Can I make a refugee claim in Canada if I’m coming from the U.S.?

As of March 25, 2023, the Safe Third Country Agreement applies across the entire Canada-United States (U.S.) land border. This includes internal waterways such as lakes and rivers.

If you're a refugee coming from the U.S. and you try to cross the border, you'll be sent back to the U.S. to make your refugee claim. This will happen unless one of the exceptions listed in Step 2 applies to you.

Before you make a refugee claim in Canada, it's a good idea to understand the eligibility rules to figure out if you can make a claim.

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) says that you might not be able to make a refugee claim in Canada if you're coming from the United States (U.S.).

The STCA says that a person coming from the U.S. should make their refugee claim in the U.S. because the U.S. is a safe country.

There are some exceptions. But even if an exception applies to you, you also have to show that you meet all the other eligibility requirements to make a refugee claim.

Read more about the exceptions in Step 2.

When you make your claim at a , such as an airport, land border crossing, or marine port, a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer interviews you to decide if you're eligible to make a refugee claim. If the STCA applies to you, you will not be able to make a claim and you will be returned to the U.S.

You're also not eligible to make a refugee claim if you already made one in a country with an information sharing agreement with Canada, and that country provides confirmation of your previous claim. The list of countries includes the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

If this applies to you, get legal advice right away. You'll be able to apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA).

A PRRA is a written application where you explain why you're afraid to return to your country and you provide documents to support your fear. Unlike other PRRA applicants, you must have a PRRA hearing with an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officer. This hearing is also called an interview.

Risk of detention

You might be detained at your eligibility interview. Some reasons a CBSA officer might detain you include:

  • they need to confirm your identity
  • they think you're a security threat in Canada
  • they need time to get travel documents to remove you from Canada and they think you won't show up for your removal

You have the right to know the reason you're being detained. You also have the right to a hearing within 48 hours of being detained and the right to hire a legal representative.

Get legal help

You should try to get legal advice before making your refugee claim. A lawyer can help you figure out if the STCA applies to your situation. It's also important to get legal advice if any of your identity or travel documents are false or if you made a refugee claim in another country.

Staff at the Peace Bridge Newcomer Centre (Buffalo), Vive Refugee Shelter (Buffalo), Freedom House (Detroit), and Plattsburgh Cares (Plattsburgh) can guide you through the process of making a refugee claim in Canada. They might also be able to help you schedule your eligibility interview with a CBSA officer.

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