New Research Examines Disparities in Asylum Adjudication by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

New Research Examines Disparities in Asylum Adjudication by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

A growing body of empirical research on disparities in asylum grant rates has consistently highlighted the role of individual adjudicators in the United States. [1] The sociological characteristics of individual adjudicators and factors such as whether a claimant has legal counsel or is in detention are often more determinative in the outcome of the case than the merits.[2]

The Center for Migration Studies has released the first study to examine the association between personal characteristics of adjudicators and case outcomes in Canada that utilizes a large, multi-year dataset and statistically sound approach. The paper, “Not Just the Facts: Adjudicator Bias and Decisions of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2006-2011),” is authored by Innessa Colaiacovo and published in the Journal on Migration and Human Security.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) is Canada’s largest administrative tribunal. The Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the IRB is responsible for the adjudication of refugee claims made from within Canada. In accordance with its obligations under international law, Canada grants protection to persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In addition, a person may request protection in Canada on the basis of his or her fear of torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Approval rates of claims vary widely across members of the IRB, with some granting asylum in less than 10 percent of cases, and others granting asylum in more than 90 percent of cases.[3] Despite this fact, there is a lack of analysis exploring whether grant rates vary systematically in relationship to observed characteristics of adjudicators.

The paper presents statistical analysis of over 68,000 inland refugee claims adjudicated by 264 members of the board from 2006 to 2011. It finds that the probability of acceptance is correlated with individual members’ characteristics including education, gender, and prior work experience, when holding constant the claimant’s country of origin, gender, and the year and regional office of adjudication. The findings suggest that the identity of the adjudicator affects whether or not an individual receives asylum.


[1] Ramji-Nogales, Jaya, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Phillip G. Schrag, “Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication.” Stanford Law Review 60 (2007): 295-411.

[2] Schoenholtz, Andrew I., Philip G. Schrag and Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Lives in the Balance: Asylum Adjudication by the Department of Homeland Security. New York: NYU Press, forthcoming.

[3] Rehaag, Sean, “Troubling Patterns in Canadian Refugee Adjudication.” Ottawa Law Review 39 no. 2 (2008);

Schmitz, Cristin, ‘Massive difference’ in refugee cases,” The Lawyers Weekly, December 16, 2011.; Sheppard, Mary, “Refugee Claims Show Inconsistent Approval Rates,” CBC News, March 12, 2012.