Determining eligibility: Determining whether the applicant has the ability to establish

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

Follow these steps to determine whether or not the applicant has the ability to establish:

1 - Applying the regulatory requirement to become successfully established

The Regulations require that persons selected for resettlement be able to demonstrate the ability to become successfully established in Canada. However protection is the most important goal of Canada’s resettlement program. This is particularly important when considering special-needs cases.

“Urgent need of protection” and “vulnerable” cases are exempt from the regulatory requirement to successfully establish.


  • Is the applicant or their accompanying family members in urgent need of protection or vulnerable?
  • Is the applicant following under the one-year window program?
  • If the answers to these questions are yes, the family unit is exempt from the ability to establish assessment. Record in the case notes if applicants were exempted. Proceed to Step 4.
  • If the answers are no, the family unit’s ability to establish must be assessed. Proceed to Step 2.
2- Assessing Ability to Establish

To determine whether an applicant and their family members included in the application have the ability to establish in Canada, the officer should determine whether, based on these considerations, the family:

  • Will be able to provide for themselves and their dependants; and
  • Does not have any impediments to joining the full time labour force, even if it is at minimum wage.

When reviewing the applicant’s ability to establish, the officer is assessing the possibilities of economic and social self-sufficiency of the whole family unit, including the family and the de facto members, both those who are accompanying the applicant and those who might already be in Canada and would logically be expected to assist.

The officer must consider the following factors, as a whole, when determining ability to establish. A negative answer to one of the bolded questions below does not necessarily mean that the applicant will not be able to establish.

Regulatory Considerations (R139 (1)(g))

Have the applicant and/or accompanying family members demonstrated resourcefulness and other similar qualities that assist in integration in a new society?

“Other similar qualities” may include initiative, ingenuity, and perseverance. Some elements to consider include:

  • ability to earn income in a country of refuge, even if it is through the informal labour or business market;
  • demonstrating an ability to adapt to a new country (life activities, including education when available) to the extent that their legal status or the existence of opportunity allows;
  • mentoring younger family members or using skills to assist others while displaced.
Do the applicant and/or accompanying family members have relatives or a sponsor in the expected community of resettlement?

The notion of relatives is meant to be fairly broad but not so broad as to include relatives of acquaintance such as a close friend of the family called “Uncle.” It is meant to convey the notion of “blood relationship” of the principal applicant or the blood relations of the spouse or common-law partner. The relations must be in the expected community of resettlement since it is the physical presence of family that will assist in integrating.

Refugees may not have documentation to prove the presence of relatives. Questioning the refugee may help the officer determine whether the family connection is substantial enough to actually be beneficial to the applicant’s integration. Some elements to consider include: 

  • What does the applicant know about their family in Canada?
  • What kind of assistance does the applicant expect from their family in Canada? Officers should consider the possibility of everything from temporary to advice, assistance in becoming employed and child care.
  • Have the relatives in Canada been in contact with the refugee?
  • An inability to respond to simple questions about family members’ or relatives’ whereabouts, events such as deaths, marriages or births may mean the relationships with family are so distant as to be of little value in assisting the applicant with integration. However, officers should recognize that it is quite common for family members in a situation of forced migration to have difficulty in communicating with family in other countries.

When considering how the support to be provided by a sponsor may impact the individual’s/family’s ability to establish, the personal relationship between the refugee and the sponsor, if any, is not important. This is because all sponsors have entered a contractual agreement with the Minister to provide a defined level of support to sponsored refugees.

Do the applicant and/or accompanying family members demonstrate potential for employment in Canada?

There is no minimum level of education or work experience required for refugees. Persons with manual skills and low education can and do find employment and adapt to life in Canada. Applicants need not prove that they can work in their former occupations. They need only demonstrate that they do not have any impediments to joining the full time labour force in Canada, even if it is at minimum wage.

