Getting to safety in Canada when LGBT+

This post lists the four easiest legal ways I know that persons who are or are seen to be Lesbian, Transgender, Gay, Bisexual, Intersex, or others under the LGBTQ+ umbrella persons can get into Canada for safety (as of August 2022).

There are many LGBT persons in countries that discriminate against them. According to Human Rights Watch, as of June 2022 at least 69 countries have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults. In addition, at least nine countries have national laws criminalizing forms of gender expression that target transgender and gender nonconforming people.

There are many who face persecution or violence because of their gender identity or expression, or due to their sexual orientation. Here are four legal ways people can get to safety in Canada. #lgbt

Hungary, Russia and Lithuania, for instance, do not criminalize same-sex acts or forms of gender expression, but they prohibit so-called “propaganda” in support of LGBT rights, in an effort to silence activists. Many other countries have erected barriers to freedom of association and assembly for LGBT groups, as documented by OutRight Action International. Finally, some countrues such as Poland and the USA have allowed regional or local governments to enact discriminatory laws – such as no-LGBT zones in Poland and laws intended to harass LGBT persons in Texas and Florida.

Map of anti-LGBT criminal laws by country. Source: Human Rights Watch article “THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME”

I make a point of keeping my Direct Message platforms open on Twitter, Facebook, and Instragram to help people whose lives are at risk because of who they are. You will find links to my social media on linktree.

I am not a lawyer or immigration consultant and am not providing consultation or legal advice.

I receive questions from desperate and terrified persons about accessing safety in Canada almost every day. In the last 5 years these have mostly been from citizens of East Africa, then from the Arabian peninsula, then from South Asia, and then from ex-USSR countries.

With the very important help of Rainbow Railroad and the Canadian Dimplomatic Corp, LGBTQIA persons from Mexico, from Kenya, from Uganda, from Yemen, and from Jordan have gotten to safety. I am currently working with people who are trying to get to safety from Zambia, Uganda, South Sudan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Burundi, CAR, Ethopia, Jordan, and Palestine.

A common question I get on my social media DMs is “how do I get out of my country to safety in Canada?”. I get this question so often that

I know of FOUR legal ways to get into Canada.

In order of certainty of success of the process, the options for getting legally into Canada are:

  • A. Skilled Worker Program for permanent residency
  • B. Temporary Foreign Worker
  • C. Asylum claim inside Canada through the Inland Refugee Process
  • D. UNHCR refugee resettlement

See the details below for each of the above categories

Skilled Worker Program

This is the most-used path to immigrate into Canada. By far, it is the best way to safety for LGBTQIA persons. The Federal Skilled Workers Program is what it is called, and Canada invites skilled workers to move to our country – currently 400,000 per year.

To be eligible for a Canada Immigration (Permanent Resident) Visa under the FSWP, you must meet these 4 criteria:

1. have at least one year of continuous full-time, or equivalent, paid work experience in the past 10 years in a skilled occupation;

2. have validated language test results equivalent to Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 in English or French across all abilities;

3. have a Canadian educational credential (certificate, diploma, or degree) or foreign credential supported by an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) report.

4. have enough settlement funds for settlement in Canada Once in Canada as a Permanent Resident.

To be eligible for Canadian citizenship you must be physically present in Canada as a permanent resident for 1,095 days within the five (5) years immediately before applying for citizenship. Only the five (5) years preceding the date of your application are taken into account.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

There is one more way to get into Canada a for an extended period of time: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

The TFWP allows people to work in the country for only 6 months, with possibilities of extensions. During this time, the foreign worker is allowed to only work for one employer and they get a work permit and visa. They can live in the place in Canada where their job is and must abide by Canadian laws. This is one way to wait for things to get better at home and if the work runs out there is an option to use the Inland Refugee Process described below.

The last 2 other options for finding safety in Canada rely on applying for asylum and are far more unpleasant and much slower. These options should only be considered as a last resort.

Inland Refugee Process

In Canada, everyone is protected from discrimination on the basis of the following grounds: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been given.

Any foreign citizen who is authorized to enter Canada qualifies to apply for asylum in Canada under the Inland Refugee process in Canada or at a port of entry.

This process however requires you to be eligible for entry into Canada. This most often means that it requires a visa to travel to Canada. Getting such a visa is difficult if you do not have strong ties to your country of origin and if you can not show the funds to pay for your trip.

If you make a refugee claim, Canada will decide if it can be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The IRB is an independent tribunal that makes decisions on immigration and refugee matters.

Your refugee claim may not be eligible to be referred to the IRB if you

  • are recognized as a Convention refugee by another country that you can return to
  • were granted protected person status in Canada
  • arrived via the Canada–United States border or by air from the U.S.
  • have made a refugee claim in another country, as confirmed through information-sharing
  • are not admissible to Canada on security grounds or because of criminal activity or human rights violations
  • made a previous refugee claim that was not found eligible
  • made a previous refugee claim that was rejected by the IRB
  • abandoned or withdrew a previous refugee claim

The IRB decides who is a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection.

Convention refugees are outside their home country or the country they normally live in. They’re not able to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on

  • race or ethnicity
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • nationality or place of origin
  • being part of a social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

person in need of protection is a person in Canada who can’t return to their home country safely. This is because, if they return, they may face

  • danger of torture
  • risk to their life
  • risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment

Application form for an inland refugee claim

UNHCR protection

2. Anyone fleeing violence at home can travel to a 3rd country and seek United Nations protection at an UNHCR office and ask for refugee status. The UNHCR then names a Refugee Status Determination (RSD). Unfortunately the RSD process can take years.

