Refugees and Protected Persons – Overseas Refugee Applications

The Canadian refugee system works differently for people seeking refugee protection from outside Canada than for those who seek protection from within Canada. Refugees overseas can seek protection by applying to come to Canada in one of two ways:

  1. Government Assisted Refugee – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other referral organizations can recommend refugees for resettlement in Canada. Recommendations are made in accordance with the organizations’ own policies and then assessed by a Canadian visa officer. If the application is accepted, the Canadian government covers the cost of the resettlement.
  2. Private Refugee Sponsorship – Groups of five individuals or community organizations in Canada can submit an application to sponsor a specific refugee or refugee family to come to Canada. The individual(s)/group are then responsible for the costs associated with resettlement, typically for a one year period from the person’s arrival in Canada or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient, though in rare cases the commitment may be for longer.

Sponsorship Agreement Holders (“SAH”) across Canada have signed an agreement with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to resettle refugees from abroad through the Private Sponsorship program. These groups, which include churches and charitable groups, submit the majority of refugee sponsorship applications and represent the majority refugee sponsors in Canada. They can act as sponsors themselves or assume/share the overall responsibility and liability for managing the sponsorship agreement on behalf of private citizens or ‘Constituent Groups’, usually in return for a fee. They can assist with paperwork completion, application advice and ensuring the sponsors have the means to support the refugee.[1]

A Blended Visa Office-Referred Program also exists, where refugees identified for resettlement by the UNHCR are matched with private sponsors in Canada and the Government of Canada and the private sponsor act in partnership to split the provision of financial support.

To qualify for resettlement, the refugee must:

  • Be outside their country of nationality and outside Canada; and
  • Face a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group, such as women or people with a particular sexual orientation (Convention Refugee Abroad Class).
    • Or have been, and continue to be, seriously and personally affected by civil war, armed conflict, or massive violations of human rights (Country of Asylum Class – must be privately sponsored or self-supporting to be eligible under this class).
  • Be recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR or the country of asylum, or be specifically exempt from this requirement (as Syrians and Iraqis are as of September 19, 2015, and sponsorships by a SAH are).
  • Meet medical and security and criminality screening checks.

The refugee is not eligible if:

  • They have another secure offer for protection, such as an offer to be resettled in another country;
  • They became a national of another country and have the protection of that country;
  • They chose to return to live in the country they had left; or
  • The reasons for their fear of persecution no longer exists.

The Application Process

The private refugee sponsorship application forms are available on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website. They must be carefully completed and signed by the sponsor(s) and the refugee applicant(s), if applicable, and then submitted with any necessary supporting documents to the IRCC Centralized Processing Office in Winnipeg (“CPO-W”). An officer at the CPO-W will then review the application for completeness and will process the eligibility of the private sponsor(s). This can take many months.

The sponsor can chose a specific person to sponsor (for example, a relative or someone they know) or, once their sponsorship application is approved, they can apply to sponsor a “visa office referred” individual from profiles of refugees already approved by Ottawa.

If the sponsorship undertaking is approved, the application is mailed to the visa office covering the region where the refugee is living for overseas processing of the refugee’s permanent residence application. The visa office pre-screens the application for eligibility requirements and then conducts an interview to determine if the applicant is a member of the Convention Refugees Abroad or Country of Asylum class. The office then assesses the applicant’s ability to establish and conducts admissibility checks. When a final decision is made, the office issues a permanent resident visa, arranges medical/transport loans as necessary, and then makes travel arrangements for the refugee(s). Each overseas office has a different processing time and this stage can take anywhere from 2 to 6 years.[2]

Sponsorship Costs

Although costs can vary dramatically, IRCC estimates the cost of privately sponsoring a single refugee to be around $13,000 and a family of four to be around $30,000 (though something like unforeseen medical costs not covered by the Interim Federal Health plan could appreciably impact this number). The sponsorship costs cover housing, clothing, food and living expenses of the person sponsored. The sponsors are also responsible for emotional and logistical resettlement support, such as helping the refugees find work and housing, settle into the community, and begin to learn the local language and Canadian customs.

It is important that both sponsors and refugees realize that this undertaking is a long-term resettlement plan, not an immediate solution.