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Understanding Common Legal Words

When you are going through refugee or immigration processes, you might hear legal words that are difficult to understand. It is important to learn what these words mean so that you understand what you need to do and what your rights are.

These are examples of legal words you might hear:


A hearing is a formal meeting where a government official will make a decision after asking you questions and listening to what you have to say.

Some people will need to have hearings and others will not. It depends on what immigration application you made. For example, most refugee claimants have a hearing. Other immigration applications, such as applications for humanitarian & compassionate considerations or work permit applications do not need hearings.

At most hearings, you can have a lawyer with you and there will be an interpreter if you need one.


Evidence is something that can help prove that you are telling the truth.

Evidence could be an ID card or a birth certificate to prove that you are who you say you are. It could be a newspaper article that proves that an event took place.


An affidavit is something that you write and then swear that what you have written is true. “To swear” is like “to promise.”

You might write an affidavit for an immigration application. Or you might ask someone else to write an affidavit to support your application or your hearing. For example, if you do not have identification, someone might write an affidavit confirming who you are.

You will need a lawyer or a notary to sign your affidavit after they watch you sign it. They can also help you put it in a formal format.


A witness is someone else who can give more information about your situation. It might be a family member, a friend, a co-worker or someone else.

A witness might speak at a hearing. Or they might write a support letter or an affidavit, which can be sent in as evidence