Private Sponsorship a Canadian Innovation
Canada is a global leader in the private sponsorship of refugees. Learn how it works and connect to key resources in Ottawa and beyond.
What is private sponsorship?
Like many other nations, Canada provides assistance to thousands of displaced people every year through its Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) program. The government screens United Nations refugees abroad, arranges for their travel to Canada and pays a modest allowance for the refugee's living costs for his or her first year in Canada. Unlike most other nations, Canada also has a second sponsorship program that enables private citizens to sponsor refugees directly. Through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program, citizens work in groups to provide funding for housing, clothing, food and other supports for 12 months starting from the refugee's arrival in Canada or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient, whichever comes first.
Refugee sponsorship is a tangible way to be part of a solution to the global refugee crisis and can be an incredibly rewarding experience for the sponsor. Using your own time and resources to provide sanctuary to people fleeing war or persecution means you are instrumental in giving them space to breathe, to build a new life, to have hope. It means they have safety and they have options. It enriches our communities with diverse skills, energy and perspectives.
Introduced in 1978 — the first of its kind in the world and still the best-known — Canada's private sponsorship program was for decades sustained by a dedicated but relatively small group of citizens, primarily in faith communities or advocacy groups, who quietly brought thousands of refugees to Canada every year and lobbied with limited success to increase the private sponsorship quotas.
That changed almost overnight in September, 2015, when Canadians were shocked to learn of their connection to the death of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, his mother and his brother. The family had tried and failed to be reunited with Canadian relatives Canada legally, before deciding to attempt what became a fatal crossing of the Mediterannean.
The photo of Alan's lifeless body on a beach in Turkey sparked a massive outpouring of public interest in sponsoring Syrians. Since the fall of 2015, the national sponsorship community has grown exponentially and now numbers in the tens of thousands from coast to coast. Between November, 2015 and April, 2016, more than 12,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada through private sponsorships and another 10,000 are expected to arrive by the end of 2016.
How Does Sponsorship Work?
Private sponsorship is a simple concept attached to a complicated process. There are applications to fill out and rules to follow, but don't let that deter you. Many individuals and organizations are ready help you navigate through the system. Below are some of the main resources nationally and locally.
- Government of Canada Guide to Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program:The web site of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provides a helpful guide to the basic principles of private sponsorship. It's a good place to start when you are learning about the application process. When you're ready to apply, consult the more detailed Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Application Guide, which includes the Private Sponsorship Financial Guidelines as an appendix.
- Refugee Sponsorship Training Program:This project is funded by the federal government to provide information and training to sponsors, sponsorship agreement holders and refugees. It also manages a key stream of sponsorship, the Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR) cases. The RSTP staff is well-versed in the intricacies of sponsorship in Canada and their web site is full of useful information.
Sponsorship facilitation and support
Consulting an organization that facilitates sponsorship is a vital step to building your application. These organizations can help you move through the process faster and with better information. They provide advice on how to form your group and assign tasks, how to choose between the different routes to sponsorship and how to develop a settlement plan to support a newcomer after arrival. Even more, they can introduce you to the many services available to support their settlement and integration process, including housing, employment, language life skills and psychosocial support.
There are two main kinds of sponsorship facilitation services: Sponsorship Agreement Holders and agencies facilitating Group of 5 applications. Some agencies do both, while others specialize in one or the other.
There are also organizations providing pro-bono legal advice to support sponsorship applications, and workshops and other resources to help make your private sponsorship a success.
Sponsorship Agreement Holder
A Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) is an incorporated organization that has signed an agreement with the Canadian government to resettle refugees from abroad through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program. SAHs assume overall responsibility and liability for the management of sponsorships under their agreement.
SAHs can authorize other groups in the community to sponsor refugees under their agreements. These groups are referred to as Constituent Groups (CGs). Your Constituent Group can be made up of friends, relatives, community members — people you bring together who are committed to taking on the role of private sponsor. You can then approach a SAH and work under its umbrella.
