Study of Angela Waz – an MA candidate at the University of Toronto and intern at Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria Her research focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as the radical-right governments of Poland and Hungary and their negative impact on relocation quotas for migrants set by the EU.
The Canadian Private Refugee Sponsorship Program is the first and largest of its kind in the world. While it is a great alternative relocation method for migrants fleeing war-torn regions or other domestic unrest, the process of accepting such refugees is not as simple as it may appear and must be examined to fully understand the private sponsorship method of accepting refugees.
Firstly, the program is only available to refugees who do not already reside in Canada in a stateless or asylum-seeking nature. Additionally, refugees being sponsored by a group of 5- one of the private methods of sponsoring- or a community sponsor must be recognized and accepted as a refugee by the UNHCR or the government of the country they are currently located in. he application process is usually completed by the refugees in a Canadian migration office abroad and they must already have a sponsor from Canada. Thus, this program is usually available for family members -direct or extended- of individuals already residing in Canada. Alternatively, community sponsors or group of 5 sponsors may be introduced to a specific refugee’s case through a community organization such as a church or mosque and choose to sponsor the individual. In both cases of sponsorship, the individual must already be recognized as a refugee.
In order for a refugee to be sponsored for entering Canada, there are a few steps required, they are: they must be outside of their country of nationality or their country of habitual residence if they are stateless, they must not be in Canada, they must have a sponsoring group in Canada, they must not have a durable solution in the country in which they are currently located (this can mean they cannot return safely to their country of origin and have no alternative offers of settlement), they must be able to successfully establish and settle in Canada, and they must be a recognized refugee. For refugees already residing in Canada, there is a separate immigration system that deals with cases.
Each year the government of Canada develops an immigration plan, including the number of refugees that can be relocated in Canada in a given year. The number of refugees or immigrants allowed into the country includes those using private sponsorship to enter. Thus, some cases may take 1-2 years to be processed.
The applications must be approved for both sponsors and refugees. First, sponsors choose the refugee they wish to support and submit an application to the Resettlement Operation Centre (ROC) in Ottawa. Each application includes a part for the sponsor and refugee to fill out. If this is approved the ROC sends the refugee portion of the application to one of its migration offices overseas. The next step is reviewing applications at a migration office overseas. An interview is scheduled with the refugee applying for relocation at which point eligibility criteria of the refugee is examined. This process includes the verification of identity, inquiring as to why protection is needed for the individual, making sure there are no other options such as returning to the country of origin as well as finding out medical needs if applicable. During the interview, biometric data such as fingerprints and photographs are collected.
Once the refugee is approved for the private resettlement program of Canada, the Canadian government issues a visa. Exit permits must also be arranged with the local authorities of the current residence country of the refugee. The sponsor receives a letter 4 to 10 weeks prior to the refugee’s arrival notifying them that the application has been approved and they can expect the refugee to arrive within a given timeframe.
The last step in this process is arranging transportation and pre-arrival orientations. The Canadian government works alongside the International Organization of Migration (IOM) which books the transportation for the refugee as well as schedules orientation sessions about Canada. If the refugee cannot afford travel costs, the Canadian government issues a loan to cover the cost. The sponsor is responsible for meeting the refugee at the airport at their final destination. Resettled refugees are granted a permanent residence card once border officials authorize them at the port of entry in Canada.