2022-04-26T10:50:29-04:00Feb 9, 2022|

How to immigrate to Canada as a refugee

Canada has a long history of welcoming refugees forced to flee their countries and seek protection elsewhere. Often, refugees have been stripped of their basic human rights and lived in fear of violence and persecution because of their identity, beliefs, religion, or ongoing wars in their home country. 

Canada’s refugee protection system offers refugees more than just a safe haven—it gives them a chance to restart their lives afresh in Canada. This resource provides an overview of how you can immigrate to Canada as a refugee, including eligibility criteria for various refugee classes, the application process, and the settlement assistance you can expect after you arrive in Canada.

In this article:

Refugee protection programs in Canada

Canada has two main refugee protection programs. These are:

The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program 

This program is meant for people who need protection from outside Canada. It offers refugees who have been forced to leave their home countries an opportunity to start their life afresh in Canada.

You cannot directly apply for resettlement in Canada. Instead, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) works with private sponsors to identify refugees and help them settle in Canada.

The In-Canada Asylum Program 

The In-Canada Asylum Program is meant for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada. These refugees, also known as persons in need of protection, are at risk of cruel punishment or torture in their home countries or have a legitimate fear of persecution if they return home.

Please note that people who have been convicted of serious criminal offences or who have previously been denied refugee claims by Canada cannot seek asylum here. 

When you make a refugee claim from within Canada, the government decides whether your case can be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which is responsible for making decisions on immigration and refugees.

Eligibility criteria to settle in Canada as a refugee

To settle in Canada as a refugee from abroad, you must be referred by either the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a designated referral organisation, or by a private sponsorship group. You cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement.

You can only be referred if you qualify for one of Canada’s two refugee classes:

Convention refugee abroad class

This class is for people who are currently outside their home country (for example, in a refugee camp in another country) and cannot return due to a legitimate fear of persecution on the basis of their religion, race, political opinion, nationality, or social group (such as gender or sexual orientation).

Refugees under this class can be sponsored by the Government of Canada, private sponsor groups, or a mix of both (Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees). You can also qualify as a Convention refugee if you have the funds to support yourself and your family in Canada after you’re referred by an approved referral agency or group.

Country of Asylum class

This class is also meant for people who are outside their home country or country of residence. You may qualify under the Country of Asylum class if you’ve been adversely affected by civil war, armed conflict, or have been denied basic human rights for a prolonged period of time.

Under this class, once you’ve been referred, you can either be privately sponsored or can rely on your own funds to support yourself and your family after you land in Canada.

The Government has also created the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), which helps skilled refugees immigrate to Canada through existing economic immigration programs. To qualify for this pilot, you must be a Convention or Country of Asylum refugee currently outside Canada. You must also be eligible for one of the following economic immigration streams: Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP), Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), or the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP).

Who is not eligible to settle in Canada as a refugee? 

You will not be eligible to come to Canada as a refugee if:

  • You have been offered resettlement support in another country or have other stable options for protection.
  • You get citizenship of another country.
  • You choose to return to your home country or country of residence.
  • The situation in your country has changed and your original reasons for leaving no longer exist.

How can I go to Canada as a refugee – The application process

  1. Get a referral from the UNHCR for resettlement in Canada: You will need to register with a UNHCR office in your country of residence and provide proof to support your claim for refugee status. After assessing your claim, the UNHCR will refer you to a country for resettlement based on your family links, eligibility criteria and application processing times in various resettlement countries, your language abilities, culture, needs, and if possible, your preference. You may not be able to decide which country you can settle in.
  2. Fill in the application package: Once you’ve been referred for resettlement in Canada, you need to apply as a Convention refugee or as a humanitarian-protected person abroad by filling out the application package.
  3. Submit your application: If you are a privately-sponsored refugee, your sponsor will submit your application to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O) on your behalf. For government-assisted refugees, the IRCC office in your country will guide you on submitting your completed forms.
  4. Get matched to a private sponsor, if applicable: If you aren’t being fully-sponsored by the government, the IRCC will match you with a private sponsor who can raise funds and donations to provide you with financial assistance once you arrive.
  5. Take a medical test: You and your family will need to undergo medical tests before coming to Canada. The IRCC or International Organization for Migration (IOM) will contact you with more details on this.
  6. Clear criminal background checks: Before you’re selected for resettlement in Canada, you need to clear security and criminal background checks.

The province of Quebec has its own selection process for refugees. You still need to be referred by the UNHCR, but your application will be examined by the provincial government to ensure you’ll be able to integrate into the community.

Who can sponsor refugees in Canada

Besides the Government of Canada, private groups can sponsor eligible refugees for resettlement in Canada under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. However, individuals in Canada cannot sponsor refugees on their own. Individuals interested in sponsoring refugees can join one of the following groups:

  • Sponsorship agreement holders (SAH): These groups sign agreements with the Canadian government to help support refugees when they come to Canada. Constituent groups work with SAHs under their agreement to sponsor refugees.
  • Groups of Five: These are groups of five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents who sponsor refugees and help them settle in their communities.
  • Community Sponsors: Organisations or associations that sponsor refugees.

