Illegal immigration to Canada

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On the left side of a sign seen slightly sideways saying "Road Closed" in the foreground, one of two police officers points to his left. On the right side are two people with wheeled suitcases behind them
RCMP constables warning people about to enter Canada from Champlain, NY, US, that they are doing so illegally

Irregular immigration to Canada or illegal immigration to Canada is the act of a non-Canadian individual entering or remaining in Canada against the rules and regulations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This includes persons who entered Canada on a travel visa but remained beyond the period of stay specified or persons who entered Canada without presenting themselves at a port of entry.

Terminology in the case of asylum claimants[edit]

The use of the term "irregular" or "illegal" is disputed when referring to the act of crossing the Canada–United States border outside of a point of entry to claim asylum.[1] Entering Canada outside of a port of entry is not an offence under the Criminal Code, but regulations under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act do require any person seeking to enter Canada to "appear without delay" at the nearest port of entry.[2] While entering Canada outside of a port of entry may represent an unlawful act, section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that charges related to the crossing are stayed while an entrant's claim is being processed.[3] If the Canadian government grants refugee status, any charges are stayed permanently.[2] Claimants may face charges for other crimes, or background checks may determine the claimant has a criminal history or presents a national security risk, which are outside the scope of the section 133 staying of charges and may result in denial of a claim.[3]

The Government of Canada, including the Immigration and Refugee Board, use the term "irregular" to refer to these border crossings.[4][5] Refugee organizations, the Liberal Party of Canada, and the New Democratic Party also use "irregular".[1] The Conservative Party of Canada uses the term "illegal", with the justification that entering outside of a port of entry is a violation of the Customs Act.[3] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use neither word, instead using the term "interceptions".[6]


Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, established in 2003 outlines the ruling, laws, and procedures associated with immigrants within Canada. It provides officers of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) with the authority to detain permanent residents and foreign nationals if any of the individuals have violated the rulings of the Act. Roughly 12,600 individuals who were living in Canada including 1,900 criminals who violated this Act and either posed a high risk to Canada or were illegal immigrants who were deported in the year of 2006-07.[7]

Canada is signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and within Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is the legislation that governs the flow of people. Article 31 of the UN refugee convention says receiving countries may not penalize refugees for how they enter a country, as long as they present themselves “without delay” to authorities and show “good cause” for their presence[8]. Illegal entry is not an offence in Canada’s Criminal Code. But the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations 27 (2) says anyone who does not enter at a port of entry must check in “without delay” at a border point[9]. As clarified by Prof. Hathaway of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto “If someone a) comes forward voluntarily, and b) explains that the reason they crossed the border illegally was they were looking for protection, it’s clear as a bell: You may not under any circumstance penalize them”[10]. An asylum seeker would be considered in violation of the Immigration and Refugee Act if they cross at an unofficial border point, and does not promptly go to a port of entry and doesn’t file a refugee claim. In addition to potential criminal charges if a refugee seeker' asylum is rejected[10].


Canadian Immigration Stamp

Canada has an immigration program which is established for every migrant wishing to live in Canada. This program seeks individuals who will have the highest chances of providing positive input into the Canadian economy. By example, the New Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) measures the capabilities of individuals who are required to meet a passing mark, in order to have their application accepted. The passing mark currently is 67 out of a 100 in six categories: education, work experience, language, age, arranged employment, and adaptability (such as any previous work or education acquired within Canada).[11]

As of 2017, Canada has a number of immigration programs through which migrants can legally enter Canada:[disputed ]

  • Federal Skilled Worker
  • Canadian Provincial Nominee Program
  • Canadian Business Immigration
  • Canadian Experience Class
  • Family Class Sponsorship

In addition, migrants may legally enter and apply for temporary resident status under the terms and conditions of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of which Canada is a co-writer and signatory. It is this class of entrant that draws the most controversy.


From January 2017 to March 2018, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted 25,645 people crossing the border into Canada illegally. Public Safety Canada estimated that another 2,500 came across in April 2018 for a total of just over 28,000, of which 1,000 had been removed from Canada. Federal government ministers expected that "…close to 90 per cent…" of asylum claimants would be rejected.[12]

The last audit of the Canadian population was performed in 2004 that indicated approximately 36,000 more individuals over a span of 6 years became illegal residents within Canada.[7] These statistics are considered inaccurate because Canada does not record the information of illegal individuals leaving the country, but it is the last authentic value provided. A federal government draft report from 2001 included an estimate of 100,000 illegal immigrants then residing in Canada.[13]

