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Amid the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will no longer be accepting irregular migrants crossing from the United States (with exceptions under unique circumstances).  

This recent change in refugee policy had us thinking we should fill you in on what kind of assistance refugees in Canada receive 

Over the years, myths have circulated regarding the amount of assistance refugees in Canada receive, including the pensioners’ myth, which claims refugees receive more money than Canadians collecting a pension.   

In this 101, we will be setting the record straight to give you an overview of the Canada’s Refugee Assistance Program (RAP) and the finances behind it all.  

First things first…why does Canada accept Refugees? 

Canada has a strong tradition of welcoming refugees and an international commitment under the United Nations Refugee Convention. Furthermore, refugees are incredibly important for our economy. As Canada’s population ages, refugees and immigrants bring young people, which are valuable to ensure a strong Canadian workforce for years to come. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that within five years of arrival, refugees prosper and join Canada’s middle-class. An analysis of the 2016 census shows that one in four refugees earned between $40,000 and $79,999 annually (similar to that of Canadians). On average, after 20 years, refugees in Canada have contributed more in income tax than they received in social benefits.Overall, investing in refugees is an investment that pays off.  

When comparing the social assistance refugees receive, it is important to remember that immigrants fund their whole way to Canada and must prove that they have enough money to resettle in Canada. These immigrants are highly skilled labour that bring in their own funding and start working as soon as they arrive. Canada’s immigration program stimulates the economy and when you compare this to the amount that refugees receive, the finances start to balance. In 2019, Canada targeted 191,600 economic class immigrants and 46,450 refugees and protected persons.  

The UNHCR has also noted that in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, refugees are at a heightened risk. Although the most recent border controls to curb the spread of COVID-19 are necessary, they should only be temporary. As we all start to feel the effects of social distancing, it is important that we recognize how this pandemic is affecting those most vulnerable, including refugees worldwide. 

Ok, and how does the system actually work? 

Canada’s refugee protection system has two main parts: 

  • The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program: for people who need protection from outside Canada 
  • In-Canada Asylum Program: for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada 

These programs service refugees in different circumstancesThe Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program serves Convention refugees, who have been living abroad while waiting to be selected to settle in Canada as permanent residents. Convention Refugees are sponsored by either the Government of Canada as Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) or by a private group as Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs).  

The In-Canada Asylum Program supports refugee claimantswho apply for asylum either on arrival at a Canadian port of entry (i.e. airport, border crossing) or at an in-land government office. If eligible, they will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) and await a hearing to have their case decided upon 

One of the main differences between Convention refugees and refugee claimants is that upon arrival, Convention refugees have already been determined to be refugees and arrive in Canada as permanent residents. Refugee claimants, on the other hand, must wait for a hearing to determine whether they are deemed Convention refugees before they can apply for permanent residence.  

So, does this mean Convention Refugees and Refugee Claimants receive different financial assistance? 

 In short, yes.  

The Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) offers support to Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs). RAP is a Federal contribution program, which includes income support and assistance for a range of immediate essential services. Income support allowances are basic, some are provided one-time only, while others are provided on an ongoing monthly basis for their first year in Canada. 

Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides limited, temporary coverage of health-care benefits to resettled refugees and refugee claimants who aren’t eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance. This program offers basic health coverage and limited supplemental coverage such as urgent dental care.  

Although GARs receive some financial assistance under RAP, it is important to note that many must take a Transportation Loan to cover the costs of transportation to Canada for themselves and their beneficiaries. This is not an interest free loan and it must be repaid to the Government of Canada.  

If Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) and Refugee Claimants aren’t covered under RAP, what kind of assistance do they receive? 

Like GARs, they are covered under the Interim Federal Health ProgramPSRs receive social assistance from the group that sponsored them, often a church or a Group of Five. For Refugee Claimants, after they have been referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board, they may apply for provincial social assistancedepending on the province’s residency requirements. They can also apply for a work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada 

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