February 7, 2017 — The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is drowning in a backlog of more than 21,000 asylum claims, forcing it to change how it processes applications.
With the number of people arriving in Canada and claiming refugee status rising – and expected to spike even further – the board is struggling to cope with the increase.
In 2016, the numbers of claims could hit 20,000, compared with just 10,751 in 2013.
Further increases are expected in 2017 given Donald Trump’s suspension of the U.S. refugee program, and the decision to grant Mexicans visa-free access to Canada.
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Half of the board’s resources will now be directed at clearing the backlog, with a new short hearing process aimed at countries from where more than 80 per cent of claimants have historically been accepted.
Refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea will continue to be processed separately under a fast track system.
Campaigners have called on Canada to keep its doors open to refugees in the wake of Trump’s attempts to suspend the U.S. program.
Canada’s drive to welcome Syrian refugees in 2016 saw nearly 40,000 enter the country.
The federal government achieved its target of sponsoring 25,000 Syrian refugees in December, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees welcomed into the country since November 2015 to 39,271.
The government target is not to be confused with the initial surge to bring in 25,000 refugees by February 2016, as these were a combination of government, blended and privately sponsored candidates.
Syrian Refugees Entering Canada Since November 2015
|Blended Visa Office-Referred||3,923|
Source: Government of Canada
The government recently announced it will limit the number of private sponsorship refugee applications it receives for Syrians and Iraqis to 1,000 in 2017, as it looks to clear the backlog already in the system.
This figure applies to applications only – an allocation of 25,000 resettled refugees is included in the 2017 immigration plan.
Trump’s policy specifically towards Mexico could see an increased number of asylum claims in Canada by Mexicans.
Canada recently dropped a visa requirement for Mexican travellers, but in doing so warned it would be reinstated if asylum claims surged.
There has been a notable increase in claims from Mexicans since the visa requirement was lifted.
Figures show 70 Mexicans claimed refugee status here in December, with the requirement lifted as of December 1, 2016.
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The Canada Border Services Agency says it received a total of 248 claims from Mexicans in 2016, compared to 111 in 2015.
The increase will be closely watched, although numbers remain significantly fewer than 2009, when the previous Conservative government imposed the visa restriction because more than 9,500 asylum claims were made by Mexicans.
Government analysis says lifting the visa requirement will cost $433.5 million over the next decade, partly offset by an expected $171.6 million boost to the economy through increased tourism, investment and trade.
Canada has also promised to lift a visa requirement for Romanians and Bulgarians during 2017, as part of negotiations that saw the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) signed in late 2016.
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