January 27, 2015

Assisted Voluntary Return Program for Failed Refugee Claimants a Costly and “Questionable” Endeavour

Posted by Legal Team - Bellissimo Law Group PC

The Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) has released a report presenting concerning findings about a program designed to encourage failed refugee claimants to leave Canada more quickly by offering them a financial incentive.

Launched in Toronto in 2012, the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration pilot program (“AVRR”) offers failed claimants up to $2,000 (and up to $500 for claimants from Designated Countries of Origin) to assist them in resettling after leaving Canada. The AVRR program was rolled out alongside the government’s 2012 overhaul of the refugee protection system which aimed to reduce timelines and take a hard line on unfounded claims.

At the time of implementation, critics worried that the AVRR program was being launched without sufficient evaluation and review. CBSA’s recent report now admits that “the pilot program was designed based on a set of assumptions that could not be validated prior to launch, some of which proved not to be accurate.” For example, some factors which would render claimants ineligible for the program were not considered, making removal targets over-estimated.

The report also explains that the financial incentive was designed to “promote a sustainable return and encourage failed refugee claimants to leave sooner.” As the amount of the financial incentive decreased with each level of appeal exercised, it was expected that more failed claimants would choose to leave rather than appeal. This was not the case, however, as more participants made two appeals in 2013/2014 than in 2012/2013.

With respect to cost, the report found that an AVRR removal is “almost double the cost of a low-risk removal which is not eligible for reintegration assistance.” What is more, because the Immigration and Refugee Board’s internal systems did not have a way to track claimants from Designated Countries of Origin, program participants were mistakenly awarded $200,000 more than what they were entitled to. Failed claimants who were initially interested in the program but either failed to enrol or withdrew also cost the program some $540,000 in administrative costs. In addition, the program pays for 92% of return airline tickets, at a cost of $1.3 million. It was expected that these costs would be recovered from the airlines, but the CBSA report confirmed that “this has not occurred.”

Some positive aspects were highlighted, including solid client uptake and the unanticipated finding that walk-in program participants departed Canada faster than those referred by the CBSA. However, the report concluded that the AVRR program “was implemented well, even if it did not achieve its core objectives to remove failed refugee claimants in a more timely and cost effective manner.” The need for the program as currently designed was deemed “questionable,” as removals were found to cost more and take longer than other low-risk removals since the refugee reforms came into effect. This result is disappointing, especially given the CBSA’s candor that certain “assumptions” were not verified prior to launching the program. The result was a costly exercise which will not be continued beyond the March 2015 pilot program end date. This is unfortunate, given the program’s commendable goals of continuing to streamline and speed up the refugee protection system.

For more information on claiming refugee status in Canada, click here