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Restrictions on claims at the United States border

Many people are ineligible to make a refugee claim at the Canada-United States border. This is because the Canadian government has put restrictions on refugee claims started at the border, because it considers the US a “safe third country.”

There are four categories of people who are allowed to make a refugee claim at the Canada-US land border because they are considered exceptions. These are listed below.

Unless one of the exceptions applies to you, you will be told to make an asylum claim in the United States, and you will not allowed to enter Canada.

Who is restricted from starting a claim?

The restrictions affect refugee claims started at the Canada-US land border. These are usually refugee claimants who are travelling by car, bus or train.

The restrictions do not apply if you are arriving at a Canadian airport or seaport, even if the plane or boat is coming from the US. They do not affect claims started inside Canada at a Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) office (inland claims). The restrictions also do not apply if you qualify for an exception.

What are the exceptions?

There are four major exceptions. If one of these applies, the restrictions do not affect you and you should be able to start a refugee claim at the Canada-US border. Note, however, that there still may be other restrictions not related to your entry from the US that could make you ineligible to make a claim.

  1. Close family members

  2. There is an exception if you have close family members in Canada. This includes:

    • partners (married, common-law or same-sex spouses)
    • children
    • parents or legal guardians
    • siblings (sisters, brothers, including half-siblings)
    • grandparents
    • grandchildren
    • aunts and uncles (blood relatives)
    • nieces and nephews (blood relatives)
  3. Unaccompanied minors

  4. There is an exception for children under 18 years old who are travelling alone. This exception does not apply if either of the child’s parents are in the United States.

  5. Document holder exception

  6. There is an exception for claimants with a valid Canadian visa, work permit or study permit. Transit visas do not count.

  7. Public interest exception

  8. This is for claimants who could face the death penalty in their country or the United States.

Can I try to make a refugee claim at a later date from inside Canada?

No, once you have been found ineligible at the Canada-US border and returned to the United States,you cannot make a claim in Canada.

If you try to make a claim inside Canada at a Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) office on a later date, you would most likely be put in immigration detention and you would not get a refugee hearing. You may not even get a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), the evaluation of the danger or persecution you face in your country, before you are deported.

Where can I get help in the United States?

Organizations in the United States can help you figure out if you are eligible to make a claim at the US-Canada border. Viva, Inc. (Viva la casa) is the largest immigration shelter in the US and provides assistance to refugees who are crossing into Canada. It is located in Buffalo, New York

See also the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) website on the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).