepts the claim, the asylum seeker gets “protected person” status. This means they can stay in Canada and apply to become a permanent resident. If the refugee claim is accepted, the person may start the process of obtaining permanent residency. If refugee claim is rejected, there is an opportunity to appeal to the IRB or the Federal Court, or the claimant may be deported.
If the IRB rejects the claim, they must leave Canada.
If the law allows, they may ask for the decision to be reviewed.
Refugee claims may be ineligible if:
- They have been recognized as a Convention refugee by another country that they can return to.
- Have already been granted protected person status in Canada.
- Have arrived via the Canada-US border
- Are not admissible to Canada on security grounds, due to criminal activities or human rights violations.
- Made a prior claim that was rejected or found ineligible.
- Abandoned or withdrew a previous refugee claim.
‘Please, we need a home’: Nigerian asylum seekers follow a well-trodden migrant route to Canada. Taxis wait at the bus station in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to take people to an unofficial border crossing into Quebec. Susan Ormiston · CBC News ·
First Forms of Assistance-Temporary Housing
After requesting asylum, they are immediately referred to PRAIDA, (Regional Program for the Settlement and Integration of Asylum Seekers in Quebec) an organization that provides assistance to asylum seekers during their first months in Canada. PRAIDA assesses each case and determines whether to send them to one of the 12 centers set up to temporarily house refugees.
‘Thank you, God’: Asylum seekers find a warm welcome at Olympic Stadium. CBC News. A man holds up a baby during a rally in support of asylum seekers outside the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The stadium is being used as a temporary shelter for some of the hundreds of asylum claimants pouring across the New York-Quebec border every day. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Several temporary housing centers were set up in Montreal including one in the Olympic Stadium. Canadian Forces staff also built a camp for 1,200 people at Quebec’s Lacolle border crossing, south of Montreal, to accommodate the ongoing wave of asylum seekers.
As migrants wait to be processed. Many sleep in heated trailers and tents installed by Canadian Forces.
Asylum Seekers at the Border Getting heated trailers. Toronto Sun. Canadian Press. Tents to house asylum seekers are shown at the Canada-United States border in Lacolle, Que., Wednesday, August 9, 2017Graham Hughes / Canadian Press
PRAIDA helps newcomers find a place to live, apply for social assistance or language courses and, look for employment.
The top requests for services come from: Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Colombia, Congo and Romania.
If the asylum seeker arrives during regular business hours, they first connect with PRAIDA. If they arrive after business hours, they are referred to the YMCA residence in Westmount.
The Y houses and feeds refugees and asylum seekers until they receive social assistance in the form of a check.
The stay is covered by a contract between the YMCA and PRAIDA.
In addition to temporary housing, a group of 140 social services organizations in Quebec also help refugees and immigrants, says Andrea Bellemare, CBC news, Canada.
The YMCA residence in Westmount where many asylum seekers stay. Photo (Benjamin Shingler/CBC). “For many asylum seekers in Montreal, the long journey includes stop at YMCA”
Community Services and Activities for Asylum Seekers
The YMCA Residence program partners with PRAIDA to provide a variety of community services and activities for the newly arrived asylum seekers:
- French and English conversation workshops
- Housing, immigration, job search, financial assistance and health workshops
- Information sessions with the Sécurité publique de Montréaland discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- A woman’s group, which helps participants break out of their isolation and empowers them through weekly meetings and activities such as arts and crafts and communal cooking.
- Activities for families
- Psychosocial support services
Through the Short-Term Housing program, the Y operates a Day Centre where asylum seekers receive information and assistance throughout their immigration and integration process.
The Community Initiatives team also provides asylum seekers with:
- an emergency locker room
- a family room with many fun activities for children and parents
- social and cultural outings that foster the social integration of residents and help them become more familiar with Montréal.
If they first stay with the YMCA residence program, they meet with a PRAIDA specialist the next business day. The representative assesses the asylum seeker’s psychosocial and medical needs and makes referrals accordingly.
Asylum Seekers in Canada have access to health care and social services
An asylum seeker can gain access to health care and social services free of charge. Medical coverage is handled by the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).
Once an asylum seeker has received refugee status, he or she submits a request to receive services from the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion (MIDI) and from the Quebec Health Insurance Board (RAMQ).
If refugee status is denied, PRAIDA helps clients:
- Prepare a request for permanent residence for humanitarian reasons
- Prepare for the judiciary review process of the federal court
- Request a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) before being removed to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration
- Assist with steps for their voluntary departure or removal from Canada
Obtaining Work Permits-Who can work and how long does it take?
To obtain a work permit, asylum seekers must first meet eligibility requirements for a refugee claim. This usually happens within the first few days of arrival, but PRAIDA says the unprecedented influx has created delays of more than three months. Claimants can apply for a federal work permit, but the timeframe for obtaining a work permit is about four months and could take longer.
Delays mean claimants could face months on social assistance without an ability to get a job. The Quebec government stops providing financial assistance once a refugee claimant finds a job.
Comparing the Asylum Process in Canada and the United States
Speaking with La Opinion, renowned immigration specialist in Canada, Douglass Cannon put it this way:
“Compared to the asylum processes in the United States, the Canadian system seems more willing to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt. Our provincial governments fund lawyers for those who can not afford one. Since President Trump took office, we have seen more arrivals of people seeking asylum and many coming from the United States,” Cannon said.
“But I want it to be clear that it is not so easy and there are international agreements that forbid us to accept the majority of the refugees who come from the US by land,” affirmed Cannon.
“If you go by land through a gate, with few exceptions, they will send you back,” Cannon said.
“There are exceptions, including having family members who are already residents or protected in Canada.”
“However, if one arrives by air or by sea, or if one enters the country in another way – illegal – then it is possible to ask for asylum.”
Compared to the United States, the Canadian system looks increasingly better to refugees.
In Canada, time limits are imposed to consider cases in a timely manner, and another difference is that “the benefit of the doubt is given to the immigrant,” said the expert.
“Here in Canada you can be recognized as a refugee even if you do not prove you are at immediate risk,” Cannon said. “The reason is that our law considers it very risky to play with people’s lives. We check that there is a reasonable chance of persecution if a refugee were to return.”
However, the Canadian government is concerned about a possible influx of more refugees and people who are losing their TPS in the United States.
“The government is worried,” Cannon said. “It does not help the international community in any way when a neighboring country changes the rules radically…it forces people to look for the most suitable countries.”
“We will continue to defend the integrity of our immigration system and remain careful stewards of an extraordinarily precious asset in this 21st-century world, which is to have a population positively inclined toward immigrants, toward refugees, understanding that being welcoming and open is a source of strength.” Justin Trudeau
When asked why they met refugees outside temporary homes with welcoming signs, Canadian activists and supporters expressed empathy and support:
“We know that in a few years there will be a net benefit because of the arrival of the folks who are here,” said local activist Jaggi Singh.
“That will be a net benefit to our society through a variety of means, through culture, through their contributions, through work, through a lot of things — we know that. We know that previous immigrant populations have done the same thing.” CBC News.
The two leaders have very different views on immigration. Getty. Canadian Prime Minister hinted that his country would continue to welcome refugees without compromising national security.