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The Canada-US border is now open to some refugee claimants

After being closed to refugees for over one month, some people fleeing persecution can now make claims at the Canada/U.S. border.

On April 20, 2020, the federal government issued a new Order in Council allowing people to make refugee claims if they fall within one of the exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement. The main exceptions allow the following people to make refugee claims at the Canada/U.S. border:

- People with a family member (spouse, common-law partner, legal guardian, child, father/mother, brother/sister, grandmother/grandfather, grandchild, uncle/aunt, niece/nephew) who is in Canada and that family member is

  • a Canadian citizen,

  • a Permanent Resident,

  • a Convention Refugee / Protected Person,

  • a Refugee claimant who is 18 years of age or over

  • a person who has been accepted in principle on humanitarian and compassionate grounds

  • 18 years of age or over and is in Canada on a work over study permit.

- Unaccompanied minors (children under 18) if they are coming to Canada alone, do not have a parent in the United States, and are not married or in a common-law relationship,

- People who hold a valid visa to enter Canada, or who don’t need a visa to enter Canada;

- Stateless persons who come to Canada directly or indirectly from a designated country where they have lived, or been “habitually resident”, including the US.

Contact us to find out about other exceptions.

The situation for people who attempt to make claims at other points (crossing in between official Ports of Entry, marine arrivals, air arrivals form the US) remains the same: they will be directed back to the U.S. with a notice that they can return once the border closure is over. Therefore, individuals that enter Canada through irregular border crossings, and not at official land border crossings, will still be returned to the US.

Under the previous Order in Council, the Canada-US border was closed to most persons seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada. As a result, everyone trying to make a refugee claim at the Canada-US border would be returned to the US, subject to a few exceptions.

Refugee advocates were concerned that this blanket closure was unnecessary and harmful to refugees, particularly due to media reports that the US was not respecting assurances it had made to Canada that refugees would not be detained or deported.

The exceptions described above come from an agreement between Canada and the US called the Safe Third Country Agreement. Under this agreement, both countries recognize one another as a safe place for refugee claimants to seek asylum and therefore bar refugee claimants at official land border crossings who have entered the other country first, subject to the above exceptions.

As such, the changes that came into effect on April 22, 2020 more or less restore the pre-COVID rules for making refugee claims at the Canada-US border.

The effective period of the latest Order in Council is from April 22, 2020 until May 21, 2020.


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