Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program
The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program is a Canadian initiative established in 1978 under Operation Lifeline, whereby refugees can resettle in Canada with support and funding from private or joint government-private sponsorship. The program was established in 1978, and it has since resettled and provided support for over 200,000 refugees under various initiatives and with fluctuating annual intakes. It has influenced refugee policy in other Commonwealth countries, such as the UK and Australia, and the Canadian system itself is constantly under reform to increase the involvement of refugees shaping their own resettlement experience.
The origins of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program are in the Indochina refugee crisis in the 1970s and was initiated after the appropriate legal framework had been provided through the 1976 Immigration Act.
- 1979 - 29,269: Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees settled under the initiative, and more throughout the early 1980s,
- 1994 - 1998: 1,800 Afghan Ismaili refugees resettled through Project FOCUS, whereby the government sponsored refugees for three months, and fundraisers supported the following nine months. These cases were technically counted as Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) in a 3/9 joint sponsorship model.
- 2001: the Canadian Government piloted a 4/8 joint sponsorship model.
- 2001 - 2008: Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR) numbers fluctuated around 3,000 per annum.
- 2009 - 2011: PSR intake increased to around 5,000 per annum.
- 2011: the government introduced a blended 3/9 program for Iraqi refugees, and another with Rainbow Refugee Committee to support LGBTQ refugees. New restrictions were also introduced, including limits on PSRs, caps the number of refugees who could be sponsored by missions abroad and on applications for sponsorships by SAHs in order to improve management. Regulatory changes were implemented to formalise applications, which limited the eligibility for Groups of Five and Community Sponsors. The age of dependency was reduced from 22 to 19, which made fewer refugee families eligible for sponsorship.
- 2012: intake of PSRs dropped by 24% from 2011 levels.
- 2013: the government pledged to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.
- 2015: PSR numbers exceeded that of GARs.
- October 2015: the Liberals pledged to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before 2016.
- December 2016: in partnership with the UNHCR and the Open Society Foundations, the Government of Canada launched a major initiative in order to globally promote the PSR Program.
- 2018: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada aims to facilitate the resettlement of 18,000 PSRs by the end of 2018.
1. Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs)
Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) must be incorporated organisations that have made formal agreements with the government for assist a refugee family for twelve months. They are generally expected to sponsor multiple refugees each year and to have had prior sponsorship experience. 75% SAHs are religious, ethnic, community, or humanitarian organisations.
2. Groups of Five
A smaller number of refugees are sponsored not by SAHs but by Groups of Five, which are groups consisting of a minimum of five Canadian citizens or permanent residents over the age of 18 who sponsor at least one refugee to settle in their local community in Canada. Groups of Five can choose to sponsor applicants who have already been granted refugee status.
3. Community sponsors
Community sponsors must be organisations, associations, or corporations in the community the refugee(s) will settle.
Lifeline Syria was launched in June 2015 as a result of the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian Civil War. Its main aim was to aid the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the GTA, including aiding assisting sponsorship groups with sponsorship applications. Lifeline Syria also helps people form Groups of Five by connecting those who wish to privately sponsor refugees and who live in nearby communities.
Sponsors must meet the criteria for sponsorship, which includes being able to provide social and emotional support, as well as residential and financial support, food and clothing. The sponsors are legally bound to provide income support, which generally ends after twelve months. Private funds provide for the first year of resettlement; while government covers health care/ children's education. In the second year of resettlement, if the refugees become permanent residents when they arrive, they will be able to apply for means-tested governmental social welfare benefits if their sponsor has not been successful in helping them find employment.
Private sponsors and the Government of Canada work in partnership through the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. The UNHCR refers refugees to the program, following which the government sponsors them for up to six months through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP), and then they are privately sponsored for the following six months. The goal of the BVOR Program is to engage the Canadian government, the UNHCR and private sponsors in Canada in a three way partnership.
Quebec has a difference process for refugee sponsorship, through which groups of two to five people can apply to privately sponsor, and to do so they must reside in Quebec. This sponsorship process require cultural obligations of private sponsors, including organising attendance of French speaking classes for the refugees and informing them about Quebec society and culture.
On January 27, 2017, Quebec froze the intake of new private sponsorship applications until August 2018 due to the high number of applications already in the system, with the processing time for submitted applications between eight and eighteen months.
Private sponsorship in Canada is estimated to have resettled 280,000 refugees since starting, while also helping with family reunification, and also maintained popularity and public support despite the media's criminalisation of refugees as 'queue jumpers.' It has been argued that Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) are more likely to successfully integrate than Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), in particular it has been praised for integrating refugees faster into the job market. It is further argued that the PSR Program should be seen as an example and opportunity for development in international refugee law to globally enable more refugees to access their entitled protection.
It is argued that private sponsorship is not a substitute for government sponsorship, but should be in addition in order to increase protection space. There are concerns that the support of PSRs is overly dependent on a few individuals and organisations. Private sponsorship has been described as a lengthy process with often (years) long waiting lists. In particular, the usage prima facie refugee status (rather than individual determination), and this has made the process easier and faster in regions of origin, but far longer for private sponsorship of non-Syrian refugees. Cultural differences have been argued to make the private sponsor support itself challenging, with differing expectations about behaviour and some sponsors acting paternalistically, this has in some cases led to resentment between the refugee and sponsoring groups.
Until recently, Canada was the only country to offer private refugee sponsorship, yet now Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK are working on new private sponsorship programs for refugees.
For Australia, the senior staff of Settlement Services International (SSI) and Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) met in Canada and Geneva in June 2017 to discuss the possibilities of adapting a private sponsorship scheme similar to that of Canada.
The UK is working towards deepening its community sponsorship scheme, with £1million being provided between 2017 and 2019 to train groups signing up to sponsorship.
In the Netherlands, Dutch human rights organization Justice and Peace Netherlands started a community sponsorship model called 'Samen Hier', inspired by the Canadian model but without its financial component. This project explicitly chose to avoid this component in order to avoid the risks that come with a financial relationship between refugees and host groups. Such risks include the development of an hierarchical relationship or a relationship where the refugee becomes increasingly dependent on the host group.
In New Zealand, a pilot of 25 Community Organisations Refugee Sponsorship (CORS) places was approved as part of the government's response to the 2015 crisis. This pilot has been completed and advocates are pushing for the pathway to be made permanent in the coming years. Prominent media commentator Alison Mau described the extension of the pilot as, politically "2019's most obvious no-brainer."
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