Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement

Canada U.S. FlagsThe Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between Canada and the U.S., signed in 2002 and in effect since 2004, requires refugee claimants arriving at official land border ports of entry to request refugee protection in the country of first arrival, unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement.

To date, the U.S. is the only country that is designated as a safe third country by Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.


4 exceptions allowing claim to be processed in the third country:

  • Family member exceptions
  • Unaccompanied minor exceptions
  • Document holder exceptions
  • Public interest exceptions


Family member must be a:

  • Canadian citizen
  • Permanent resident of Canada
  • Protected person under Canadian immigration legislation
  • Person who has made a claim for refugee status that has been accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
  • Person who had removal order stayed on humanitarian and compassionate grounds
  • Person who holds a valid work permit
  • Person who holds a valid study permit, or
  • Person who is over 18 years old and has a claim for refugee protection that has been referred to the IRB for determination

Family member includes:

  • Spouse
  • Legal guardian
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Uncle and/or aunt
  • Nephew and/or niece
  • Common-law partner
  • Same-sex spouse


Eligible where the minor child:

  • is under 18 years of age and is not accompanied by a mother, father or legal guardian, has neither a spouse nor a common-law partner; and
  • does not have a mother or father or a legal guardian in Canada or the U.S.A.


Valid documents include:

  • Canadian permanent resident visa
  • Canadian temporary resident visa
  • Canadian work permit
  • Canadian study permit
  • Travel documents issued to permanent residents by the Canadian government
  • Refugee travel papers issued by IRCC’s Passport Program


Canada or the U.S.A. may decide to adjudicate any claim where to do so would be in the public interest.

  • Currently, the only designated public interest exception applies to claimants who have been charged with or convicted of an offence that is punishable by the death penalty (in the U.S. or any other country).


Need to prove the family relationship:

  • Have the relative come to the border
  • Provide as much documentation as possible (with certified translations to EN or FR)
  • DNA test
  • Prepare for the interview

Recourse available if entry refused:

  • Request for reconsideration
  • Judicial Review


  • A person can only make one refugee claim in Canada. If a person goes to a Port of Entry and is sent back to the U.S. because of the STCA, and then crosses the border into Canada irregularly, that person cannot make a refugee claim.
  • If a refugee claimant crosses the border into Canada irregularly (i.e. not at an official port of entry), then they are able make a refugee claim in Canada because the STCA only applies at official ports. As is the case for all claimants who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, an unsuccessful refugee claim in Canada will lead to removal to the country of citizenship, not to the United States.