Canada’s Asylum-Refugee Process 2010

It is well recognized that there are serious problems with the administration of Canada’s asylum-refugees process. In addition to think-tanks and academics, the Auditor General has documented problems in the screening process. CIC reports that,
“It generally takes 4.5 years from the time an asylum claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. In some extreme cases, this can take 10 years or more. Multiple post-claim appeals are available to failed claimants, leading to delays in removal from Canada.”

Research by Stephen Gallagher and Martin Collacott has documented the situation up to 2002-2003. Canada’s acceptance rate for asylum claimants in 2003 was 49.6% compared to the 16.6% average for 18 major developed countries .


The remainder of this blog reports on what the published data show since 2003, but first a word about data sources and concepts used. Country data are published by CIC for Canada and by the OECD and UNHCR for a range of countries including Canada. An asylum seeker is a person who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. At any point in time, such as December 31st, 2009, there is a stock of people whose claims are outstanding. This stock will have accumulated from an inflow of persons during 2009 and from previous years so that the stock is larger than the annual inflow. Some sources publish stock and some flow data. Some asylum seekers make applications more than once in any one country and in more than one country, thus some data may include repeat applicants as opposed to new applicants. The various data sources yield similar if not identical information and source notes for data can usually explain why differences occur.

Data 2005 – 2009

Source: UNHCR, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2009, (March 23, 2010). The UNHCR does not include information on asylum procedures or the admission of refugees through resettlement programs.

1. In 2009, there were 377,200 asylum applications in 44 European and non-European countries. The highest total in the past ten years was 620,000 in 2001.
2. Canada had a total of 33,250 claims in 2009 and 141,000 claims from 2005 to 2009
3. Canada’s share of the total was 9% in 2009 and 8% for 2005-09; it ranked third in 2009 and fourth from 2005-09. Among the top four recipient countries, Canada ranked highest in terms of asylum seekers per 1,000 of population.

Source: OECD International Migration Outlook 2010.

1. In 2009, claims by asylum seekers in OECD countries totaled 358,858 of which the top five countries accounted for 48%: France 41,980, USA 38,968, Canada 33,250, UK 29,840, and Germany 27,650.
Note: the total for the USA is about 10,000 higher in the OECD than in UNHCR totals for 2009 and previous years. The totals for other countries are approximately the same in both publications
2. Standardising for population size, Canada had 1,045 asylum seekers per one million people, France 568, Germany 337, and USA 130. (Norway, Sweden and Switzerland each with smaller populations have higher per capita figures than Canada.)


According to the UNHCR, in 2009, there were 61,170 asylum seekers in Canada. This represents the cumulative total for whom claims have not been settled and include the 33,250 new claimants in 2009.

Canada continues to be seen as a preferred country for asylum seekers. The backlog of 60,000 applications and the current annual inflow of over 30,000 is a result of the ease with which applications can be made in Canada relative to other countries and the procedures used to process applications including the number of appeals that can be made. Passage of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in July 2010 and which will come into effect in 2011 aim at addressing some of these concerns.

What are some of the issues associated with the asylum-refuge process? On one hand, Canada is fulfilling humanitarian objectives by accepting asylum seekers as permanent residents who can then become citizens. However those who arrive at a maritime border or an airport will have invited themselves to Canada rather than being selected to become refugees as occurs with resettlement programs. Under a safe country agreement, arrivals at the US-Canada border will not be admitted and will be returned to the respective countries. This is similar to the practice in the EU and other countries.

Those who arrive in Canada uninvited by boat and at airports are queue jumping the refugee process. They may impose health and security problems and cost Canadian taxpayers money while their claims are processed. While health conditions can be checked, security is a problem. If persons arrive without papers, there is often difficulty in determining both the identity and background records of the claimant in a foreign country. Meanwhile there are costs to caring for the asylum seeker while awaiting a decision. These are estimated at C$3bn a year or C$50,000 per claimant (that would equate to the 60,000 asylum seekers that are presently waiting to be processed).This is just one of the costs of Canada’s malfunctioning asylum/refugee process.

The hidden costs are the criminal activities associated with illegal immigration which is partly fed by the asylum-refugee process and partly by those who have entered Canada legally but failed to leave when required to do so. The latter can be tourists, temporary foreign workers, foreign students and those issued with deportation orders.

The criminal activities that have a crossborder component include, amongst others, drug and human trafficking. These activities are commented on in the annual reports of the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada (a network of 400 law enforcement agencies across Canada). Human trafficking in Canada is the subject of Benjamin Perrin’s, Invisible Chains, Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking, Penguin 2010, the subject of a subsequent blog.


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