Any UNHCR facility anywhere in the world will process a refugee claim but it is important to know that UNHCR staff in every country are from THAT country.

Many people in East Africa have travelled to the UNHCR Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, for example. In this camp, people are telling me that the local authorities are refusing to process their RSD requests. Kenya is not friendly to LGBTQIA refugee claimants and many of the refugees in the UNHCR camps come from countries in which persecuting LGBTQIA persons is commonplace. Asylum seekers in Kakuma have reported to me incidents of police corruptin and brutality, incidents of unaddressed assaults by fellow refugees, and even denial of food and water to LGBTQIA persons.

If you are fleeing violence and seeks UNHCR protection in a country that discriminates against you because of who you are, it is important to understand that the staff in the host country are likely to hold bias against you.

LGBTBIA persons in Kenya, in Jordan, and in Turkey have reported to me awful treatment by local staff during the UNHCR RSD process. A great many people have reported to me that local staff simply refuse to process their RSD applications – sometimes for years.

Also, Kenya specifically has been taking its time with people seeking RSD on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is deplorable and widely documented. People in Kenya are often stuck with on way home and no way out to safety as a result of that country’s awful conduct towards LGBTQIA persons. Sadly Kenyaa is a place refugees seek out because their home country is even worse and even more dangerous for them.

I am in contact with dozens of LGBTQIA asylum seekers and organizers in Kakuma and in the Nairobi region of Kenya. Many tell of harrowing experiences at the hands of local authorities.

Of the LGBTQIA refugees who sought refuge in Kenya after 2018 I personally know zero persons that the UNHCR has processed and sent on from Kenya. I am told of one gay person who was let through. The UNHCR reports that LGBTQIA persons are safe in Kenya but my own observations and the reports back from organizers on the ground do not support this assertion.

Seeking UNHCR refugee status is a long and difficult process that takes years, and until RSD has been completed persons are prohibited from working in the host country. People who are going through this process are extremely vulnerable. This should be under taken if all other options have failed.

Passports and proof of citizenship are very important

Remember that all travel to Canada requires a passport or a UNHCR document. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Also, remember that the most important identity document is the proof of citizenship or birth certificate. If possible, make sure you have aa copy of your birth certificate or proof of citizenship. This is not your passport.

Notes about entry into Canada

Never lie on your application to enter Canada. Any lie on your application can undo your process at any time until you become a citizen.

In Canada, LGBTQIA persons are protected from discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or on the basis of the following grounds: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been given.

Note that if you have been convicted of a crime in your country because you are an LGBTQIA person (for example for having a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex or gender or for wearing fordibben clothes because of your gender or because you are transgender) then this is not a crime recognized in Canada.

BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL TO BE HONEST ABOUT THAT CONVICTION. In Canada, a person who was found guilty of a crime for being an LGBTQ person supports a case for refugee protection.

It is my belief that you can trust Canadian officials with the knowledge that you are an LGBTQIA person. I am sure that there are some people whose beliefs are that LGBTQIA persons are not desired in Canada, but if such a person made a decision that that reflected their personal bias they would be breaking the law and if caught would be certain to be fired.

To everyone seeking safety in Canada, please know that I am not a lawyer and I am not in your situation. The list here is as good as I can make it and if there are updates to it please comment with updates and I will make appropriate changes.

If you are interested in LGBTQIA / 2SLGBTQ+ rights in Canada, please have a look at this post about Trans rights in BC and in Canada that changed the law.

Unauthorized entry

There are other, not-authorized (illegal), ways into Canada for persons fleeing violence because of who they are. Taking that route is not a recommendation I make. Human smugglers are too often predators taking advantage of the situation and I have received eyewitness reports of smugglers (sometimes called “coyotes”) brutalizing transgender women and robbing LGBT persons before leaving them in the desert to die along the route north from Central America to Canada. Trying to enter Canada on foot on our unguarded and non-patrolled border is very dangerous, even if there are thousands of kilometers of forest or grassland between some border posts which are always on main roads. Never cross into Canada during the cold season which is November-April outside the Rocky Mountains and October-May in the mountains. Too many people have died trying to enter illegally into other countries. This can be very dangerous at the wrong time and there is always the risk of being deported once in Canada for entering illegally.

Safe Third Country Agreement

The Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement

The agreement provides that persons seeking refugee protection must make a claim in the first of the two countries they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception. As of August 2022, a court case on the Safe Third Country Agreement is waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. This case may change the nature of the agreement which dates back to 2004, but at this time the agreement holds.

Helpful organizations

Rainbow Refugee

Founded in 2000, Rainbow Refugee promotes safe, equitable migration and communities of belonging for people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status.

Rainbow Railroad

In countries around the world, LGBTQI+ people face violence and oppression simply because of who they love or who they are. We help them get to safety.



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One response to “Getting to safety in Canada when LGBT+”

  1. muhwezi jonathan Avatar

    Its my pressure to hearing from you plz this is Jonathan from Ugandan and a gay and a asylum seeker in kenya refugees camp called kakuma Refugee as well thanks i ran way from my home country Ugandan to seek safe place in kenya as well


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