Backgrounder — Designated Countries of Origin

Too many tax dollars are spent on asylum claimants who are not in need of protection. Canada is currently receiving a disproportionately high number of refugee claimants who come from countries that historically have very low acceptance rates at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). These are often countries such as those in Europe with solid democratic and human rights.

Under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (BRRA), which received Royal assent in June 2010, the government has the authority to identify designated countries of origin (DCO). DCOs are countries that do not normally produce refugees, respect human rights and offer state protection. The ability to designate such countries and accelerate the processing of refugee claimants from those countries provides the government with a tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that do not normally produce refugees.

The aim of the DCO policy is to deter abuse of the refugee system by people who come from countries generally considered safe. Refugee claimants from DCOs would have their claims processed faster. This would ensure that people in need get protection fast, while those with unfounded claims are sent home quickly through expedited processing.

The former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Canada said,

UNHCR does not oppose the introduction of a “designated” or “safe country or origin” list as long as this is used as a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications in carefully circumscribed situations, and not as an absolute bar” (Abraham Abraham, May 25, 2010, Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration).

Every eligible refugee claimant will continue to receive a hearing at the IRB.

Measures proposed in the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act would provide more flexibility in determining which countries to designate.

Many countries use a similar authority in what is commonly known as a “safe country of origin” policy to accelerate asylum procedures for the nationals of certain countries. These states include the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and Finland, among others. Some European Union (EU) states also have accelerated procedures for the nationals of other EU member states.

Designation Criteria

There would be a two-step process for a country to be considered for designation. Designation is not automatic.

First, a country would have to meet one of two quantitative thresholds or limits set out in a ministerial order. The proposed triggers for a review are based on rejection rates, withdrawal and abandonment rates. A rejection rate (which includes abandoned and withdrawn claims) of 75% or higher would trigger a review. Similarly, an abandonment and withdrawal rate of 60% or higher would trigger a review.

For claimants from countries with a low number of claims, a qualitative checklist would be established in legislation. The qualitative criteria checklist would include:

  • the existence of an independent judicial system;
  • recognition of basic democratic rights and freedoms, including mechanisms for redress if those rights or freedoms are infringed; and
  • the existence of civil society organizations.

Although there may be few refugee claimants from these countries, it may still be appropriate to designate these countries under the principle that they are generally not considered to be refugee-producing countries.

Once a country is triggered for a review, CIC would conduct a review in consultation with other government departments. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would make the final decision on whether to designate a country.

Additional Changes Related to the DCO Policy

The ability to designate part of a country or a class of nationals of a country would be eliminated. Designation would either apply to a country as a whole or not.

Claimants from designated countries would also not have access to the Refugee Appeal Division at the IRB.

Further Expediting Decisions and Deterring Abuse

To further accelerate the processing of refugee claimants from a designated country, these claims would be heard on an expedited basis by the IRB. It is proposed that DCO claims would be heard by public servant decision makers at the IRB within 30 days for claims made at inland immigration offices and within 45 days for claims made at ports of entry. By comparison, it is proposed that hearings for claimants from all other countries would occur within 60 days.

All failed claimants would continue to have the option of asking the Federal Court to review a negative decision. However, it is proposed that there would be no automatic stay of removal for DCO claimants should they decide to ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision, which means that they could be removed from Canada while their claim is pending.

Work Permits

Large numbers of unfounded refugee claims are a financial burden on the economy. But the attraction of Canada’s social assistance programs and associated benefits is a draw for many.

To further reduce the attraction of coming to Canada to make an unfounded claim, it is also proposed that DCO claimants would be ineligible to apply for a work permit and associated benefits until their claim is approved by the IRB or their claim has been in the system for more than 180 days and no decision has been made.

Restricting access to work permits would deny these claimants access to Canada’s labour market as well as the benefits available to claimants associated with employment in Canada (such as the GST credit, the Working Income Tax Benefit and Employment Insurance – all of which are triggered by the issuance of a work permit).

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