By Jennifer Hyndman, William Payne, York University & Shauna Jimenez, East Kootenay Friends of Burma

[RRN/CRS Policy Brief Submitted to the Government of Canada, December 2, 2016]

Executive Summary

From academic, policy, and sponsors’ perspectives, what is known about the private sponsorship of refugees in Canada? Since its inception in the 1970s, the federal government has enabled the private sponsorship of tens of thousands of refugees across the country. From the outset, the government pledged to resettle one refugee for every privately sponsored individual when the program was first introduced. Yet government plans for 2017 suggest there will be more privately sponsored refugees than government-assisted refugees. Riding a current wave of positive public opinion and high level of engagement in refugee sponsorship by private citizens in Canada, this brief provides a critical overview of what is known about private refugee sponsorship; identifies some gaps and areas of concern; and analyzes in brief negative impacts of policy changes to PSR processing made over the last five years.


  1. IRCC’s own evaluation (released in late October 2016) of all categories of resettled refugees reaches many of the same conclusions as our research synthesis; we place an asterisk (*) below beside recommendations that we arrived at and then found in the evaluation;
  2. Very little research exists on the Blended Visa-Officer Referred refugees (BVORs), except for information in IRCC’s (2016b) own evaluation of resettled refugees. Until the federal government’s commitment to Syrians in 2015, BVOR numbers remained small. The uptake of this category by Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) and constituent groups has been low, with the exception of Syrian refugee arrivals. Research on the rationale for and impact of the BVOR category in relation to the PSR category is vital;
  3. *Changes in policy and/or management tools to shorten the long waits for PSR applicants, especially those from capped visa posts, are urgent to avoid reducing the motivation and interest of private sponsors; SAHs have expressed resistance to the BVOR category because it prevents sponsors from naming specific refugees for sponsorship, which is often the basis of civil society engagement (Chapman, 2014);
  4. Resettling refugee students through WUSC’s private sponsorship has proven very successful, combining protection and social development and Canadian education of the individual (Kumin, 2015). The federal government could consider doubling the number of resettled refugee students by either adding them to the roster of GARs or making them eligible as BVORs, an underutilized program in the resettlement context;
  5. In 2013, PSRs exceeded GARs in number, an aberration of additionality whereby PSRs are resettled in addition to the government’s GAR commitment to sponsor refugees (Labman, 2016). IRCC planning numbers for 2017 include 7500 GARs and 10,500 PSRs (excluding Quebec), which raises the question of whether private sponsorship is beginning to privatize refugee resettlement in Canada. While the special circumstances of the Syrian Refugee Initiative must be considered, planning for more PSRs than GARs goes against the principle of additionality. The costs associated with increasing GAR numbers to at least 10,500 for 2017 should be calculated and considered, given the December 2016 announcement that Canada’s ‘good practice’ of private refugee sponsorship is to be replicated elsewhere and discussion of increased net immigration to Canada in the coming year;
  6. *Current limits on the number of PSRs should be reconsidered; why are they in place? Prior to 2011 there were no limits, or rather limits were defined by the degree of civil society engagement and willingness to sponsor refugees. Policies should aim to harness and sustain the interest and engagement of Canadians in refugee sponsorship, not undermine them;
  7. *Current caps on Canadian missions/visa offices abroad should be revisited; we contend they should be removed as soon as possible to avert allegations of geographical discrimination, prejudice, or racism in the processing of PSRs. These caps on seven visa posts are selectively prejudicial and create unnecessary backlogs of up to 70 months for PSR applicants in Nairobi;
  8. SAHs are disenchanted with the ways in which limits and caps have been introduced with little consultation; such consultation on how policies can be improved going forward would be welcome;
  9. Introducing the shorter application forms now used for Syrian private resettlement applications for other refugee nationalities would be welcome;
  10. Further research is needed, and some is underway, to ascertain the motivation and mobilization of sponsors, as well as public opinions of refugees in Canada; also, “How do PSRs fare in cities compared to smaller centres or rural areas?”

The full policy brief can be downloaded HERE.