Costing Irregular Migration across Canada's Southern Border

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There has been a recent increase in the number of asylum claimants entering Canada via its southern border, much of which has been driven by irregular migration. Irregular migrants are defined as migrants who cross the border between official ports of entry.

MP Larry Maguire (Brandon-Souris, CPC) requested the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) to provide an estimate of the total and projected cost to the federal government in managing the increase in irregular arrivals. This includes all costs beginning from the initial port of entry into Canada to the final decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) and/or Federal Court, as well as removal costs.

The PBO estimates that the average cost for each irregular migrant who entered Canada in 2017-18 is $14,321 per irregular migrant for the entire claim process, increasing to $16,666 in 2019-20. This amounts to a total variable cost of $340 million in 2017-18, rising to $396 million in 2019-20.

The cost per migrant can vary depending on the determination of the eligibility of the asylum claim. For an irregular migrant that entered Canada in 2017-18, the PBO estimates that the cost to the federal government can vary between $9,915 and $33,738. The lower cost is incurred in cases where the asylum claim is accepted at the first hearing, while the higher cost relates to claims which are initially denied, and the claimant exhausts all appeal options and is ultimately removed from Canada.

These costs are variable and primarily reflect additional personnel, medical and legal expenses in the claims process. In addition, the PBO assumes that the infrastructure in place to manage the refugee claim process will not need to be adjusted beyond the changes announced in Budget 2018.

An important cost to the refugee asylum process relates to social services provided by provincial and municipal governments. While the federal government has reimbursed part of these expenses, it has no obligation to do so. Notwithstanding an announcement of the reimbursement of $50 million to affected governments, the federal government has provided no guidance regarding the reimbursement of future expenses. As such, this non-federal cost is excluded from the PBO’s cost estimate.

The PBO undertook a sensitivity analysis of future variable costs relating to irregular migration. These projections assume that the number of irregular migrants entering Canada is higher or lower by 10,000, relative to a base case equal to the number of irregular migrants in 2017-18. These costs are projected to be between $208 million and $538 million for FY 2018-19, and between $211 million and $609 million for FY 2019-20.