History of PSR
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that annually offers resettlement places to thousands of refugees. Groups across Canada have become important partners, offering additional sponsorships above the government numbers, allowing for approximately 3500 refugees to come to Canada every year who otherwise would not have had the chance.

In Private Refugee Sponsorship (PSR), Canadian citizens, organizations and associations can sponsor refugees through Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH). Private sponsorship does not rely on public resources, but rather taps the energy and funds of faith communities, ethnic groups, families and other benevolent associations.

Private sponsors offer personalized local support that the government is not able to provide. Ultimately, the PSR program has shown itself to be fulfilling for both refugees and the sponsors, as refugees gain an opportunity to establish themselves in a new land and sponsors gain a way to play a meaningful role in helping refugees become future Canadians.

Refugees from the late 1970s.

The 1976 Immigration Act was a milestone in Canada’s response to refugees, establishing “refugees” as a class distinct from immigrants. The “Boat People” crisis of the late 70s and early 80s mobilized Canadians to respond. For the first time, ordinary people across the country became involved in assisting refugees to settle in Canada through private sponsorship, changing forever the way Canadians would view their role in Canada’s resettlement program.


With the creation and implementation of the Immigration Act, Canadians were given a mechanism that introduced private sponsorship and allowed for individuals to be involved in resettling refugees.


The mass exodus of South East Asian people throughout the 1970’s saw over 60,000 refugees resettled in Canada in 1979 and 1980, some 34,000 of whom were privately sponsored.


The UNHCR awarded the Nansen medal to the People of Canada in “recognition of their major and sustained contribution to the cause of refugees”.


The creation of the Non-Government Organization-Government Committee on the Private Sponsorship of Refugees provided an opportunity for those involved in sponsorship to come together and discuss policies and operational issues.


Project FOCUS Afghanistan brought nearly 1,800 Afghan refugees to Canada through private sponsorship. This marked the first time government and private resources were blended.


The Negotiation of a new Sponsorship Agreement occurred replacing the original.


With the introduction of the Humanitarian Designated Classes the number of those who were eligible for resettlement increased greatly.

Refugees from Kosovo flee.

Under the UNHCR’s Humanitarian Evacuation Program, over 7,000 Kosovar refugees evacuated from Macedonia were resettled in Canada.


The Introduction of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) allowed for greater flexibility and access to private sponsorship.


The year 2009 marked the 30th anniversary of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. At this point over 200,000 refugees had arrived in Canada through the PSR program.


Over the years private sponsorship had trended more towards a mechanism for family reunification which lead to reduced involvement by the churches. Government changes to legislation shifts PSR away from these “paper sponsorships”.


New rules which allowed for the Minister to limit how many refugees each SAH could submit in a year became part of the new SAH Agreement


2012 has seen some of the lowest numbers of actual resettlement in over a decade. The total number of resettled refugees, both Government Assisted Refugees (GAR) and Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSR), has dropped due to a combination of factors. These include the way the Government of Canada is attempting to deal with the backlog of refugees in the system, the forced closing of the Damascus visa office, and serious security concerns that disrupted operations throughout Africa.

Syrian refugees in Damascus.

As the world faces unprecedented numbers of refugees, nearly 17 million. The UNHCR asks Canada to help them resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years, Canada promises to bring 1,300 Syrian refugees by year end.

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