Private Sponsorship of Refugees

What is the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program? 

The Canadian government has a ceiling of 9,000-14,000 refugees per year through the Refugee Resettlement Program. This includes Government-Assisted Refugees and Privately Sponsored Refugees. Therefore, as one part of the program increases, the other decreases. 

In 2004, Canada allowed in 7,411 government-assisted refugees (GAR) and 3,116 privately sponsored refugees from around the world. By 2013, government-assisted refugees numbered 5,661 while privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) numbered 6,269. This, while in 2013, there were over 50 million displaced people around the world.

The PSR program is managed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). It is the same across Canada except for Quebec. In fact, the PSR program in Quebec is quite different. The following information only applies to the PSR program OUTSIDE of Quebec. 

In the PSR program, sponsors apply to resettle specific refugees in Canada, and the sponsors pay for all of the basic expenses for the refugees when they arrive (including rent, food, transportation, etc.) for one year or until the refugees become self-sufficient, whichever comes first.

Sponsors are also responsible for providing settlement support to the refugees for one year, including assisting them to find appropriate medical services, apply for necessary documents, open a bank account, learn how to use public transportation, etc.

Privately sponsored refugees are usually family members of people in Canada, unless they are sponsored through the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. The Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) program is a cost-sharing program between private sponsors and CIC in which private sponsors provide the refugees with 6 months of financial support for their expenses (plus “start-up” costs), and CIC provides refugees with 6 months of financial support. All settlement support is provided by the private sponsors.

In summary, sponsors provide financial, logistical and emotional support.


What are sponsoring groups?

There are three possible sponsoring groups:

(1) Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs)

  • SAHs are incorporated organizations that have been approved as sponsors by CIC and have signed an agreement with CIC to sponsor refugees. Most private sponsorship is conducted by these groups. There are currently approximately 95 across Canada, many of which are churches. The list is publicly available here.
  • SAHs can work with Constituent Groups and Co-sponsors, which are basically groups of people or individuals that a SAH agrees to work with to sponsor refugees under their Agreement with CIC.
  • SAHs often work with the family members of refugees who cannot sponsor their relatives in refugee situations because the refugees do not qualify to be sponsored as a Group of Five (usually because they do not have a refugee status recognition document, which is explained further).
  • SAHs are the only organizations that can sponsor BVOR cases, or in other words, refugees that have been identified by the UNHCR for resettlement, and are not brought to the attention of the government by family members in Canada (usually no family ties to Canada). 
  • SAHs have limitations on how many refugees they are allowed to sponsor, and from where they are allowed to sponsor them.

(2) Groups of Five

  • Groups of Five consist of five Canadian citizens or Permanent Residents who are 18 years of age or older who apply to CIC to bring over specific refugees that they know of. Groups of Five are usually people who are trying to sponsor their family members who are in refugee situations. 

(3) Community Sponsors

  • A Community Sponsor could be any organization or association. The organization/association does not have to be incorporated and has not been pre-approved by CIC.


Is the Group of Five program the right solution right now? 

There are a few concerns with advocating for the Group of Five program: 

  • It takes too long: The refugee crisis is now, but the PSR program takes between two and five years for the refugees to actually arrive in Canada. 
  • It lets the government off the hook: The government is promising 10,000 Syrian total refugees over three years. For every PSR family coming into the country, the government will assist one less family in arriving here. Also, these numbers are part of Canada’s normal annual numbers of all refugees, rather than in addition to the already very limited number of refugees from all over the world that are resettled in Canada.
  • The PSR is exclusionary: Alan Kurdi was not a UN certified refugee. In 2012, CIC created a regulation which states that Groups of Five and Community Sponsors (see below) can ONLY sponsor people who have been given refugee status by either the UNHCR or by a foreign government. Many refugee populations are unable to obtain refugee status, and are therefore not eligible for Group of Five or Community Sponsor sponsorship, which has led to the majority of those applications being rejected by CIC. Basically, in each country, “refugee status determination,” the process by which refugees are assessed (usually through an interview) to determine if they meet the refugee definition, is conducted by either: the government, the UNHCR, or in some cases nobody. Many refugee populations, including Syrians, are completely or mostly unable to obtain refugee status because nobody is conducting refugee status determination interviews in the countries where they are living. Without proof of refugee status, these refugee populations, including Syrians, cannot be sponsored by Groups of Five or Community Sponsors. 
  • It is expensive: The PSR process is only available to individuals with significant sums of money.