Working with a SAH connects you to a wealth of information and experience, as many of them have been facilitating sponsorships for many years. Each SAH works a little differently from the next, so sponsorship groups need to determine which one best suits them. Many SAHs are religious organizations that welcome sponsorship groups of any or no faith; however, some require sponsorship groups to work through their congregations. Some SAHs are registered charities that can hold funds raised for the sponsorship in trust for your group, and issue tax receipts for donations. The Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association has more information, news and links.
Group of Five
Groups of Five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents also can sponsor refugees but the criteria and application process are different from those of the SAH program. Under the Group of Five, at least five Canadian citizens or permanent residents get together to sponsor a refugee and his/her dependents to Canada. More people can join the group to provide settlement support, but only five group members sign the required application forms.
G5 is a popular route to sponsorship for Canadians with relatives they want to sponsor, but it has at times been slower than the SAH route. It is a good idea to check with sponsorship facilitators to determine the latest trends in processing times.
Remember! Ottawa's sponsorship facilitators are either non-profit settlement organizations, faith communities or advocacy groups. They are fueled by the energy and dedication of a small number of staff or volunteers, all of whom are priceless resources stretched beyond capacity in recent months. Also, the rules and quotas for sponsorship have been in flux since the Syrian refugee response effort began. It is a struggle to keep up with the latest developments while serving dozens of sponsorship groups, and several SAHs go through periods of not taking on new groups.
Before you contact a sponsorship facilitator: Respect their time and do your homework first. Read the information on Sponsoring Refugees at www.rstp.ca — especially their FAQ page — to make sure you are acquainted with the basics of sponsorship.
Anglican Diocese of Ottawa
The Refugee Working Group administers the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa's sponsorship agreement. It facilitates the sponsorship of refugees from all over the world by Constituent Groups formed in local Anglican parishes, as well as outside groups. It provides support and advice for all stages of sponsorship. Visit their web site for more information.
Charitable status: The Refugee Working Group issues tax receipts for donations to the Constituent Groups it is supporting.
Catholic Centre for Immigrants
CCI administers two streams of sponsorship: the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Ottawa's sponsorship agreement and G5 applications. As a settlement agency, CCI also provides pre-arrival information on the settlement process and post-arrival counselling and orientation.
As a SAH representative, CCI facilitates the sponsorship of refugees from all over the world by Constituent Groups formed by local Roman Catholic parishes, providing them with support and advice for all stages of sponsorship.
Charitable status: Parishes issue tax receipts for donations to the Constituent Groups with whom they are working.
SAH Contact: Julie Salach-Simard, email@example.com, 613-232-9634, ext. 330
As a G5 facilitator, CCI also provides information, advice and training for Groups of 5, regardless of their faith affiliation. CCI provides assistance with applications, connects sponsors to settlement services and matches sponsor groups to refugees.
Charitable status: CCI does not provide tax receipts for donations to sponsor groups, nor do they hold money in trust for groups.
G5 Contact: Roya Atmar 613-232-9634, ext.305 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jewish Family Services
As a non-sectarian social services agency, JFS offers more than 65 programs and services to children, youth, adults and seniors, including newcomers. JFS works with local and national SAHs to provide support for Constituent Groups and Groups of 5 sponsoring refugees from any part of the world and any religion or persecuted minority. Sponsorship groups must demonstrate they have the capacity to fundraise to cover the cost of the sponsorship.
Charitable status: JFS provides tax receipts for money donated to sponsor groups.
Contact: Andrea Gardner, 613-722-2225, ext. 321, email@example.com
United Church of Canada
The Ottawa representative for the United Church of Canada's national sponsorship agreement provides support for constituent groups, co-sponsorship and information and advice on Groups of 5. It supports sponsorship of refugees from any part of the world and any religion or persecuted minority group that meets IRCC criteria. It helps Constituent Groups outside the United Church who have connected with a local congregation. Sponsors are asked to first read the information on Sponsoring Refugees at www.rstp.ca before approaching the SAH. Sponsors must demonstrate they have a thorough settlement plan and enough money to support the refugee for 12 months from the day of arrival.
