On 29 December 2004, the US-Canada Safe Third Country
Agreement came into effect, closing the border to many
people making a refugee claim at the US-Canadian land border. For
many refugee claimants, the safe third country rule means that if they
apply at a land border they will be rejected by Canada without ever
being able to present their refugee claim. However, there are
exceptions to this rule.
This document is intended to give basic information
people considering making a refugee claim in Canada or to their
Is the US-Canada border now closed to refugee
No, the border is not closed to all refugee
claimants. If you meet one of the exceptions to the safe third
country rule, you will be able to present your refugee claim in Canada.
What are the exceptions to the safe third country rule?
You can still make a refugee claim in Canada at a land border point:
- If you have in Canada:
o A spouse or common-law partner*
o A legal guardian
o A child
o A father or mother
o A brother or sister
o A grandfather or grandmother
o A grandchild
o An uncle or aunt
o A nephew or niece
that family member is:
o A Canadian citizen
o A permanent resident
o A protected person (i.e. determined to be a refugee
or a person in need of protection)
o Accepted in principle on humanitarian and
compassionate grounds (removal order stayed under Immigration and
Refugee Protection Regulations 233)
o 18 years of age or over and is a refugee claimant
(and the claim has not been rejected, withdrawn, found abandoned or
o 18 years of age or over and is in Canada on a work
permit or study permit (but check the exceptions)
* a common-law partner is a person (of the same or opposite
sex) with whom you are cohabiting in a conjugal relationship and have
cohabited for at least a year.
- If you are under 18 years, you are not
accompanied by your father, mother or legal guardian, you are unmarried
your mother, father nor legal guardian is in Canada or the US.
If you are a national of a country to which
Canada has temporarily suspended removals (currently, Afghanistan,
Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe).
This exception does not apply if you are
to Canada on criminality grounds. [this exception was removed July 23, 2009]
- If you have been charged with or convicted
of an offence punishable with the death penalty in the country where
the charge or conviction was made. (However, you may be ineligible to
make a claim
on grounds of criminality).
- If you have a valid visa to enter Canada,
other than a transit visa.
- If you come from a country for whose
nationals Canada does not require a visa but the US does (currently Antigua
Barbuda, Barbados, Botswana, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Namibia,
New Guinea, Republic of (South) Korea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia,
Vincent, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Western Samoa.)
How can I prove that I meet one of the exceptions?
If you arrive at a border point and make a refugee claim, an
immigration officer will interview you to see if you meet any of the
exceptions. The officer will take into account what you say and
will look at any documents you provide. The officer may also do
some research (for example, if you say you have a family member in
Canada, the officer will look for that person in the immigration
databases and may try to speak to them on the
telephone). You should try to bring with you documents that show
meet an exception. If you have a family member in Canada, you
know how to contact that person on the day you make your claim in
What will happen if an immigration officer decides I meet an
exception but later it turns out not to be true?
Deliberately giving false information to an immigration officer can
have very serious consequences. If you falsely claim to meet one
exceptions and the Canadian government later finds out that you did not
the questions truthfully, the Canadian government can take away your
to make a refugee claim (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Does the safe third country rule apply to all refugee claimants
arriving from the US?
No, the rule applies only if you make a refugee claim at a land port of
entry. The rule does not apply if you arrive by air or by water:
claims made at an airport, port or ferry landing are not affected by
the safe third country rule, even though you arrived from the US.
The rule does not apply to claims made inside Canada: if you enter
Canada from the US and later make a refugee claim at an immigration
office within Canada, you are not affected
by the safe third country rule.
If I have made an asylum application in the US, does this affect my
right to make a claim in Canada?
No. If you meet one of the exceptions to the safe third country
rule, you can make a claim in Canada whether or not you have applied
for asylum in the US.
How can I get advice on my own case?
- Vermont Refugee Assistance: Tel. 802-223-6840, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, www.vermontrefugeeassistance.org.
- Freedom House, Detroit, Tel. 313-964-4320, www.freedomhousedetroit.org
- VIVE, Buffalo, Tel. 716-892-4354, www.vivelacasa.org
- Committee to Aid Refugees, Montreal, Tel. 514-272-6060, ext 5, email
firstname.lastname@example.org (for people destined to Montreal or elsewhere in
- FCJ Refugee Centre, Toronto, Tel. 416-469-9754, email
email@example.com (for people destined to Toronto), http://www.fcjrefugeecentre.org
Where can I find more information?
- For the Canada Border Services Agency explanation of safe third country, go to http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/agency-agence/stca-etps-eng.html
- The information above is a summary of the
main rules on safe third country. For full details, consult the
Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, as amended 12 October
2004. The amendments are published in the Canada Gazette, Part
II, 3 November 2004, SOR/2004-217, available at http://canadagazette.gc.ca/partII/2004/20041103/html/sor217-e.html. Note that even if you meet an exception to the safe third country rule,
you may still be ineligible to make a claim in Canada, for example if
have previously made a refugee claim in Canada, if you have been
refugee protection by another country or if you are inadmissible on
criminality or security grounds. See Immigration and Refugee Protection
Act, section 101. The Act is available at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/I-2.5/index.html.
- For the text of the agreement, go to http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/about/laws-policy/safe-third.asp
- For instructions to officers in Citizenship
and Immigration Canada’s manual, go to http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/manuals/pp/index.asp and select PP1: Processing Claims for Protection in Canada.
Section 17 of the manual deals with safe third country rules.
- For documents of the Canadian Council for
Refugees opposing the Safe Third Country Agreement and analyzing its
likely impacts, go to http://www.ccrweb.ca/S3C.htm
18 October 2005, updated 24 July 2009