You’re here! What next?

So you made it to Canada! Only wait – you have no status here… yet. Maybe you came as a student or a tourist, or were invited to a conference, and you know you cannot go back. You’re a refugee, in other words, and you would like to claim refugee status in Canada.

How to do it? It’s not easy – like everything in Canada, the process can drag on and on – but if you face real danger back home, you’ll do it anyway. The information listed here is gathered from other people who made successful refugee claims from within Canada.

If you want to talk to the official experts, definitely check the official sources!

Step One: Find a Place to Sleep

Before you start this process, you definitely need to find a place to sleep!

If you don’t have a hotel, friend’s place or AirBnB organized, you can go to refugee housing – a shelter, in other words – as soon as you arrive and stay for free. You don’t need a refugee claim number to go. The best ones are run by COSTI. Warning, though, most of them are not places you want to stay for very long.

Here are some of the better ones in Toronto. Call early, because they tend to be booked up:

    Address: 100 Lippincott St, Toronto, ON M5S 2P1
    Phone: (416) 922-6688

  • Christie Refugee Welcome Centre
    Address: 43 Christie St, Toronto, ON M6G 3B1
    Phone: (416) 588-9277

  • Adam House
    Address: 430 Gladstone Ave, Toronto, ON M6H 3H9
    Phone: (416) 538-2836

  • Sojourn House
    Address: 101 Ontario St, Toronto, ON M5A 2V2
    Phone: (416) 864-0515

  • Matthew House
    Address: 981 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1W4
    Phone: (416) 203-7848

Step Two: Call Legal Aid

Call Legal Aid to register your case: 1-800-668-8258. Declare any children if you have any. You want to make this call fairly soon after you arrive, because there are things you can only get (a lawyer, financial support) once you get a client and certificate number. You need these to get a lawyer that the government will pay for.

Bonus tip: For separated families: if the parent is accepted, then the children will be given refugee status as soon as they arrive.

Step Three: Find a Lawyer

Legal Aid has a list on their website of lawyers. Look for one that accepts Legal Aid, even if they’re not on the list. (You may want to ask your friends for a recommendation). A lawyer recommended through Legal Aid will likely accept government money to take on your case, to cover all your claimant fees – but it’s something you should ask your lawyer to confirm.

Other tips: It’s good to have a lawyer who is close enough for you to visit. You can also ask other refugee claimants if they used this lawyer, and whether their experience was positive or not.

There are also some questions you should ask your lawyer when you meet, as you’ll see in Step Seven.

Step Four (if you want): Visit the Refugee Law Office

If you’ve called Legal Aid, you probably don’t need to visit the Refugee Law Office in person. But say you want to, it’s in downtown Toronto. Bring an interpreter if needed.

Refugee Law Office

20 Dundas St. W.


They’re open Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Call or visit first thing in the morning or queue can be long

Step Five: Prepare for your Meeting with your Lawyer

Do more work on your narrative, so you have all your facts straight for the meeting with the lawyer. Because the lawyer will write up your story in the right legal language, but the story they write will only be as good as the information you provide them.

If there is some important point that will help your case, they probably won’t know to ask about it – so you must be sure to include it in your narrative.

You can also go to this official website for refugee claims in order to prepare the basic refugee claimant forms.

You can prepare for your meeting with a lawyer by writing a version of your ‘narrative’ – your life story. It includes all the places and dates of your life story and any persecution you faced along the way, including hostile texts and so on. This will help you tell your story in a factual way when you can Legal Aid.

To add objective legitimacy to your story, consider finding media stories or posts by groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch that describe the sort of discrimination you face, bring those too. While your lawyer might be an expert in your sort of case, documents like this may help them do their job better.

Also bring any other documents that support your case and show evidence of what you’re claiming in your story. For example, if your landlord evicted you because you were gay or Christian or whatever, bring that letter. If you were attacked and have pictures of the bruises – bring the pictures!

Step Six: Meet your Lawyer

Meet your lawyer and tell your story. Hopefully you’ve spent some time writing down the story already, so you have all your facts straight. You will have many meetings between now and your refugee hearing.

This is going to be a close partnership with big implications for your life, so make sure it’s a good fit. One important thing to do is to ask your lawyer about his or her area of expertise. Have they handled a case like yours before?

Some may have more experience with LGBTQ+ cases, for example, whereas others may specialize in cases involving political persecution – or focus on a certain region of the world. Good to ask – or otherwise you may spend more time than you want on educating your lawyer!

Show the lawyer all the documents you’ve prepared, the case narrative and all the supporting documents. The more materials you bring to the meeting, the faster and easier your lawyer’s work will be – and it positions you for a more successful outcome.

Step Seven: Submit your Claim

After meeting your lawyer, they will provide you with papers that you complete and then take to immigration to submit your claim.

Step Eight: Apply for Support

After submitting your refugee claim, the IRCC (Immigration) will give you a refugee claim number (‘brown paper‘). You can then use this to apply for a bank account, as well as for Ontario Works and for a Social Insurance number.

This is part of the reason you should call Legal Aid sooner rather than later. You only get these things once you file a claim with the IRCC (but well before your refugee hearing). You will likely get a social insurance number after 3 months or so, allowing you to work.

Step Nine: The Hearing

There are in fact many steps between 8 and 9, since the hearing can take place anywhere from five months to a year after you make your refugee claim. Sometimes longer!

During this time, you will get a social insurance number, which allows you to work. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff you can do to get established.

But let’s just skip into the future – to the big day! Come prepared with all your paperwork. If you have done your homework, and your lawyer is even basically competent, you will likely have a good outcome.

And now, the months-long wait to become permanent resident! But hey, at least you are on your way….


Here's new information from Canadian immigration on how to apply in the COVID-19 era.

1. Send an email to IRCC requesting to make a claim

2. Receive an acknowledgment of claim letter stating you are eligible for IFHP and social assistance

3. Receive an email from Canada Post to sign up for an account and submit your basis of claim.

4. Upload the signed forms

5. Wait for instruction through Canada Post to go for a medical examination.