Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

10.10.2019 | Von:
Shaina Somers

Canada's Changing Migration, Refugee and Asylum Policies: 2015 Onwards

Figure 2: Number of asylum claimants processed by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) offices, 2011-2018Figure 2: Number of asylum claimants processed by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) offices, 2011-2018. (Download the chart PDF-Icon here) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
In 2018, the number of asylum claims reached its highest level since 1989 – despite lower numbers of Haitian asylum seekers. This trend has prompted Trudeau’s government to reconsider its welcoming approach. In April of 2019, the government introduced an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (hereafter IRPA)[14] to prevent "asylum shopping". The amendment stated that refugees would no longer be able to make asylum claims in Canada or have a hearing regarding their refugee status if they have already made a claim in one of the other "five-eyes" countries (in addition to Canada those countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand). These countries share intelligence. If an individual has made an asylum claim only in Canada, their case goes before the Immigration and Refugee Board for a hearing to determine if the claimant meets the requirements for refugee status. They are also able to appeal the board's decision if their claim is rejected.

In May 2019, IRCC announced that Canada would remove the Designated Countries of Origin (DCO) policy.[15] The DCO was a list of over 40 countries, many of which were in Western and Central Europe, but also included Mexico and the Five Eyes countries. The DCO meant to deter potential abuse of the refugee system by people who come from countries that were considered generally safe. Claims from these countries were to be processed faster because it was assumed that they were more likely to be unfounded. Nonetheless, the government identified that the DCO classification did not serve as a disincentive nor did it lead to shorter processing times for asylum claims by citizens from these countries.

Despite the removal of the DCO policy, the separate Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between the United States and Canada which has been in force since 2004 remains in place. It states that refugees cannot make asylum claims in Canada if they arrive in the U.S first. The same applies for the U.S.: if refugees land in Canada first, they cannot make a claim in the U.S. However, there is a loophole within the agreement which some asylum seekers make use of: if they make their asylum claims at unofficial points of entry on the U.S.-Canada land border they do not fall under the STCA and may have their claims processed in Canada.

Refugee advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) call for the removal of STCA. CCR believes that whether or not the agreement is in place, people in desperate circumstances fleeing for their lives will do whatever it takes to have a chance at safety, including crossing unmarked land borders and facing arrest.[16] However, individual asylum claims on Canadian territory play a minor role in humanitarian protection as compared to resettlement.

Refugees Resettlement: Different Pathways

The Trudeau government committed to admitting more refugees through Canada’s three refugee resettlement pathways: Government Assisted, Private Sponsorship and Blended Visa-Office Referred. Government-assisted refugees receive resettlement assistance from the federal government. Privately sponsored refugees are refugees who receive resettlement assistance by organizations or groups of Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents. The Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR) Program was introduced by the federal government as a response to large refugee influxes. It blends the resettlement responsibilities between private sponsors and government.[17] Although the Trudeau government committed to resettling a total of 25,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 through these pathways, after 2016, private sponsorship became the primary mode of refugee resettlement for Syrians.[18]

Private refugee sponsorship is a unique model that has existed in Canada for 40 years. The Canadian government has leaned on civil society mobilizing and using this policy to sponsor refugees. Businesses, community groups, faith groups or groups of a minimum of five people are eligible to sponsor refugees. Sponsors are responsible for financially assisting their sponsored refugees for a minimum of twelve months in food, shelter, housing and additional expenses. They also provide social support in helping with labour market integration, language classes, schooling, and other means of social integration support. In the past, private sponsorship was used extensively to address refugee resettlement during the Vietnam War. In 2016, the Canadian government partnered with a number of other non-profit organizations and the United Nations to create the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). This initiative aims to spread the private sponsorship model to other countries around the world. Initially, the private sponsorship policy was meant to act as a supplement to government-assisted sponsorship, but it now plays a key role in refugee protection in Canada. The positive public image of private sponsorship by civil society allows the state to promote the model as a way for citizens and permanent residents to become engaged and involved with refugee issues. However, the state is still responsible for admitting refugees through government assistance and should be cautious that the development of private sponsorship does not result in an offloading of the state’s responsibilities onto civil society.

Figure 3: Resettled refugees and protected persons in Canada 1980-2016Figure 3: Resettled refugees and protected persons in Canada 1980-2016. (Download the chart PDF-Icon here) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

"It's 2019": What now?

Like in many countries around the world, immigration has become a focal point in national elections. After four years, Canadians will head to the polls in October 2019 to vote in the federal election. Trudeau campaigned on a liberal immigration platform in 2015, and continued on a similar strategy in the early years of his government. However, during the past year and a half in the run up to the upcoming election, he has carefully been distancing himself from his more generous stances on immigration. Trudeau and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale, have been cultivating a rhetoric and image that Canada is a country of law and order – an image that has been prominent in discussions around immigration policy. This has particularly been targeted towards asylum seekers, who are reminded of Canada's values of law and order. Trudeau states that the country does not have a weak immigration system that encourages individuals to make claims in Canada, but rather, global instability[19] is causing the higher numbers of asylum seekers. #WelcometoCanada therefore becomes highly conditional in effect; migrants are welcome – so long as they mind the rules.

In the past four years of Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, Canada’s immigration policies have gone through a number of developments and modifications after campaigning in 2015 on increasing numbers admitted through family reunification and refugee classes. Come election time in October 2019, Canadians will vote for if they want to continue on this pathway with the Trudeau government.

Further Readings

  • El-Assal, K.; Fields, D. (2018): Canada 2040: No Immigration Versus More Immigration. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada.
  • Hyndman, J., Payne, W., & Jimenez, S. (2017): Private Refugee Sponsorship in Canada. Forced Migration Review, (54), pp. 56-59.
  • Kelley, N.; Trebilcock, M. J. (2010): The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  • Knowles, V. (2016): Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, pp. 1540-2015 (4th ed.). Dundurn.
  • Labman, S.; Pearlman, M. (2018): Blending, Bargaining, and Burden-Sharing: Canada's Resettlement Programs. Journal of International Migration and Integration / Revue De l'Integration Et De La Migration Internationale, 19(2), pp. 439-449.


Kathleen Harris (2019): Liberals Move to Stem Surge in Asylum Seekers – but New Measure Will Stop Just a Fracture of Claimants, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, last modified April 11, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/refugee-asylum-seekers-border-changes-1.5092192 (accessed: 6-29-2019).
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2019): ARCHIVED – Designated Countries of Origin Policy, last modified May, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/claim-protection-inside-canada/apply/designated-countries-policy.html
Canadian Council for Refugees (2017): Refugees Entering from U.S and Safe Third Country FAQ, http://ccrweb.ca/en/refugees-entering-us-and-safe-third-country-faq (accessed: 6-29-2019).
Labman, S., & Pearlman, M. (2018): Blending, Bargaining, and Burden-Sharing: Canada's Resettlement Programs. Journal of International Migration and Integration / Revue De l'Integration Et De La Migration Internationale, 19(2), pp. 439-449.
Statistics Canada (2019): Study: Syrian Refugees Who Resettled in Canada in 2015 and 2016, last modified February 12, 2019, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190212/dq190212a-eng.htm (accessed: 6-29-2019).
Tasha Kheiriddin (2019): Commentary: Will the 2019 Vote Be the Election of Hate?, last modified May 6, 2019, https://globalnews.ca/news/5235846/canada-immigration-election/ (accessed: 6-29-2019).
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