The big day is finally here! The interview that will decide if Canada will accept you as a permanent resident. If you’re worried, remember: you’ve made it this far. The point of the interview is largely to ‘seal the deal’, and confirm that everything on your application lines up with what you have to say. And of course it does – it’s your story!

Here's a guide and here is another guide for the interview if you're making a claim from within Canada. But things are a little different for the interviews at the overseas Canadian embassies. So read on for tips that should help make things go as smoothly as possible. The guide is also available in Dari and Tamil.

How to prepare

And now, what happens when the interview begins…

First steps

An interviewer brings you into a small room. They may even be behind a glass wall because of covid. Or the interview may be done through video - also because od covid.

You should ask for a translator prior to the interview if you need one. But when you arrive, make sure your translator really does speak your language. There have been some problems when an interviewer doesn't speak quite the same dialect as the refugee, and delivers answers that are confusing or inaccurate. There have also been times when the interviewer is from the same group that persecuted the refugee, which can also lead to problems.

If you suspect your interview is going badly because of the translator, tell the interviewer that you would like to give your interview in English or French to the best of your ability. And point out politely that there may be a communication problem with the translator, requiring you to try to speak for yourself.

Your life story

They will look at your documents and ask the reasons you left your home country. If you were persecuted, be prepared to back it up with places, names and dates. If you’re from Syria, they will mostly focus on your life after the revolution began in 2011.

They may ask you to tell your life story, especially the part of your life when you faced persecution and had to leave your country. This is the part covered by question 1 and 2 of your Schedule 2. A big focus is how you left your country, who you paid, the types of transportation you took – and as always, when and where. This is why it’s important to read your application carefully before the interview.

Remember, stick to the facts. Keep it as simple as possible. Stick to the facts – and only provide the information they’re asking for. If you provide too many extra details, they will ask about those too. Tell basically the same story that's in your Schedule 2. If you introduce new facts, the interviewer will ask about those too - until you’re going down a rabbit hole of uncomfortable questions that may be irrelevant to your case.

While it's good to stick to the facts, you don't have to be a robot. If you’re talking about sad stuff, show emotion: it shows it’s real for you. And if there’s a really important part of your story – especially the part where you were persecuted because you’re gay, you’re Christian and so on – make sure you talk about it.

Otherwise avoid oversharing, or talking too much out of nervousness.

Other topics

If you did military service, be prepared to talk about it in detail. Hopefully you did not do active duty, especially not in a war. If you did, they’re going to ask you many questions about it.

If you’ve returned to your home country, you have a problem. There are some tiny exceptions, such as “I returned for two days for a funeral” but generally, returning to your home country – the place of your persecution – can disqualify you from being accepted. But if they ask you if you can go back to your country, the answer should be a clear "no."

They will ask who applied for you and how you know them. It’s okay to say you first met your sponsor through social media. As long as your sponsors are not part of a shady organization that will set off alarm bells.

And if they ask if you know your sponsors, hopefully you do! Read your settlement plan, just in case, to get their names straight.

They ask you if you paid any money for your private sponsorship – the answer is NO. 

Tough questions

Says a friend who went through the interview process: “The interviewer is very intelligent. He looks at everything inside the room: the movements of your hands and your looks and actions. He may make you feel like you are lying and you should tell the truth. This is particularly in the middle of the interview. They are testing to see your response.”

They may ask provocative questions. And they will definitely ask the same question in a number of different ways. This is to make sure your story is true.

Here are some examples of provocative questions or statements you may encounter:

"The war in your country is over. Why don't you just go back?"
"You are either for or against your country's government. What is your position? You must have some political views."
"If you don't like your country's government, that must mean you support the rebels / terrorists. Do you?"
"You say you don't have political views, but your friends on social media do. They are your friends, aren't they?"
"I don't really believe your story. Something doesn't add up."
"These are important moments in your life. Why don't you remember them more clearly?"
"I don't think you're being honest with me. I am giving you an opportunity to tell me the full story."

How you respond

Your manner: How you respond to the tough questions matters. First, you must remain calm and maintain eye contact. You have nothing to hide! Be pleasant and friendly and don’t get impatient or frustrated, if they ask you the same question over and over. Be fully comfortable and honest. And if they suggest you are lying and it's time to tell the truth, stay confident: because, if you follow this guide, you really are telling the truth.

Your memories: That said, years have probably past since the events you are describing took place. If you are asked to remember a detail (like the colour of a bus, or the name of a person) that you don't remember, just state calmly what you do and do not remember. Don't get flustered.

Your opinions: When it comes to political discussions, the key thing is to remain neutral. While you may not love your government (especially if it's a murderous dictatorship), it's better to talk about your desire for peace for all people. And no, you are not responsible for the political views of friends of yours on social media. 

Your return: If you're asked why you can't go back to your country, have a good explanation. Often when a civil war ends, the ruling government continues to arrest anyone who it considers to be an enemy. And leaving the country illegally / for a long time can be a problem. If you allowed your passport to expire and you have spent years as a refugee, your country's immigration officials and even police can make you a target. You may never be safe in your home country again.

Focus on desire to live a normal life and not to fight. And talk about why Canada in particular appeals to you. “A place where I can be free and respected again, a country I’ve long admired.”

Next steps

Once you’re at the end, remember to thank the interviewer and ask for next steps. These might include your medical test (often done the same time as the interview) and the security check, which typically starts when the interview finishes.

If you’re lucky, they’ll finish the interview by putting on a friendly face and welcoming you to Canada.

If they tell you there will be a delay or further consideration less common – don’t worry. You’re probably coming to Canada regardless. It may just take longer.