Charitable status: The United Church will hold money in trust for constituent groups and co-sponsorships and provides tax receipts for money donated to sponsor groups, according to Canada Revenue Agency rules.
Contact: Norma McCord, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-745-4626
Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO)
OCISO provides G5 sponsorship groups with information on options, criteria and eligibility requirements as well as guidance on the completion of the application. As a settlement agency, OCISO also provides pre-arrival information on the settlement process and post-arrival counselling and orientation. OCISO is partnering with the Canadian Council For Refugees to offer sponsorship fund top-ups for eligible G5 private sponsorship groups, and OCISO also matches sponsorship groups with identified refugee families, where possible. Currently, family-linked cases significantly exceed interested groups. OCISO is a non-sectarian agency that serves sponsors and refugees from all faith backgrounds and parts of the world.
Charitable status: OCISO holds money in trust for sponsorship groups and can issue donation receipts to members of sponsorship groups when eligibility criteria are met. This includes supporting fundraising initiatives by the G5.
Main contact: Sponsorship Facilitator, Huda Ali, 613-725-5671, ext. 335
Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Ottawa (EEC Ottawa)
The Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Ottawa is a national SAH that focuses on the sponsorship of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees. It supports sponsorship of refugees mainly from African countries, including Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, South Africa, Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia. It also provides supports to refugees from Beirut, Syria and Dubai and any religion or persecuted minority group that meets IRCC criteria.
The EEC works mainly with its congregation but it also helps the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities outside the EEC Ottawa who have connections with the congregation.
Charitable status: The EEC Ottawa is a registered charity and welcomes financial or other support for its effort in sponsoring refugees. The EEC will provide tax receipts for money donated by sponsors according to Canada Revenue Agency rules.
Main contact: Pastor Dereje Gebreyesus, email@example.com, 613-725-9777
Fantu Melesse Tewabe, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-440-8697
I'm new to sponsorship and have so many questions – where can I learn more?
Where can I get clear information about the latest news on sponsorship rules and numbers?
The pace of change has accelerated since 2015, and many experts and advocates struggle to keep up. Here are some good places to get the latest news and context on sponsorship:
- Refugee Sponsorship Training Program web site and newsletter
- Canadian Council for Refugees media roomand web resources
- Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders blog
- Refugee 613 mailing list, public Facebook page and blog
- Informal Facebook groupsrun by Ottawa sponsors (while the information is not verified by sponsorship or settlement experts, the pages can be useful for local resources)
If you can't find the answer you need elsewhere, send an email to email@example.com and we'll connect you to an expert.
Where can I get help to sponsor my relatives or friends?
OCISO and CCI both work to match sponsorship groups with Ottawa residents who want to sponsor relatives or friends. These are known as "named" or "family-linked" cases. The demand is high and the number of cases is far greater than the number of sponsorship groups interested in going this route, but there have been successes and it is worth exploring. Remember: If your relatives or friends are still living in their home country, they are not considered refugees and therefore not eligible for the private sponsorship program.
How can I sponsor a refugee if I don't know anyone in Ottawa who wants to form a group?
There are others like you looking for join a group. Sometimes three people want to form a group and need more, or large groups lose members if the process is slowed down. OCISO actively supports the formation of groups, or you can contact local SAHs and ask them if they know of groups that need additional members.
The sponsorship facilitator keeps asking for more documentation, don’t they know what they’re doing?
The application process is unnecessarily complicated, and it’s common for applications to be returned by IRCC for more information, sometimes more than once. This is usually not a statement on the competence of your sponsorship facilitator — it happens to all of them. It is more likely to be a reflection of a process so cumbersome that even the experts struggle to get it right.