Last Updated: June 19, 2017

Canada’s model of private sponsorship of refugees


History of private sponsorship in Canada

The Government of Canada pioneered the use of private sponsorship of refugees in 1978, when it was first implemented to help resettle very large numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians. More recently, this model has been used on a very large scale to support a current wave of Syrian refugees, which started in November, 2015.


Private sponsors support two of the three categories of refugees being resettled from abroad

As explained in a separate article, there are three primary classifications of refugees being resettled from abroad by Canada. The largest of these groups, across the country, consists of Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR). These individuals are normally referred by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as having acute protection needs and vulnerabilities. Their initial resettlement in Canada is entirely supported by the government. Whereas almost 55% of the Syrian refugees who were resettled in Canada between November, 2015 and the end of 2016 were GARs, they represented only 35% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). See separate article.


The second largest classification of refugee newcomers resettled across the country is that of Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR.) This refers to those who qualify as refugees under Canada’s refugee and humanitarian resettlement program and are privately sponsored, typically with a prior connection to Canada, through family or friends. As of the end of 2016, 55% of the current wave of Syrian refugee newcomers in the GTA were PSRs, compared to only 36% across the country.


The third and smallest category of refugee newcomer is termed a Blended-Visa-Office-Referred refugee (BVOR). This is someone who would have qualified as a GAR as being among the most vulnerable and in need of protection, but for whom the government has found a private sponsor to match. This category represents 9% to 10% of the recent Syrian refugees, both nationally and within the GTA.


As of the end of 2016, private sponsors were therefore supporting some 64% of all Syrian refugee newcomers (PSR and BVOR) in the GTA and 45% across Canada. By the end of 2017, these percentages will increase, as a much higher number of PSRs are being resettled, compared to GARs.


Canada a world leader

Since Canada pioneered the private sponsorship model, other countries that have followed, or are now considering it, include Australia, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and the United Arab Emirates. (See: Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative Promotes Canada’s Private Refugee Sponsorship Model.) According to a policy brief of the Refugee Research Network and Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, “On a per capita basis, Canada currently leads the world on resettlement.” (For some of the motivation behind this support, see the article in The Economist, “Why so many Canadians privately sponsor Syrian refugees.”


Four categories of private sponsors

Again, as described in our separate article, there are four categories of private sponsors within the Canadian government plan:



Behind the sponsorship of every refugee family, each of these organizations and small groups has many individuals providing financial, emotional, and practical support. We estimate that by the end of 2017, there will be some 1,600 Syrian refugee sponsor groups in the GTA alone, with over 8,000 individuals actively supporting around 7,000 Syrian PSRs and BVORs.


Welcome groups

While not officially recognized as part of the Government of Canada resettlement plan, there is a very important initiative of an organization called the Together Project, to match volunteers (in what it calls “Welcome Groups”) with GARs, individuals who do not have the benefit of private sponsorship support. While not obligated to any financial commitment, as is the case with private sponsors, these volunteers undertake to provide emotional and logistical support to refugee newcomers.


Role of private sponsors

In a separate article, we outline the responsibilities and financial commitments of private sponsors. The financial commitments are for 12 months in the case of PSR newcomers and six months in the case of BVORs. However, in both cases, private sponsors are expected to provide emotional and logistical support for a full year. One of the specific obligations is to provide help in the search for employment. In many, if not most cases, the connections made between sponsors and these newcomers will last far beyond the first year of resettlement.


Benefits of private sponsorship

Canada4Refugees is an organization that advocates for an expanded program of citizen-sponsored refugees in Canada. The following key benefits of the private sponsorship program are identified on its website:





(See, however, the results of a study published by the Government of Canada, Evaluation of the Resettlement Programs (GAR, PSR, BVOR and RAP), in July, 2016. This study suggests that after ten years in Canada, PSRs are not that far ahead of GARs, in terms of employment, even though they have better English language proficiency and education.)


How sponsors and volunteers can help

We believe that private sponsors and Welcome Group volunteers can have an increasingly significant, positive impact on the employment prospects and success of refugee newcomers in Canada. To be as successful as possible, however, they need better support, to be more focused and organized on the issue, and to be encouraged and allowed to collaborate with employment services and other professionals. As elaborated upon further in our post,  5 ways for private sponsors and welcome group volunteers to help with employment, the key opportunities are as follows:


  1. Mentoring those in an individual family;
  2. Directly hiring a member of a newcomer family;
  3. Using personal and group networks to find employment for a newcomer;
  4. Collaboration with an employment service; and
  5. Helping to get one’s own organization or industry to launch a refugee newcomer employment initiative.