Canada will still accept refugees from the US

Jamaica to Canada

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

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Dear Mr Brown,

I heard that refugees who enter Canada from the US will no longer be accepted. Please explain why the law will change.

— DW

Dear DW:

The Safe Third Country Agreement (Agreement) is a treaty which came into effect in December 2004, between the governments of Canada and the United States to address the flow of refugee claimants at the shared land border. The agreement is a deal in which both countries recognise each other as “safe” countries for asylum seekers to submit a claim.

In general, the agreement requires refugee claimants to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive at, be it Canada or the United States, unless otherwise qualified for an exception.

However, the fairness and reasonableness of the system in the United States is now being scrutinised, in light of the recent policy changes regarding the detention of refugee claimants, who are being placed in the criminal justice system. There has been global outrage over the Trump Administration's 'zero-tolerance' immigration policy and the forcible separation of children from their parents.

Influx of asylum seekers

In light of this, officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had advised Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to raise the agreement as a key issue at a meeting with US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, since due to the recent influx of asylum seekers to Canada, the agreement is no longer working as intended. More than 36,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada irregularly from the US, since the start of 2017.

Asylum seekers are evading the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement by crossing into Canada between ports of entry where the agreement does not apply. A memo regarding this issue was written by Canadian immigration officials months before both Immigration Minister Hussen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly defended it against questions on whether the agreement needed to be changed to better address the flow of tens of thousands of migrants crossing the border at unofficial points of entry.

Public rhetoric

Mr Trudeau said in the House of Commons on May 1, 2018 that the agreement “allows for good management of asylum requests”. Mr Hussen, on the same day, also praised the agreement as a “great tool” and “amazing experience”.

There is concern regarding the inconsistency between public rhetoric and internal correspondence.

Recent polling in Canada has found that Canadians have stronger negative views of immigration than they did in 2017, with 54 per cent of respondents saying they believe Canada is too welcoming to immigrants.

No change in law

However, irrespective of all this, Canadian officials did review their classification of the US as a safe third country in early 2017. The conclusion of that review was that the US “continues to meet the requirements for designation as a safe third country”.

Accordingly, the law will not change and so refugees will continue to be accepted from the United States legal ports of entry.

Please visit for additional information on Canadian Permanent Residence programmes, including Express Entry, The Study & Work programme, Visas or Appeals, etc.

Antonn Brown, BA, (Hons), LLB, MSc, RCIC, is an immigration counsel and an accredited Canadian education agent of JAMAICA2CANADA.COM — a Canadian immigration & education firm in Kingston. Send questions/comments to

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