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 asylum claimants who come from countries that historically have very low acceptance rates at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). These include countries in Europe with strong recognition of democratic and human rights.

Two pieces of legislation, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, establish the authority to designate countries of origin.

Designated countries of origin (DCOs) are countries that do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection.

Every eligible asylum claimant, including those from a DCO, will continue to receive a hearing at the IRB.

But, asylum claimants from DCOs will have their claims processed faster. This will ensure that people in need of protection get it quickly, while those with unfounded claims are sent home faster through expedited processing.

For example, asylum claimants will receive a hearing within 60 days of their claim being referred to the IRB for a hearing. However, DCO claimants will receive a hearing within 30 or 45 days depending on where they made their initial claim (i.e., at an inland immigration office or a port of entry). In addition, DCO claimants will not be able to appeal a negative decision to the new Refugee Appeal Division at the IRB.

The ability to designate such countries and accelerate the processing of these asylum claims provides the government with a tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that do not normally produce refugees.

All failed claimants continue to have the option of asking the Federal Court to review a negative decision. However, there will be no automatic stay of removal for DCO claimants should they ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision, which means that they could be removed from Canada while their application for review before the Federal Court is pending. In these circumstances, failed claimants can ask the Federal Court to stay the removal.

Work Permits

Large numbers of unfounded asylum claims are a financial burden on Canadian taxpayers. Canada’s social assistance programs and other generous benefits are a draw for many.

To further reduce the attraction of coming to Canada to make an unfounded claim, DCO claimants will be ineligible to apply for a work permit 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 will deny DCO claimants access to Canada’s labour market as well as the benefits associated with employment in Canada (such as the Goods and Services tax credit, the Working Income Tax Benefit and employment insurance – none of which can be accessed by claimants who do not have a work permit).

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, Belgium and Finland, among others. Some European Union (EU) states also have accelerated procedures for the nationals of other EU member states.

Designation Criteria

Designation is not automatic. Countries are triggered according to either quantitative or qualitative criteria and are then reviewed, which may lead to a designation.

Quantitative thresholds are stipulated by Ministerial Order as a:

  • combined rejection, withdrawal and abandonment rate of asylum claims at the IRB of 75% or higher; or
  • combined withdrawal and abandonment rate of asylum claims at the IRB of 60% or higher.

Quantitative triggers will apply for countries having at least 30 finalized claims in any consecutive 12-month period in the three years preceding designation. If a country meets one of these triggers, it will be reviewed for potential designation.

For countries that do not reach a minimum of 30 claims finalized in any consecutive 12-month period during the three years prior to designation, qualitative criteria are stipulated in legislation.

Countries must meet each of the following triggers in order to be reviewed for potential designation:

  • 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
  • existence of civil society organizations.

Although countries triggered according to qualitative criteria generally produce few asylum claimants, it may still be appropriate to designate them under the principle that they are generally not considered to be refugee-producing countries.

If a country does not meet any of these triggers, it cannot be designated.

And even if a country meets one of these triggers, it is not automatically designated.

Countries that meet either quantitative or qualitative triggers then undergo a review in consultation with other Canadian federal government departments. The review examines a select set of criteria, specifically:

  • democratic governance;
  • protection of right to liberty and security of the person;
  • freedom of opinion and expression;
  • freedom of religion and association;
  • freedom from discrimination and protection of rights for groups at risk
  • protection from non-state actors (which could include measures such as state protection from human trafficking);
  • access to impartial investigations;
  • access to an independent judiciary system; and
  • access to redress (which could include constitutional and legal provisions).

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism makes the final decision on whether to designate a country.

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