How refugees are screened before coming to Canada

Coming to Canada as a refugee is far from being an easy process. The procedure is long and tedious. Refugees go through various steps which consist of several layers of approval and screening; with the displaced person’s file being reviewed by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Interpol, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and similar databases in allied countries. 

Refugee streams

The journey starts with the refugee fleeing  their home country and finding a space place in a neighbouring country.   Some of them live in refugee camps while others have enough money to rent a home or stay with people who welcomed them to their home. Once there,  they have no other option than to wait to either be identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) if it is available in their area, or make a connection with  private sponsors overseas in Canada who can sponsor them

Refugee Status Determination 

The government of Canada relies on the UNHCR and private sponsors to identify refugees for resettlement. A person cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement. The UNHCR conducts interviews with refugees regarding their reason for seeking asylum, any past or present military activities, affiliations, or other pertinent information and future plans. Each refugee is subject to anti-fraud procedures, like biometrics that can include:  iris scanning and fingerprints. UNHCR takes some time before referring the refugee to Canada. The organisation considers in their decision factors like: Gender, age, history, level of physical risk and requirement for medical help not available in the host country. UNHCR stresses that “Canadian migration officers may determine a refugee to be vulnerable, meaning the person has a greater need of protection than other applicants because of particular circumstances that give rise to a heightened risk to their physical safety or well being. The vulnerability may result from circumstances such as lack of protection normally provided by a family or a medical condition”. 

Private Sponsorship

As for private sponsors, there are two ways that a sponsoring group can identify a refugee to sponsor: 

  1. Sponsor-referred: the sponsoring group submits the name of an individual refugee or refugee family it wishes to sponsor. The group might have received the name of the person either from an overseas contact, a friend, community member, relative of a member of the organization, or elsewhere.  Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAHs)/Constituent Groups(CGs), Group of Five (G5) and Community Sponsors (CSs) then submits the sponsorship application on behalf of the sponsor-referred refugee(s) to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O).

  2. Blended visa office-referred/visa office-referred: ROC-O organizes an inventory of cases that have been selected after the refugee has been referred by UNHCR.  Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) finds a private sponsor to match with the refugee under the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) or Visa Office-Referred (VOR) programs. 

Refugee Interview 

Once the referral is done, the Canadian government gets involved. A visa officer is tasked with conducting a review of the refugee’s documentation and conducting an in-person interview. The officer has to make sure the identified refugees meet the criteria to be eligible to come to Canada. This is a crucial milestone in the refugee sponsorship process as the interview is used to validate the applicant’s information before they can be selected. The interview is usually conducted in person in the host country. 

Security and medical checks 

If the refugee is approved by the visa officer, they must go through another series of security checks conducted by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). This step is called the admissibility screening and it is based on :

  • Medical screening: Full immigration medical exam, including screening for contagious diseases ( Tuberculosis).

  • Security screening: Security screenings and criminal background checks are conducted to ensure that the refugee does not pose a threat to the safety or security of Canadians. Law enforcement and security authorities will make sure that the refugee has not committed serious crimes  or identity fraud. 

The visa officer then proceeds to double check the documents of security and medical screening. If CSIS recommends that the refugee be admitted and the visa officer agrees, the refugee is granted Permanent Resident (PR) status. Once the refugee arrives  in Canada, the CBSA process their admission. They reconfirm that everything is in order and including a final check of identity and cross checking biometrics.