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Canada is ending a policy that was among the most restrictive in the developed world, the government said on Tuesday.
Refugees who try to make the treacherous crossing between official border crossings in northern Quebec are typically turned back by the RCMP unless they can prove they have refugee status pending a ruling from Canada’s immigration minister.
It is not clear how the change will affect asylum-seekers who try to make the crossing without a sponsor in the US, often through Vermont and New Hampshire, in a bid to avoid attempts by US authorities to send them back to Haiti, Afghanistan or Nigeria.
The “family reunification exception” policy that prevented deported asylum-seekers from re-entering the country for five years can be ended with the stroke of a pen, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.
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“This shows the government’s commitment to protecting the lives of all people seeking asylum,” Goodale said.
Since November, more than 40 people have made the crossing into Canada at Lacolle, Quebec, each day. Quebec Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux said the province would end its own border policy.
In April 2015, President Barack Obama rescinded a rule that required asylum-seekers who applied in the United States to apply for refugee status before crossing into Canada. Since then, more than 1,500 people have made the crossing into Canada at Lacolle.
The small northern town of Lacolle is next to the US border, allowing migrants to travel across relatively quickly. The United States is a country that authorities are trying to keep as a transit point for asylum-seekers, while facilitating the entry of approved claims from migrants in need of protection.
A spokeswoman for Goodale said the policy change does not affect undocumented migrants crossing the border into Canada who do not have government support in Canada or refugees who want to come to Canada but cannot afford the travel costs.
Goodale said new cases were still being evaluated by Canada’s immigration and refugee board. But the board would end its practice of automatically rejecting visa applications if a migrant did not have any criminal record in his or her home country, the spokeswoman said.