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What Is COVID-19's Impact on Refugee Claimants and Asylum Seekers?

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Making a refugee claim in Canada is still an option during the COVID pandemic. However, there are travel restrictions for persons travelling to Canada by plane or by land.

Persons who have resided in the United States for 14 days prior to travelling to Canada may be able to travel to Canada by plane. The Canadian government has made an order taking effect on March 20, 2020 that persons entering Canada by land will have their refugee application “deferred” for 30 days and they will be directed back to the United States to return 30 days later.

For persons already in Canada, the government has created new procedures for refugee claimants to navigate. Below is a summary of the changes.

New Refugee Claims

Refugee claimants who have already entered Canada and wish to make a refugee application can do so by email. The IRCC government office in Etobicoke is no longer accepting in person refugee application. Our office has filed refugee applications by email to using the following information:

· Signed Use of Representative Form

· Passport identity page of the claimant(s)

· Proof of address in Canada (for example, utility bill, lease agreement, letter from shelter, etc.)

· Biographical information (for example, name, date of birth, country of citizenship, etc.)

After IRCC receives the emailed application, the IRCC will start processing the refugee claim. The benefit to filing a refugee application by email is that the claimant becomes entitled to health care (under the Interim Federal Health Program) once IRCC emails an acknowledgement of claim (current wait time is 1 business day). Another benefit is the claimant’s application starts to be processed, which avoids the inevitable backlog once the IRCC office re-opens.

Once the IRCC re-opens their office, the claimant will be contacted by the IRCC to bring in their original completed forms and original passport.

Basis of Claim (“BOC”) Form: for any claimants who have a deadline between February 15 and April 15, 2020, the deadline to file their BOC Form is extended to May 30, 2020.

Refugee Hearings

All refugee hearings have been suspended until further notice. Despite suspending all previously scheduled hearings, the IRB may still proceed with a previously scheduled in-person hearing. However, it will not do so without first providing 30 days’ notice. 

In other words, if you are a claimant who had an upcoming hearing and there are more than 30 days before the previously scheduled hearing date, your hearing has only been provisionally suspended and the IRB may still decide to resume your hearing. As such, you should continue in your efforts to collect your supporting evidence.   If there are less than 30 days until your previously scheduled hearing date, your hearing will not proceed (subject to some exceptions).

Postponed hearings will be scheduled promptly once the IRB resumes in-person hearings.

Expansion of the File Review Process

During this period that in-person refugee hearings are suspended, the Board is hoping to expand the number of cases that can be determined through the file review process (i.e. the claim can be decided based on the documentary evidence alone, without the need for a hearing).   This is a good opportunity for refugee claimants who qualify for the file review process to ensure that their documentary evidence has been sent to the Board, along with any submissions explaining why their claim is appropriate for the file review process.

For more information about the file review process and what types of claim qualify, please see:

Further, the Board is also hoping to finalize pending decisions during this period of time that it is not conducting in-person refugee hearings.  Refugee claimants who previously had their hearings and are waiting on decisions should consider submitting any new evidence they may have that post-dates their refugee hearing, as they are entitled to do so up until the Board has rendered a decision in their case.

Refugee Appeals (Refugee Appeal Division)

If you have a notice of appeal or appeal record due between January 1, 2020 and April 15, 2020 inclusive, the deadline is extended to May 30, 2020.

Please contact one of the Toronto refugee lawyers at Battista Migration Law Group at or 416-203-2899 ext. 30 if you have questions about how the COVID pandemic will impact on your refugee or appeal proceedings at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Our office is currently open for phone or webcam consultations and appointments from 9:00am to 5:00pm from Monday to Friday.


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