In the 1980s large numbers of Brazilians were arriving in Canada claiming refugee statuses. They would then reside until the end of their refugee process which allowed them to study, work, and collect social benefits. Canada noticed the large trend and imposed a requirement in 1987 of Brazilians needing to attain a visa in order to arrive in Canada, making it a little more difficult for many to immigrate.[14] During their stay, the Brazilians would develop the skills to pass the Canadian immigration tests, and become Canadian legal citizens. The ones that would not pass the citizenship tests would either leave back to Brazil, or continue to live as illegal residents.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser said in 2008 that Canada’s border agency had lost track of 41,000 individuals who had been ordered deported.[15] In cases, individuals can be allowed a temporary access into Canada with a Temporary Resident Permit as long as they do not pose an obvious threat to Canadians. The Temporary Resident Permit can be issued by the Canada Border Agency or a border service officer for a cost of $200 per permit; the Canada Border Agency issued 13,412 permits in 2006. Permits allow legal residency for a period ranging from one day to three years. During this time period, the legal documents are gathered for individuals to be deported back to the country they emigrated from. This procedure at times could create challenges such as retrieving the legal documentation for deporting, hence the Temporary Resident Permits are provided enough time for such obstacles to be overcome efficient and effectively.

A dead end road at left from which a tall metal pole with many devices attached rises, in an area surrounded by low trees under a blue sky with clouds. At lower right a dirt pathway leads a short distance to a white tent with peaked roofs next to several road signs facing the other way and concrete blocks on the ground. The one visible sign says in French and English that pedestrians are not permitted.
Temporary facilities for processing asylum seekers at border between Lacolle, Quebec and Champlain, NY, in 2017

In 2017, after U.S. President Donald Trump had enforced American laws against illegal immigration in the U.S., immigrants leaving the U.S. and entering Canada increased. Quebec saw 75% of the resulting crossings from the U.S. for Canada, and Programme régional d’accueil et d’intégration des demandeurs d’asile (PRAIDA) helped 1,174 asylum seekers in July 2017 compared to the 180 people during the previous year.[16] Montreal had to re-purpose its Olympic Stadium to house the immigrants.[16]

Public opinion[edit]

A 2007 poll conducted for Citizenship and Immigration Canada of 1,200 telephone interviews of adult Canadians gathered feedback on positive and negative opinions regarding immigrants settled in Canada.[17] Residents who had a home telephone at the time, were not busy during the day, and had free time to complete this survey think that only individuals who migrate legally should be allowed to remain.[clarification needed] Two-thirds of Canadians want any illegal resident of Canada to be deported. In 2007, in Quebec that reached a level of 70% where individuals stated that "reasonable accommodations" should be made for illegal immigrants rather than simply deporting them.[17]

In 2018, an Angus Reid Institute poll, found that two-thirds of those polled — 67 per cent — think that the situation constitutes a "crisis" and that Canada's "ability to handle the situation is at a limit." Fifty-six per cent of respondents who voted Liberal in the 2015 election and 55 per cent of NDP supporters agreed that the matter had reached a crisis level, While 87 per cent of respondents who voted for the Conservatives in the last election called it a crisis. Six-in-ten respondents also told the firm that Canada is "too generous" toward would-be refugees, a spike of five percentage points since the question was asked last year.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b Hopper, Tristan (10 July 2018). "Irregular or illegal? The fight over what to call the thousands of migrants streaming into Canada". National Post. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b Grant, Tavia (11 September 2018). "Are asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally? A look at facts behind the controversy". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Illegal or irregular? What's the proper term for Canada's border crossers?". CTV News. 28 August 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Irregular border crossings – What is Canada doing?". Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Government of Canada. 16 August 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  5. ^ "Irregular border crosser statistics". Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Government of Canada. 16 August 2019. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  6. ^ "Asylum claims, RCMP interceptions down slightly in April". Toronto Star. The Canadian Press. 15 May 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Chapter 7—Detention and Removal of Individuals—Canada Border Services Agency". 2008 May Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Office of the Auditor General of Canada. Archived from the original on 27 April 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ Goodwin-Gill, G. S. (2008). Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, 6.
  9. ^ "Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, SOR/2002-227". Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  10. ^ a b "Are asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally? A look at facts behind the controversy". Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  11. ^ "Who Can Apply — Federal Skilled Workers". Government of Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Archived from the original on 14 June 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  12. ^ Zimonjic, Peter (7 May 2018). "Fewer than 1% of more than 28,000 irregular asylum seekers have been removed from Canada so far". CBC News. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Ottawa considers amnesty plan for illegal workers". CIC News. The Canadian Press. 15 September 2004. Retrieved 9 October 2018. (article date and news agency as The Canadian Press per alternate URL reference, accessed 9 October 2018)
  14. ^ Barbosa, Rosana (2009). "Brazilian Immigration to Canada". Project Muse. 41: 215–225. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Canada has lost track of 41,000 illegals: Fraser". CTV News. 6 May 2008. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  16. ^ a b McKenna, Kate (2 August 2017). "Montreal's Olympic Stadium used to house surge in asylum seekers crossing from U.S." CBC News. Archived from the original on 7 August 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  17. ^ a b Aubry, Jack (20 October 2007). "Canadians Want Illegal Immigrants Deported: Poll". Ottawa Citizen. CanWest News Service. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  18. ^
  19. ^