Asylum-Shopping: a Problem the U.S. Shares with Canada
FAIR Take | April 2023
The U.S. and Canada recently announced an agreement closing major loopholes in their existing mutual safe third country treaty. This treaty requires migrants in these two countries to stay and apply for asylum in the country they first arrived in, but it previously did not apply to illegal U.S.-Canada border crossings between ports of entry. The surge of northbound illegal border crossings into Canada because of this oversight draws attention to the issue of asylum-shopping, where asylum seekers selectively “shop” for a country they’d prefer to apply for asylum in based primarily on economic factors.
However, the desire for a better economic situation is not grounds for asylum under U.S. rules or international standards. Genuine asylum seekers must be fleeing persecution. And logically, there is no reason why someone who is fleeing persecution, already in the U.S., and able to apply for asylum here would be safer in Canada. However, a look into the illegal migrants who crossed into Canada from the U.S. over the past several years shows that asylum-shopping for benefits isn’t an issue limited to America’s own southern border.
According to data from the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), Canada’s immigrant adjudication authority, more than 81,000 people have illegally crossed into Canada from the U.S. and claimed asylum since 2017. The majority of those claims come from nationals of five countries: Haiti, Nigeria, Colombia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Many of these illegal migrants are actually U.S. visa holders. However, they cross into Canada to apply for asylum because they believe Canada’s more generous system is more likely to offer permanent status than the United States.
For many of these migrants, who openly admit that their motives are economic, this belief proves correct. For example, around 70 percent of Colombians applying for asylum in the U.S. have been denied; meanwhile, 72 percent of Canadian asylum applications from Colombians are successful. Canada’s overall asylum grant rate of 37 percent is higher than America’s 18 percent average. Economic migrants, many with valid U.S. visas, who exploit these differences only make it more difficult for true asylum seekers to find refuge. Thankfully, effective safe third country agreements can put an end to these rampant abuses.
The revised agreement with Canada is only a good first step in preventing asylum abuse. Every day, thousands of individuals pass through safe countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama with the goal of illegally crossing into the U.S. The cancellation of safe third country agreements between the U.S. and several Central American nations under the Biden administration contributed to a surge in illegal immigration far greater than what Canada is currently experiencing. Renewed agreements with those countries would greatly decrease the massive burden that illegal immigration places on the U.S. and reaffirm the internationally accepted definition of asylum. It has been achieved under previous administrations, and the American public certainly deserves the relief that Canadians now enjoy.