Coming to Canada

Before you come to Canada, you may have a lot of questions about your new country. There are new languages, laws, health care systems, financial systems, customs, and culture. Understanding Canadian culture and expectations will help you to integrate successfully into your new life.

What is a Refugee

Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home country due to fears of persecution, and are unable to return home. Canada permanently resettles refugees as a long term solution to help protect those fleeing persecution. Canada works closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to try and find solutions to prolonged and emerging refugee situations and the problems that lead to forced displacement and global refugee populations.

The Government of Canada defines refugees as “persons who have been forcibly displaced from their homeland as a result of having suffered severe persecution, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, forced labour or ethnic cleansing. Before accepting a person as a refugee, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will make sure that person does not have another resettlement option, cannot go home or cannot stay in the country where they initially sought asylum.”


How to Apply as a Refugee to Come to Canada

Canada’s Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program is for people in need of protection who are outside Canada and outside their home country. To come to Canada as a refugee, you must be: referred by the UNHCR or another designated referral organization, or be sponsored by a private sponsorship group.

Currently, the Government of Canada is working with Canadians to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada while it continues to welcome refugees from all over the world from places like Eritrea, Hungary, Colombia, and Pakistan.

Through the domestic asylum system, Canada also offers protection to people in Canada who fear persecution or believe they would be in danger if they returned to their home country or the country where they normally live. A claim for this type of refugee protection can be made at a port of entry or at a Immigration and Refugees and Citizenship office in Canada. This individual is considered a Refugee Claimant.


Types of Refugee Statuses

There are three different types of refugee status in Canada:

Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs), whose initial settlement (up to one year) is entirely supported by the Government of Canada under the Resettlement Assistance Program, and are referred to Canada by a referral organization like the UNHCR.

Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs), who meet the Convention refugee  or the country of asylum class  definitions, and are referred for resettlement by a private sponsor in Canada who agrees to provide financial and other support for one year.

Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees (BVORs), are Convention refugees referred by the UNHCR who are matched with a private sponsor in Canada. The Government of Canada provides up to six months of income support through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP), while private sponsors provide another six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.


Canadian Charter: Know Your Rights

All people in Canada have rights and freedoms according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada seeks to reduce barriers and increase opportunities for all people by upholding equality and the rights of people of any gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or disability. Canadians also have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace free from discrimination. As a refugee, you will have these rights upon arrival and may have access to Canadian services while your refugee claim is being processed. These services include:

  • Find help to adjust
  • Financial assistance
  • Protect yourself from fraud, and the
  • Urgent Protection Program (UPP).

The most vital service that refugees have access to upon arrival is health care under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).  In some cases, you may be able to apply for employment or student authorization to work or attend school while you are waiting for a decision on your claim. If you have minor children, they will automatically be eligible to attend school when you arrive in Canada.


Your Status – Permanent Residency and Citizenship

A permanent resident is someone who has been given permanent resident status by immigrating to Canada. They can apply for Canadian citizenship.

If you are a refugee who resettled from overseas, you immediately become a permanent resident through the Government-Assisted Refugee Program or the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. If you are a refugee claimant, someone who makes their claim in Canada, you do not automatically become a permanent resident at that time. To become one, the Immigration and Refugee Board must first approve your claim. Then, you must apply for and get permanent resident status.

As a permanent resident you have protection under Canadian law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You must pay taxes and respect all Canadian laws at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Your status can be changed if you live outside of Canada for more than two years, commit a serious crime, or become a Canadian citizen.


How to Sponsor a Spouse or Family Member

Once you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada and at least 18 years old, you may be able to sponsor your spouse and family members to immigrate to Canada.

To be able to sponsor a relative to come to Canada as a permanent resident, the basic requirements include: being able to meet basic needs (food, clothing and shelter) for yourself and your relative, supporting your relative financially when they arrive in Canada, and ensuring your sponsored relative does not seek financial help from the government. Please read further to determine your eligibility.

Other programs to sponsor refugees include:

  • Blended Visa Office-Referred Program
  • Groups of Five
  • Sponsorship Agreement Holders
  • Community Sponsors
  • Joint Assistance Sponsorship Program

Discover Canada

Coming to Canada is an exciting opportunity, but may also seem daunting and overwhelming. There are many resources available provided by the Government to help you adjust to life in Canada. Canada recognizes its multiculturalism  and encourages everyone be a part of its unique social, cultural, economic and political affairs. The Canadian Government has developed a newcomer study tool Discover Canada to prepare immigrants for their Canadian citizenship exam and life in Canada. This document provides detailed information about Canadian culture, history, citizenship, symbols, and government.

  • Discover Canada: Who We Are
  • Before You Arrive in Canada
  • Your First Two Weeks in Canada