I Waited Too Long to Apply for Asylum in the United States: Can I Apply for Asylum in Canada?

The Safe Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada says that (with some exceptions) you can apply for asylum only in the first country you arrived in.

By , Attorney · Temple University Beasley School of Law

One question that comes up from foreign migrants who entered the United States fleeing persecution, but weren't able to apply for asylum within the one-year filing deadline bar (or didn't know they had to is the following: If I've lost my chance to apply for asylum here, what about applying for asylum in Canada?

The United States and Canada have an agreement governing situations like this, called a Safe Third Country Agreement. We'll describe its basic provisions here, and whether it might help someone who can no longer apply for asylum in the United States.

What the Safe Third Country Agreement Says About Asylum Seekers Who Lived in the U.S. Then Go to Canada

This agreement provides that migrants must apply for asylum in whichever of the two countries they arrive in first, either the United States or Canada. So the short answer is "No," one cannot give up on the U.S. asylum system and head for Canada to apply.

There are, however, many exceptions to this agreement, including for:

  • applicants who have ties to family members holding legal immigration status in Canada
  • unaccompanied minors, and
  • people who have a valid visa with which to enter Canada.

Such persons might be exempt from the Safe Third Country Agreement and be allowed to seek asylum in Canada.

Would an Exception Allow You to Apply for Asylum in the United States After the One-Year Filing Deadline?

Before determining that the U.S application route is impossible, you might want to investigate whether you fall into an exception allowing for a late application for U.S. asylum, as described in Can I Still Apply for Asylum After the One-Year Filing Deadline?

In brief, you would need to show that a changed circumstance, either in your personal life or in conditions in the U.S. or in your home country, led to your eligibility for asylum, and that you filed within a reasonable time after the circumstance occurred or after you learned of it.

Getting Legal Help

Consider consulting with at least one experienced immigration attorney—perhaps one in the U.S. as well as one in Canada—before deciding how to proceed, and to learn the latest with regard to the Safe Third Country Agreement. Once you leave the United States, you could be subject to a three- or ten-year bar on reentering, depending on how long you have been in the U.S. without lawful immigration status. Also see How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings (which contains tips for immigrants who aren't in deportation proceedings, as well).

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