The growing numbers of asylum-seekers crossing into Canada’s southern border cost taxpayers $340 million last year, with health expenses for claimants expected to more than double by 2020, a new analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Officer suggests.
The report from the PBO, released Thursday, sought to determine the cost to federal coffers from the recent increase in migrants crossing into Canada outside official ports of entry, from initial interactions to the final decision on an asylum claim, including the cost of removal.
Based on its analysis, the PBO pegged the average cost of managing an individual asylum-seeker at $14,321 in 2017-18, with most of that attributable to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which adjudicates on the merit of refugee claims. However, it estimates the cost will grow to $16,666 in 2019-20, thanks largely to growing medical costs under the Interim Federal Health Program. The IFHP provides temporary health insurance for refugee claimants who have either been rejected, are deemed ineligible, or are awaiting a ruling.
According to the PBO, health costs under the IFHP stood at $48.8 million in 2017-18, but will rise to $76.4 million in 2018-19 before hitting $104.5 million in 2019-20. Based on these projections, health insurance would be the second-largest expense for Ottawa in managing claimants by 2020, behind only the cost of the IRB process. It’s the only expense the PBO anticipates changing in the next two years, with the funding set aside for the RCMP, CSIS, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Federal Court (which handles claimant appeals), federal Immigration and Justice ministries, and IRB all expected to remain flat.
“These costs are variable and primarily reflect additional personnel, medical and legal expenses in the claims process,” reads the PBO report, prompted by a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire.
Canada has seen a surge in asylum-seekers crossing from the United States since 2017, largely in response to stricter immigration and refugee policies from the Donald Trump administration, most notably a decision to revoke the temporary protected status granted to Haitian nationals in the wake of that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
Based on the PBO’s analysis, the IRB had the capacity to hear 24,000 claims per year in 2017-18. However, during that span, there were 52,142 new asylum claims submitted to the board, 23,215 of which were attributable to so-called irregular migrants — those who crossed into Canada outside of official border entrances. The IRB also received 5,736 appeals, of which irregular migrants represented 1,032, according to the PBO report.
In response to the surge of asylum-seekers, the Trudeau government promised $173.2 million over two years in the 2018 budget to manage “irregular migration by ensuring security at the border and faster processing of asylum claims.”
In a statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the PBO report shows that the Liberal government’s “failure to address the crisis” at the border has severe consequences for Canadians and those seeking legal asylum. He promised to write to the auditor general in the coming days to request an investigation into the “border-crossing crisis.”
The PBO report also noted that provincial and municipal governments face “significant financial pressures” in dealing with the increase in irregular border crossers, with Ontario estimating its costs at $200 million, mostly for temporary housing, social assistance and education. Quebec did not provide cost details to the PBO.