Some factors to consider when assessing potential for employment include:

  • applicant has transferable work experience, formal or informal;
  • applicant is currently a student or is working (formal or informal) in the country of refuge;
  • applicant worked or attended an educational institution in the past, before the refugee-like situation occurred;
  • applicant continued to apply previous skills or acquired new skills while in a refugee camp or country of refuge (e.g. hairdressing, sewing, cooking, building, child care, etc.)
  • applicant become involved in the organization or administration of the affairs of their refugee group  such as organizing ad hoc events, committees, etc.;
  • applicant has undertaken to teach others a new skill; and/or
  • applicant has several family members, some of whom are still of school age or who are young adults, who will be able to contribute in the long term to the family’s economic well-being.
Have the applicant and/or accompanying family members demonstrated an ability to learn to communicate in English or French?

An applicant does not need to speak English or French in order to be approved for resettlement to Canada. Unilingual persons with low education can and do find employment and adapt to life in Canada. Although officers are not trained or expected to perform an assessment of applicants’ language-learning ability, there are some basic indicators to consider:

These factors include:

  • applicant is literate in their own language;
  • applicant has taught a language in the past or is teaching children in the community about their native language (teaching literacy skills);
  • applicant has some knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada;
  • applicant is fluent in more than one language;
  • applicant has acquired a working knowledge of the language used in the refugee camp or country of refuge;
  • applicant has acted or acts as interpreter for others;
  • applicant will be residing with school-age children;
  • applicant will be residing with persons who do speak or who have the ability to learn to speak English or French.

Health conditions and ability to establish

Resettled refugees are exempt from medical inadmissibility for conditions causing excessive demand on health or social services. It is important that officers remember that an applicant’s medical assessment is part of the admissibility screening process, and that the “ability to establish” provision is not a regulatory mechanism to “second-guess” the opinion of a medical officer when an applicant has a serious physical or mental health condition that could affect their ability to establish. It is anticipated that cases where a medical condition will lead to a negative ability to establish decision will be rare. Officers are also reminded that “vulnerable” cases, often with high-medical needs, are exempt from the regulatory requirement to establish.   

Will the applicant and their family members be able to become successfully established in Canada?

  • If the answer to the above question is yes, the ability to establish assessment is complete. Proceed to Step 4.
  • If the answer is no, the officer should examine alternative arrangements. Proceed to Step 3.
3 - Alternative Arrangements

Before refusing someone on the basis the person does not demonstrate an ability to successfully establish within three to five years, the officer must first determine whether the applicant could establish if given some extra assistance. The officer should ask:

Could the applicant establish if given assistance through the JAS program?

If the officer determines that the applicant is a special-needs refugee who requires longer-term financial support and other forms of support, the applicant could be considered for a joint assistance sponsorship (JAS). Under the JAS program, assistance is available for up to 36 months in exceptional circumstances.

Could the applicant establish if given assistance through an extended sponsorship?

The Regulations allow a private sponsorship to be extended beyond the normal period of 12 months in exceptional circumstances. Officers may consider an extended private sponsorship when they believe that an applicant will require a longer period of assistance, even if they are not a special-needs refugee. In such cases, the sponsorship may be extended for up to 36 months provided the applicant is otherwise eligible under the Regulations. An extension of sponsorship must be done in consultation with, and with the agreement of the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) and sponsorship group before the refugee travels to Canada.

If the answers to the above questions are yes, the officer should note a positive ability to establish decision, pending the finalization of the alternative arrangement (e.g. matching with a JAS sponsor). Proceed to Step 4.

If the answers are no, the officer should refuse the application based on a negative ability to establish determination.

If alternative arrangements are not successful (a sponsor is requested and is not found after 6 months), and the applicant was not exempted from the ability to establish assessment, the application should be refused based on a negative ability to establish determination.

4 - Recording Settlement Needs

Record in case notes and on the applicable forms (e.g. Resettlement Needs Assessment Form, IMM5544) any potential settlement needs and special accommodation requirements (e.g. wheelchair access, diapers, etc.) that may arise in Canada. These notes and forms assist in destining refugees and in preparing service providers and sponsors for the arrival of the refugee in Canada. Where there is no room to record the information in an applicable form, the information should be included in the officers’ notes. Relevant information includes, but is not limited to:

  • complex family composition (elderly dependants, single-parents, large families);
  • physical or mental health symptoms and related required accommodations;
  • experience of severe trauma or torture;
  • lack of exposure to modern technology; and
  • illiteracy in own language.

Medical diagnoses, if known, should be included in the officers’ notes, but not on any form that will be distributed to service providers.

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