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Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs)
Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs)

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 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) 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 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) 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 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) website on the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs)

Under the refugee law system, some countries are listed as Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs). If you are from one of these countries, you can still make a refugee claim, but your claim will be treated differently. The timelines for making your claim will be much faster.

How does being from one of the Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) affect my hearing date?

You will not have as much time before for your hearing if you are from a DCO. The date of your hearing depends on how you started your claim:
  • if you are making a claim when you arrive in Canada, your hearing will be within 45 days of your claim being sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
  • if you are making a claim from inside Canada, your hearing will be within 30 days of your Basis of Claim form being sent to the IRB

The exact date of your hearing is on your “Notice to appear for a hearing.” You will also have to work faster to get your documents to support your claim, since these are due 10 days before your hearing.

As of July 2015, refugee claimants from DCO countries whose claims are refused have access to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) as a result of a successful constitutional challenge brought to the Federal Court.

What happens if I lose my claim?

If you are in Canada and have had either a refugee claim or a permanent resident application refused, there may still be options for you.

Canada does not want to send people back to a country where they will be in danger or would face the risk of persecution. It is not guaranteed, however, that an applicant will be found eligible under any of these processes.

Find out if you can use any of these options to stay in Canada:

Pre-removal risk assessment

If you are told to leave Canada, you may be able to apply under this process if a year has passed since your refugee claim was refused (3 years must have passed if you are from a DCO country). If you meet this timeline, you will be given a PRRA form that has to be filed within 15 days. You then have 15 more days to new evidence of the risk you would face if returned to your country.

Apply to the Refugee Appeal Division at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

If you received a negative decision on your refugee claim, you may be able to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. But some failed claimants are not eligible to apply. Find out more about the RAD.

Apply to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review

You can have a lawyer apply to the Federal Court of Canada to review the negative decision made on your refugee claim, or a decision made on an appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division appeal.

Applying for permanent resident status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds

In some circumstances, people are allowed to become permanent residents under this type of application which is an exception to the rule that all applicants for permanent resident status apply from outside Canada.

Can I get help from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) if I am from a designated country?

You might be able to get assistance from LAO. Refugee claims from all countries go through a screening process to determine if they are eligible.

Will I be able to get a work permit?

Claimants are eligible for a work permit after they have submitted their Basis of Claim (BOC) form to the Refugee Protection Division. If, however, you are from a Designated Country of Origin, you will not be given a work permit until you get a positive decision on your claim or once 180 days have passed since your claim was referred to the IRB.

Will I get health care?

As a result of successful litigation at Federal Court that found the denial of healthcare to certain refugees unconstitutional, healthcare has been restored to pre-2012 coverage. The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides limited, temporary coverage of health-care benefits to people in the following groups who aren’t eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance
  • protected persons, including resettled refugees;
  • refugee claimants; and
  • certain other groups.
The IFHP does not cover the cost of health-care services or products that a person may claim (even in part) under a public or private health insurance plan. The IFHP does not coordinate benefits with other insurance plans/programs so co-payments aren’t possible. If you are a refugee selected for resettlement, you may also be covered for certain medical services before you leave for Canada. Find out:
  • if you are eligible for pre-departure medical services and
  • which services are covered.
For information about the benefits available, see Interim Federal Health Program: Summary of Coverage.

Different process for DCO claimants

There are other ways that your claim will be treated differently. For example, if you receive a negative decision and you are from a Designated Country of Origin, you cannot apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), a review of the risk of danger or persecution you would face in your country before deportation, for 36 months after you get your decision. (Other claimants may apply after 12 months.) This means that you could be deported without your risk of danger or persecution being reviewed. The only exception would be if there have been major changes in your country between the decision and your deportation and your country has been put on a list by IRCC.
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