Despite these concerns, many individuals see the current government dragging their feet and PSR as one of the only ways to get at least some refugees to safety. This information is therefore provided to help those individuals considering privately sponsoring refugees.

For those who are considering PSR, we urge you to 
  • Either work directly with a refugee’s family member here in Canada and/or work as a constituent group within an organization that is already a Sponsorship Agreement Holder.

  • Take the online Refugee Sponsorship Training Program here

  • Join a rally or organize a rally or forum in your community. See listings at

  • Sign our pledge online to insist #RefugeesWelcome

  • Educate yourself about Canadian immigration and refugee policy. Visit


How do I sponsor a refugee?  

You can connect with a family here in Canada that wants to sponsor a relative and support them through this process, such as by helping them to raise the money that is required, or helping them to fill in forms. If you don’t know of any families, you can try contacting local organizations or religious institutions to see if they can connect you with someone. Look for organizations that are trying to match potential sponsors with families and Sponsorship Agreement Holders in your area

You can sponsor a refugee through the BVOR program. Refugees that are resettled under this program are referred to CIC by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Therefore, people in Canada CANNOT ask for a specific refugee that they want to sponsor to be included in this program. The BVOR Program can only be accessed through Sponsorship Agreement Holders, not the other sponsoring groups (see an explanation of all groups below). Although there are currently not many Syrian refugee cases available through the BVOR program, there are many refugees from other countries that need to be sponsored and are awaiting sponsorships.

It is important to note that SAHs have limited capacity and receive a high volume of calls daily. This means that, in some cases, they are unable to keep up with the demand, and some people are unable to sponsor refugees (including their own family members).


What are the stages of the process?

Privately Sponsored Refugees is basically a two-step process:

  1. Inland processing at the Centralized Processing Office in Winnipeg – no timelines publicly available. Syrian cases are being expedited.
  1. Overseas processing at the Visa Offices – timelines are published here. Syrians cases are also being expedited at visa offices.

A more detailed outline from here is below: 

1. How private sponsorship works: Canadians can sponsor migrants as part of a group of five or more people, through community sponsorship, or through one of the roughly 90 sponsorship agreement holders (a mix of faith groups and secular organizations) that have signed agreements with the federal government to receive and sponsor refugees. In 1979, in response to the Indochinese refugee crisis, sometimes referred to as the boat people, Canada became the first country to create a system for private sponsorship.

2. Refugee family: They must be have left their country of origin, meet the refugee definition, have no other “durable solution,” and be able to settle in Canada. One of the sticking points is the requirement for a formal document proving designation of refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the state in which they are living. Although it might seem evident that Syrians in neighbouring countries are refugees, the volume of their arrivals mean that getting registered and assessed by the UNHCR is difficult or can take time. “It is possible to get UNHCR registration in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, but not individual determination, which is what Canada requires for group of five sponsorship.  Nor is it possible in Turkey, which has its own system for handling refugees. 

3. Getting a group together: Organizations such as Lifeline Syria and others are encouraging Canadians to form groups of at least five to work together to sponsor refugees. These people must all recognize that they are taking on a serious task and will be responsible for the refugee family and their costs for up to year after arrival. A husband and wife can count separately as members of the group for the purposes of the application. Assembling a group often takes weeks or months. Potential sponsors must be 18, have some financial means, have no criminal record and reside in the community where the refugees will settle.

4. Choosing whom to sponsor: Most citizens who come forward to sponsor refugees have a person or family in mind, often relatives in crisis zones. Those who do not can get connected to a family through a sponsorship agreement holder (SAH) or through Ottawa’s Blended Visa Office-Referred program (BVOR), which places refugees already approved by the Canadian government after a referral from the UNHCR.

5. Filling out forms: Refugee applicants need access to a computer to get Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s application forms. That can be a challenge. Then they have to be able to read and write proficiently in English or French. The forms are complex, typically with more than 150 questions. Applicants must complete the same form any immigrant fills out, an IMM 0008, plus two additional forms known as schedule A and schedule 2. 

