Over the past year, there have been major humanitarian crises around the world that have resulted in large numbers of displaced persons and refugees. In the summer of 2021, the end of western involvement in Afghanistan led to many people fleeing that country and becoming refugees. Currently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has resulted in some 2.8 million refugees fleeing from Ukraine mostly across Ukraine’s land borders into other European countries. Some sources are estimating the conflict will eventually result in around 5 million people becoming refugees. Although most of the refugees from Ukraine are currently still in Europe, eventually some will begin looking for other countries to settle in. Some of these refugees may even end up in Canada, as the Canadian Government has made a commitment to welcoming Ukrainian refugees to Canada on both temporary and permanent grounds. Given that Canada may see an influx of refugees as a result of the conflict, it is important for those coming to Canada to understand how to navigate the immigration and refugee system in order to have the best chance at staying in Canada.
Before delving into the workings of Canada’s refugee system, it is important to know the definition that Canada uses for refugees. Canada defines refugees as people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugees are unable to return to their home country. A further distinction is made between refugees and immigrants in that immigrants choose to leave their country and settle permanently in another country. Refugees are forced to flee.
The Canadian refugee system is split into two main streams. There is the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who are making a claim from outside Canada and there is the In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims who are already within Canada.
Refugees can come to Canada through the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement program through the United Nations Refugee Agency or through private sponsorship. Through the United Nations, refugees cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement, and it takes some time to process refugee cases.
Private sponsors have sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada whereby they promise to support refugees. Known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders, the private sponsor must financially support refugees during their sponsorship, provide settlement services to sponsored refugees and help them adjust to life in their community. There are other groups, such as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors who also sponsor refugees, so there are many options available for those looking to come to Canada through private sponsorship.
For Ukrainians outside of Canada, a visa is still required for travel to Canada. Although Canada is unveiling programs that will expedite the process of Ukrainians coming to Canada in light of the circumstances, there is still some visa requirements to apply for programs such as the Canada-Ukraine Authorization For Emergency Travel program that is being unveiled. The Canadian government has indicated that the visa requirement balances the speed of expediting the immigration process with Ukrainians with safety concerns about who is let into Canada.
Most of the typical visa requirements for travel to Canada from Ukraine have been waived based on the government’s plan, however, background screening and biometric information, such as fingerprints will need to be supplied by prospective travellers before leaving for Canada in order to obtain a visa. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has said they have set up visa applications centres in countries that neighbour Ukraine, such as Poland and Romania. Although European Union countries have waived the visa requirement they had for travellers from Ukraine, there is no indication that Canada will do the same, despite taking measures to make it easier for Ukrainians to come to Canada.
For those already in Canada, the asylum process is less complicated. Refugee protection is available to those in Canada who have both a well-founded fear of persecution or are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries.
Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum, however. People are not eligible to make a refugee claim if they have been convicted of serious criminal offences or have had a previous refugee claim denied by Canada.
In order to make a claim after already arriving in Canada, you can submit the claim online through the refugee protection portal. A complete application is required, including all of your support documentation as well as the Basis of Claim form. It is a good idea to retain legal help in order to prepare any application.
After refugees arrive in Canada, there are services available in order to help them adjust to life in Canada. Under the Resettlement Assistance Program, the Canadian Government helps government-assisted refugees with essential services and income support once they are in Canada in order to help them settle. Income support is available for up to one year for refugees who come to Canada who cannot support themselves. The amount is based on basic social assistance rates in each province and territory. There is additional support given during the first four to six weeks after refugees arrive in Canada in the form of helping to find a temporary place to live, helping to find a permanent place to live, assessing their needs, information and help getting to know Canada, and referrals to other federal and provincial programs and to other settlement services. There are further services available that help newcomers get language training in English and French, and access more support services as may be needed.
Garson Immigration Law is a firm exclusively dedicated to the practice of immigration law. We successfully guide clients through the immigration process, with an eye toward the ever-changing regulations in light of recent humanitarian crises around the world. We will work to find an effective solution for your individual immigration needs and ensure you are positioned for success with respect to your application.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration changes in response to conflict. If you have any questions about if you will be able to travel during these uncertain times, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.