This story is over 5 years old.


A small number of people are fleeing Canada for the U.S.

Less than 500 people have tried for refugee status in the U.S. using the Safe Third Country Agreement
A sign posted on an overpass with that says 'Pay fare ahead' and pointing toward a bridge to Canada.

In case there was any doubt, barely anybody flees Canada for the U.S.

Just 466 asylum seekers — including 55 Canadians — left Canada to apply for refugee status at the U.S. border under exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement since 2004.

The number of asylum seekers fleeing the U.S. for Canada has skyrocketed since President Donald Trump’s election.

The deal between the two countries typically forbids anyone who first arrives in Canada from then applying for refugee status in the U.S., and vice versa, on the assumption that both countries are safe for refugees.


The new numbers, obtained by VICE News through an American freedom of information request, reinforce why Canada pushed for the agreement in the first place and is fighting to maintain it: far more people migrate from the US into Canada than they do the other way around

In contrast, the number of asylum seekers fleeing the U.S. for Canada has skyrocketed since President Donald Trump’s election, with hundreds of families making dangerous journeys in the middle of the night to avoid getting caught by law enforcement at the border.

While they could be rejected at a formal border crossing, a loophole in the agreement allows anyone who makes it across into Canada to apply for refugee status, no questions asked.

The numbers provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services do not capture anyone who crossed the Canadian border into the U.S. illegally or were rejected.

More than 60 people were subjected to expedited removal.

Those who do end up in Canada or the U.S. and then try to claim asylum in the opposite country can only do so through one of four exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement: if they have immediate family members in the other country, if they are unaccompanied minors, if they have valid immigration status in the other country, or public interest exceptions.

The agreement has long been slammed by human rights advocates and law experts for forcing asylum seekers to take riskier migration routes. The Canadian government has repeatedly said that the agreement is a crucial tool that allows it to work with U.S. counterparts to handle refugee claims along the border.


According to the data, the majority of those 466 asylum seekers tried to apply for asylum in the U.S. from Canada through the public interest exception or because they had a family member in the U.S. More than 60 people were subjected to expedited removal, which can mean that border guards determined the person had problematic travel documents.

The years 2008 and 2009 saw the highest number of people attempt to claim status at the U.S. border under the agreement, with more than 100 per year. So far this year, there have been only seven people to do so, three of whom identified as Cuban. Last year saw 21 people, who ranged from Ukrainian to Haitian citizens.

In March, Canada’s immigration department told VICE News it does not track how many asylum seekers cross into Canada from the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement because the data “may not be properly entered at intake.”

Sean Rehaag, a professor in immigration and refugee law at Osgoode Hall, said that large numbers of refugees have come to Canada through the U.S. for decades.

Data he was able to obtain from Canadian authorities for 2013 show that more than 2,000 asylum seekers crossed from the U.S. into Canada that year alone under the Safe Third Country Agreement.

“When there were calls for Canada to withdraw from the Agreement a few months ago on the basis that the U.S. is no longer safe for refugees, one counterargument was that such a move might upset the unpredictable new U.S. President,” he said. “It actually seems that if the current U.S. administration spent a few minutes thinking about this issue, they’d be the ones calling for an end to the Agreement.”

The U.S. immigration department said it does not keep track of how many people were rejected from entry, so it’s quite possible the overall number of people who unsuccessfully tried to claim asylum status in the U.S. from Canada is much higher. The department declined to make someone available for an interview.

Although there were 55 Canadians who made asylum claims at the U.S. border, the agreement does not apply to U.S. nor Canadian citizens, explained Rehaag. “Which means that Canadian or U.S. nationals can apply for refugee protection at the border without being turned back,” he said. “The Canadians citizens [in the data] are most likely children born in Canada who are accompanying their parents who are not Canadian nationals.”