Inaccuracies in the information on the form would seriously undermine the application when it reaches the interview stage. Refugee applicants often omit dependent family members, thinking that might harm their chances of being accepted (although it would not). In the time between application and evaluation, families often change. People marry, have children, are reunited with dependents. Some people are also sometimes advised by others to submit a particular story of persecution or their escape even if it differs from the truth because another person used that story and was approved by a Western country. The inconsistencies are usually easy to spot at the interview stage and can lead to delays or rejection of the application.

The forms are often filled out collaboratively, with several weeks of back-and-forth writing and checking between the family and the sponsors in Canada. It often takes a month or more.

6. Submitting application to Winnipeg office: The application of the sponsor and the refugee are submitted together to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s central processing office in Winnipeg. Syrian files are supposed to be expedited, so it is typically a matter of days to weeks before the files are opened and assessed. Many prospective sponsors fill the forms out incorrectly, particularly those not working with a sponsorship agreement holder. If the forms need to be sent back, the process is delayed. It is not uncommon for sponsors to resubmit twice or more. 

If the forms are filled out correctly, the file is assigned a number.

The prospective sponsors are assessed to ensure they have the financial means to support a refugee family for at least 12 months, and must submit current T4 forms. A scale is used to determine how much money needs to be raised to meet this requirement, but it is in the range of $25,000 to sponsor a family of four. Sponsors must have a detailed plan for helping the newcomers adapt to Canada, with specific points such as who in the group will handle which aspects of the family’s integration. The government’s stated goal is to have an approved file out of Winnipeg and sent to an overseas visa office within 30 days.

7. Application arrives at visa office: Once the documents arrive at the visa office, for example, in Lebanon, Egypt or Jordan, they have to wait until a Canadian visa officer is ready to process them. When the envelope reaches the top of the pile, a visa officer schedules an interview. 

8. The interview: This is a crucial step that typically take 45 minutes, during which a Canadian visa officer has the heavy responsibility of determining a family’s fate. The interview is typically done in less-than-ideal linguistic circumstances, as visa officers and refugee applicants might have varying levels of fluency or have to use a translator. The interview verifies and tests the information submitted in the application. Stories sometimes change, new family members are discovered and that can cause delays or even greater problems for the applicant. If they are found to be not credible, their application can be rejected, with no formal appeal mechanism. If the refugee family is approved, they will usually be told at the end of the interview.

9. Security screening: Refugee applicants are checked for criminality in the country where they are living and with Interpol for warrants or other information that might cause concern. Anyone involved in war crimes is not admissible to Canada. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service also must determine if the applicant could pose a threat to Canada. If a flag is raised on security screening and it requires a CSIS interview to investigate, that can delay the process by 18 months to 24 months.

10. Medical: If a family passes the interview stage, they must go to an approved physician to get medical clearance to enter Canada. Few candidates are excluded at this point (refugees who would be a medical burden cannot be excluded), but someone with active tuberculosis, for example, must be treated before they can travel. Expectant mothers are sometimes not encouraged to travel late in pregnancy. Sometimes medical conditions are flagged that will require follow-up in Canada. This process can take a couple of months.

11. Travel arrangements: If all conditions for acceptance are met, Canada refers the refugee family to the International Organization for Migration, which handles travel arrangements for all refugees. Refugees are responsible for their travel costs, but since most have little money, they are eligible for a travel loan of up to $10,000 from the government of Canada. The IOM sends a notice of arrival to sponsors two weeks to four weeks before the refugees travel. That leaves only a little time for the sponsors to prepare for the new arrivals. 

12. Integration: The refugees become permanent residents on landing in Canada. The sponsors are responsible for meeting them at the airport, arranging their transportation and helping them find a place to live. They must also help them get the children into school, learn how to navigate their new communities, obtain identification and manage all the other basics of life in Canada, from language to finding a job. They are also responsible for costs such as food for the first 12 months.


How much money do I need?

CIC created the following chart outlining sponsorship costs: 


Family Size

12 Months of Income Support

Start-up Costs

Estimated Total Annual Settlement Cost ($)


























Where can I get more information?

Visit one of the following websites that provides information about the private sponsorship of refugees: 



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