Skip to Main Content

Who qualifies as a refugee in Canada?

Canada takes in refugees who flee from their country of origin, or the country in which they reside and are afraid for their safety and lives because of a bad political situation or because they are being targeted for discrimination.

A person has to have a well-founded fear of persecution. As per the Geneva Convention, the persecution must also be based on grounds of race, religion, and any other grounds enumerated in the convention.

Canada takes a more relaxed view of who can be a refugee. For example, gender-based persecution is recognized, as is homophobia.

Who can make a claim?

People who are in need of protection who fit into these two categories:

Convention refugee

Convention refugees are people who are outside their home country or the country where they normally live, and who are unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on:

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Political opinion;
  • Nationality; or
  • Membership in a particular social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation.

Person in need of protection

A person in need of protection is a someone whose removal to their home country or country where they normally live would subject them to:

  • A danger of torture;
  • A risk to their life; or
  • A risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

How can I get status as a refugee in Canada?

Outside of Canada

To come to Canada as a refugee, you must be:

  • Referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or another designated referral organization, or
  • Be sponsored by a private sponsorship group.

There are two resettlement classes under which a person can fall: convention refugee abroad class and country of asylum class.

Inside of Canada

If you are applying from within Canada, you can either apply at your port of entry, such as an airport, land border or sea port, or you can apply at a Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office.

An officer will decide if you are eligible. If you are eligible at the port of entry, then you have only 15 days to complete all the forms in the application package and submit them to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). You will also be given a date for the IRB hearing.

If you are applying directly at the CIC office, all the necessary forms must be filled out and you have to bring them with you. If the officer at the office deems you eligible, then you will be given a date for an IRB hearing.


Once you have been deemed eligible to apply for refugee status, by an officer, the officer will forward you claim to the IRB. The IRB is an administrative tribunal that general holds hearings for people who make refugee claims in Canada and then decides whether the person is a Convention refugee in need of protection or not.

Usually a lawyer represents the refugee claimant, as this is a complex administrative process that culminates in a refugee hearing at which your status is decided. Many refugee claimants are not able to afford a lawyer but provincial/territorial legal aid bodies are often able to provide legal aid in such situations.

Note: if you are applying for refugee status in Quebec, be aware the province has it’s own rules and procedures in selecting refugees.

Given how complex the refugee law system is in Canada, people who are applying for refugee status should do so with the help of a lawyer.

Read more:

Refugees and Asylum

Refugees and other clienteles Quebec