Visa office interviews are conducted to assess the refugee's eligibility for resettlement to Canada as a permanent resident and also assess his or her admissibility to enter Canada.
As a Core Team, it is important to help them prepare for the interview. Read over the fact sheet provided by RSTP so you are aware of the process and what will be required. Once the refugee has received an interview date, they will be much better prepared if you have walked them through the process, explained their rights and responsibilities and given them a mock interview. Many refugees have been victims of abuse by authorities. Helping them understand and prepare for this interview will empower them to tell their own story honestly and with the confidence of knowing that they are safe.
How to Prepare Once they are Invited?
1. Review their original application. Has anything changed with regards to their family composition, their country of asylum or anything else? If something has changed in the facts as recorded in the application, IRCC &/or the Visa Office must be informed prior to the interview to avoid delays.
- Send the refugee a copy of their application to review the way their story was presented.
- Visa officers are looking for consistency and honesty in the refugee's narrative. It is very important the Applicant retell their story as it was presented in the application, answering even difficult questions honestly.
2. Collect all the documents. Make sure the documents are translated into English or French. Use original documents or updated documents if some have expired. i.e. expired ID documents that have been updated.
3. Prepare updates. Review the application with the refugee and list anything & everything that has changed since the original submission. We would expect that anything big, such as a birth, a death, a marriage, an adoption, etc. has already been updated with IRCC &/or the visa office overseas. If not, making these changes at the time of their interview will cause further delays.
4. Practice. Plan to do a "mock" interview with the PA. As you practice possible questions, train the refugee to simply answer the question and not to add extra information. Your SAH representative will supply you with resources to do this.
The visa officer's only task is to determine that the PA meets the refugee definition:
"owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of
- membership in a particular social group or
- members of a particular political opinion,
is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or
does not have a country of nationality, is outside the country of his or her former habitual residence and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”
and that resettlement to a third country (in our case, Canada) is their only durable solution. All questions will be to establish these 2 criteria clearly.
5. Make a list of information and notes that you particularly want the visa officer to know. This is the best opportunity to state your case and to be clear about your story. It would be a shame to leave the interview and realize that you intended to say something, but didn't.
Rights of Refugees During the Interview
Most refugees have lived for so long without rights, that they don't even consider they may have rights at the interview. This interview is done by a Canadian Visa Officer on behalf of Canada, and so the refugee is treated with the respect and dignity Canadians give to everyone.
Specifically, refugees have the right to:
- an interpreter, male or female specifically if it matters. Many refugees have stories that are easier to convey woman to woman or man to man. Be sure they know they can ask for a specific gender when it comes to interpreters.
- a male or female interviewer. Again, if a woman's story is difficult to tell a man, she has the right to ask for a female interviewer. Even that small detail can help the truth be told.
- be interviewed separately from their spouse or family members if needed. i.e. if the husband was raped, for example, and he doesn't want his wife to know.
- a break - bathroom, medications, mentally tired, to breastfeed
- a comfortable environment - even the terperature of the room can affect blood pressure. If it is too cold or too hot, they should say something.
- be respected at all times - most refugees expect that they have no right to be respected. We need to reassure them that their rights will be respected.
- ask questions about the purpose of the interview, the role of the interviewer and what happens after the interview. This can help their mind to be calmer and clearer for the interview. Also ask for clarification if anything is unclear.
It will be very helpful for the refugee to know that the interviewer will not have any connection to the country of origin or the country of asylum or to the UNHCR. The Visa Officer only represents Canada and any information disclosed during the interview will not affect anything else in their current situation. Again, this may help their mind to be calmer and enable them to not worry about repercussions from what they say during the interview.
Duties of Refugees During the Interview
Along with their rights, a refugee also has responsibilities. These include:
- to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
- to answer all questions to the best of their knowledge and memory. (It is better to estimate dates rather than creating them.)
- to provide updates on family composition, changes in situation, country of origin conditions, etc.
- to be accessible throughout the whole processing time. If they are unaccessible for some reason, tell the visa officer so they don't miss the interview date.
- to provide all the documents pertaining to their identity and claim:
- proof of ID, place of birth, marriage, etc.
- if they don't have key documents, explain why they don't to the officer
- provide any new documents they have since the application submission
- to disclose information related to the claim even if the visa officer does not ask about it.
- If information gets added after the interview is over, it will reflect poorly on credibility and will close the door forever to immigration to Canada.
If you forget to share information during the interview, or if you received new documents after the interview?
Maybe they forgot, or maybe they received documentation after the interview. Whatever caused the situation, don't panic. Get the information to the Visa officer as soon as possible. They can contact the embassy themselves, or the sponsor can contact the Visa Office before a decision has been made. Once the decision is made, adding or altering information will not be accepted.
Words of Caution
*One of the most important points every refugee should know before going in to their interview is
DO NOT EVER ANSWER A QUESTION IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEING ASKED.
Ask for the question to be reworded, asked again in another way, or simply say, "I do not understand what you are asking me."
*If they are uncertain about specific dates, or times, or order of events, the refugee can say, "I'm not sure if this is the correct date, it is an estimate," or they could give a time frame in relation to other events that the interviewer would know about, i.e. before a president came into power.
*Some refugees are told that if they "buy" a particular story they will have a better chance of resettlement. People are often given bad or inaccurate advice in camps or in asylum situations. It is imperative that as their sponsors we communicate clearly that their story is their best chance of resettlement. It is terrible advice to copy someone else's (successful) claim. We need to assure the refugee that the Canadian Visa Officer is looking for the truth, and that the truth is their best chance to be resettled.
*Do not ever engage in a side conversation with the interpreter, i.e.:What does the visa officer mean? How should I answer that question? If anything is unclear, ask the visa officer directly.
*If the refugee has an issue with the translator, be sure to say something in the interview. Notify the visa officer right away if there is any difficulty in communication between the refugee and the translator.
*Ask to be rescheduled if the date and time are not convenient or if they are invited with short notice and are unable to get all their documents together in time.