Max Rady College of Medicine

Concept: Refugee

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Concept Description

Last Updated: 2022-12-08


    concept/Social Determinants of Health-SDOH-Digital Library-Image.jpg This concept describes how Refugees are defined and operationalized for immigration-related research at MCHP. The concept includes the following sections:

    Definition: Refugee claimants (or asylum seekers) are admitted on humanitarian grounds. Refugees can be admitted as protected persons in Canada, as dependents abroad, or as resettled refugees. Refugee claimants are those who seek refugee protection at an inland office or at a port of entry and who fear persecution or would be in danger if they had to leave Canada. Resettled refugees can be admitted to Canada through several streams, such as through the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) program, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program, and Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) refugee programs.

Data Sources


    In the deliverable The Diversity of Immigrants to Manitoba, Migration Dynamics and Basic Healthcare Service Use by Urquia et al. (2020), Refugee category was operationalized by classifying the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Permanent Resident Database Refugee-related "immigration admission category" codes into one of the four Refugee categories:

    1. Protected persons - these are individuals who seek refugee protection at an inland office or at a port of entry and who fear persecution or would be in danger if they had to leave Canada. They are granted temporary residence and considered for potential admission as permanent residents following the processing of their application claim. Refugee claimants obtain protected person status after a successful hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Only those whose claims are successful are granted permanent residency and are included in the Permanent Resident Database.

    2. Government Assisted Refugees - these are individuals who are living outside of their home country or country of residence and are referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC) or other referral organisations for resettlement to Canada. They are selected on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in particular social group or political opinion if they return to their country.

    3. Privately Sponsored Refugees - these are individuals who were privately sponsored abroad while outside their home country or country of residence, by organisations, groups of Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents, or had the funds to support themselves and any dependants after they arrived in Canada. Private sponsors include incorporated organisations who have signed a formal sponsorship agreement with IRCC, sponsorship groups, community sponsors, and groups of five or more people who are at least 18 years old and live in the expected community of settlement. The private sponsor provides the cost of food, accommodation, and general settlement assistance such as school enrollment, and registration with health services, for twelve months, or until the refugee become self-sufficient, whichever is sooner. However, sponsorship may be extended to a maximum of 36 months in exceptional circumstances if the refugee requires more time to become established in Canada.

    4. Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Refugees - these are individuals who receive resettlement assistance from both the federal government and private sponsors, who are selected while living outside of their home country or country of residence and who have been granted permanent resident status on the basis of a well-founded fear of returning to that country. The first immigrants admitted under a BVOR program landed in Canada in 2013. They are first assessed for eligibility for the GAR program, and once eligibility is confirmed, are then further assessed to determine whether they may be a potential candidate for the BVOR program. After admissibility to Canada is established, the application is reviewed by the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, which comprises groups who wish to sponsor a refugee under the BVOR program. When a potential sponsor selects such a case, the sponsor must submit an application to determine whether or not they have the ability to provide adequate financial, emotional and settlement support as required by their sponsorship undertaking. A refugee may be eligible for the BVOR provision where both the Government of Canada and a private sponsor provide financial support, with the sponsor providing additional settlement support for the year after the refugee arrives in Canada.

    NOTE: The Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) – Permanent Residence Database in the Repository has two files containing immigration data that cover different time periods, with different variables containing different values / codes for classifying refugee categories:

    • the LEGACY LANDING file contains the variable Immigration Category (IMMIGRATION_CATEGORY_CD); and
    • the (current) LANDING file contains the variable Application Category (APPLICATION_CATEGORY_ID).

      A SAS® format, IRCC_IMM_CAT_to_APPL_CAT, converts the LEGACY LANDING file variable IMMIGRATION_CATEGORY_CD values into equivalent values of the LANDING file variable APPLICATION_CATEGORY_ID. A second SAS® format, IRCC_APPLICATION_REFUGEE_CLASS, converts all of these values into the appropriate refugee classification / category.

    The following describes the basic algorithm in developing the methodology for this concept. It summarizes the SAS® code example that is provided in the SAS code and formats section below.

    1. create a landing file containing the combined data from the two IRCC LEGACY LANDING and [current] LANDING files;
    2. copy the category code from APPLICATION_CATEGORY_ID variable in the [current] LANDING file; OR convert the IMMIGRATION_CATEGORY_CD variable from the LEGACY LANDING file using the IRCC_IMM_CAT_to_APPL_CAT format into one of the newer application category codes;
    3. convert this application category code to refugee class using the IRCC_APPLICATION_REFUGEE_CLASS format.

Research Findings

Cautions / Limitations

    The following cautions were identified during development of this concept:

    • The determination of refugee status involves several subtypes that may be time-dependent and respond to the needs of a wave of humanitarian intake during a limited period (e.g., Syrian refugees).

SAS code and formats 

Related concepts 

Related terms 


  • Urquia M, Walld R, Prior H, Detillieux G, Eze N, Koseva I. The Diversity of Immigrants to Manitoba, Migration Dynamics and Basic Healthcare Service Use. Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, 2020. [Report] [Summary] [Additional Materials] (View)
  • Wanigaratne S, Shakya Y, Gagnon AJ, Cole DC, Rashid M, Blake J, Dastoori P, Moineddin R, Ray JG, Urquia ML. Refugee maternal and perinatal health in Ontario, Canada: A retrospective population-based study. BMJ Open 2018;8(4):e018979. [Abstract] (View)
  • Wanigaratne S, Rashid M, Gagnon A, Cole DC, Shakya Y, Moineddin R, Blake J, Yudin MH, Campbell D, Ray JG, Urquia ML. Refugee mothers, migration pathways and HIV: A population-based cohort study. AIDS Care 2019;Epub ahead of print. [Abstract] (View)

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