Private sponsorship helps additional refugees resettle in Canada, over and above the ones who’re supported by the government. In addition to cases referred by the UNHCR, private sponsor groups can identify refugee applicants on their own through referrals from overseas contacts, friends, community members, or their broader network.

While the financial and initial settlement support provided to government-assisted and privately-sponsored refugees is similar, private sponsors are also responsible for providing social and emotional support to the refugees they sponsor.

Interested in co-sponsoring a refugee?
Contact a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) in your area to inquire about partnering in the private sponsorship of a refugee.

Note: Quebec’s Program for Refugees Abroad allows collective sponsorship of refugees from abroad. 

Refugee resettlement assistance provided by Canada

As a refugee, you may need support as you begin your journey of settling in Canada. The Canadian government works with its partners to ensure refugees have the resources and support they need to adapt to life in Canada.

For government-sponsored refugees, Canada’s Resettlement Assistance Program provides essential services and settlement support, including:

  • Income support for refugees who cannot pay for their basic needs. You can get financial support for up to one year or until you find employment to support yourself.
  • Essential services during your first four to six weeks in Canada, including welcome at your port of entry, support in finding temporary and permanent accommodation, basic information about Canada, an assessment of your needs, and referrals to other settlement services and provincial programs.
  • Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) coverage for pre-departure medical services and until you’re eligible for provincial health coverage.

Privately sponsored refugees receive financial and emotional support from their sponsors for the length of the sponsorship period or until they can support themselves. Private sponsorships typically last one year and cover housing, clothing, food, and other basic needs.

In the case of Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) refugees, the Resettlement Assistance Program and private sponsors each provide six months of financial support. In addition, private sponsors provide up to a year of social and emotional support.

All refugees who settle in Canada also have access to newcomer settlement programs run by provincial and territorial governments and their partner organizations to help them adapt to life in Canada. These settlement programs help all newcomers, including refugees, with:

  • Links to community services to fulfill their settlement needs.
  • Language training in English and French.
  • Employment support, such as assistance with job search.
  • Networking within their community.
  • Access to support services, such as childcare, public transport, crisis counselling, translation and interpretation services, and more.

As you transition into your new life as a refugee in Canada, Arrive’s resources can guide you on various aspects of settling down, including housing, employment, healthcare, finances, and more.

Note: When you start looking for your first job in Canada, many employers will ask you to submit your education credentials assessment (ECA) to verify that your foreign credentials are valid and equivalent to Canadian ones. Refugees who’ve been displaced from their country due to adverse circumstances and have limited proof of their academic certifications may be able to get their ECA through the World Education Services (WES) Gateway program. To qualify, you must:

  • Currently live in Canada
  • Have at least one credible documentation issued by your academic institution
  • Have been educated in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, or Venezuela
  • Be referred to WES by a designed Canadian partner organization.

Will I need to pay to cover the cost of my sponsorship as a refugee?

As a refugee, you do not need to pay your sponsor to cover the cost of your sponsorship. Your sponsor, whether it’s the government or a private organization, will bear the processing cost of your application and cover your essential financial needs in Canada until you’re able to do so.

You will, however, need to pay for your travel documents, such as your passport, and transportation costs to come to Canada. In case you’re unable to cover these costs, you may be able to qualify for the Immigration Loans Program.

Where can I settle as a refugee in Canada?

When you move to Canada as a government-assisted refugee, you cannot always choose which part of the country you want to settle in. Instead, this decision is made based on a matching process. The Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O) works with the IRCC to understand your background and unique needs in order to decide which city will suit you best.

The ROC-O will keep in mind factors such as the languages you speak, where your friends and family in Canada reside, your medical needs, your alignment with the ethnic, cultural, and religious communities in the area, and the availability of settlement services while selecting a city for you to settle in. Most government-assisted refugees are resettled in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.

Other FAQs for refugees settling in Canada

How long does it take to get PR in Canada for refugees?

When you’re selected for resettlement in Canada as a refugee, you will receive a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR). You will receive your Permanent Resident card by mail a few weeks after you arrive in Canada.

How long does it take for refugees to get citizenship in Canada?

Refugees who settle in Canada are permanent residents and can apply for citizenship in a few years, once they meet the eligibility criteria. To qualify, you must have been physically present in Canada for at least 1,095 days in the five years immediately preceding the date of your citizenship application. Of this, you must have lived in Canada as a permanent resident for at least two years (730 days). Each day you were physically present in Canada as an authorized temporary resident or protected person before you became a permanent resident counts as half a day towards the calculation of your physical presence in Canada.

Can a refugee buy a house in Canada?

After you arrive in Canada as a refugee and receive permanent residence, you enjoy all the rights and freedoms offered to PR holders, including the right to buy and own property. However, real estate in Canada can be quite expensive. It usually takes newcomers to Canada some time to build a good credit score and qualify for a mortgage.