Federal Government Changes COVID-19 Measures to Allow Certain Refugees Into Canada

As of midnight March 24th, 2020, Canada had completely closed its border to asylum seekers, prompting widespread criticism from refugee advocates. But on April 20, 2020, the Government of Canada released a new Order in Council (OIC) which restores certain provisions of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), meaning some asylum seekers can now enter Canada again. This OIC is in effect from April 22, 2020, until May 21, 2020.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that refugee claimants arriving at official land border offices who meet specific criteria can now file refugee claims again, marking a small shift in the ban. However, Asylum seekers who attempt to cross irregularly will still be turned back to the United States.

On April 20, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair confirmed that at least 10 people had crossed irregularly into Canada since the ban and that they were all returned to the United States.

This update represents an important change to the unprecedented border closure due to the COVID-19 crisis. The following refugee claimants can now enter Canada from the United States at official land border crossings:

  • The refugee claimant has a family member who is in Canada and is a Canadian citizen.
  • The refugee claimant has a family member who is in Canada and is a protected person, permanent resident, or a person who has had a removal order stayed.
  • The refugee claimant has a family member who is at least 18 years of age in Canada, who has made a claim for refugee protection that has been referred to the Board for determination (unless, the claim has been withdrawn, abandoned, or rejected).
  • The refugee claimant has a family member in Canada who is at least 18 years of age and is the holder of a work permit or study permit (unless that work or study permit has become invalid in specific circumstances).
  • The refugee claimant is a person who is a minor who is not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian, does not have a spouse or common-law partner and does not have a parent or legal guardian in Canada or the United states.
  • The refugee claimant is the holder of a permanent resident visa or temporary resident visa, a temporary resident permit, a travel document, refugee travel papers issued by the Minister, or a temporary travel document.
  • The refugee claimant is seeking to re-enter Canada in circumstances where they have been refused entry to the United States without having a refugee claim adjudicated there, or a is a permanent resident who has been ordered removed from the United States and is being returned to Canada.
  • The refugee claimant is charged in the United States or has been convicted or an offence punishable with the death penalty in the United States or is charged in a country other than the United States with, or has been convicted or, an offence punishable with the death penalty in that country.

This temporary legislative change represents a restoration of the “status quo,” according to Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. While critics are “cautiously optimistic,” the restrictions on entry into Canada for asylum seekers are still extremely tight and refugee advocates continue to call for the government to reopen the border to all asylum seekers.