What is the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)?

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is a treaty between Canada and the United States (US).

The STCA was established to manage the flow of refugee claimants at the shared land border and explains who is permitted to seek asylum.

What does the Safe Third Country Agreement do?

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) explains who might be unable to make a refugee claim in Canada if you come from the United States (US).

The STCA states that "refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement" because the US is considered a safe country.

Where does the Safe Third Country Agreement apply?

According to the Steps to Justice website, the STCA applies to arrivals to Canada from the United States (US):

  • at land border crossings
  • after crossing between ports of entry and making a refugee claim less than 14 days after entering Canada
  • by plane, though only if they are under a removal order after a rejected refugee claim in the US

Are there exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement?

If the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) applies when trying to enter Canada, there may still be an option to make a refugee claim if the person meets the exception criteria and no claim was made in the US.

There are exceptions if a person:

  • has an eligible family member in Canada,
  • is an unaccompanied minor under the age of 18,
  • is a document holder, for example, a valid Canadian visa or permit,
  • has been charged with or convicted of a crime for which they could get the death penalty in the US or another country, also called a public interest exception.

In addition to meeting the exception criteria, a person must meet all other refugee claim requirements when making a claim.

The Steps to Justice website explains that if a claim doesn't meet one of the exceptions to the STCA, a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer will escort the person back to the US Port of Entry, and a US Customs and Border Patrol official will decide what happens next.

For More Information

  • Claiming Refugee Protection - This explains making a claim; submitting the necessary documentation; attending a hearing; and finally, awaiting a decision. From the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB)
  • Making a Refugee Claim - This is plain language legal information about making a refugee claim. From Steps to Justice. 
  • Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement - This page explains the Agreement between Canada and the United States (US) as part of the US–Canada Smart Border Action Plan. From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
  • Making a Pre‑Removal Risk Assessment - In some cases, you may be eligible to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) if you’re being removed from Canada. From Steps to Justice.
Last updated: June 19, 2023 4006569