What is Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR)
South East Asian refugees, circa 1978.
Canada is a country of immigrants with a varied history of welcoming refugees and newcomers from all over the world. The many military campaigns in South East Asia during the 1970’s caused a mass exodus of refugees who desperately needed help and support. It was the plight and flight of these refugees that was the genesis of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. Canadian churches and community groups recognized these people particularly needed support and so they worked tirelessly to find safe places for them to live in Canada. The Government of Canada formalized this process of Canadians sponsoring refugees from overseas in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSR).  


Refugee children in a camp in Jordan.
The PSR program is designed to allow refugees who are living abroad build new lives through sponsorship by Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Under the PSR program, private sponsors here in Canada commit to provide assistance and support to refugees usually for their first year of life in Canada. Since 1978, over 200,000 refugees have been assisted to resettle in Canada through private sponsorship. The vast majority of refugee sponsorship is carried out through incorporated organizations called Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH), such as AURA. There are currently 85 such groups that have signed agreements with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to sponsor and resettle refugees from overseas. The majority of SAH’s are either faith-based organizations, ethno-cultural groups, or humanitarian organizations. SAH’s are able to submit sponsorship applications to CIC in return for guaranteeing tens of thousands of dollars and hours in refugee support. The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program is designed for Canadians to take an active role in making a difference in helping refugees and people in refugee-like situations.  


How PSR Works

Private Sponsorship of Refugees program qualification for specific refugees

The process begins when refugee(s) identify themselves to a potential sponsor. This is done in a variety of ways such as, direct contact by email, phone or mail or referral through family, friends, UN agencies or partner NGOs. Once initial contact has been made sponsors work with refugees to learn their story in order to understand if they qualify as a refugee based on the international and domestic laws. While many people leave their country due to economics or natural disaster they do not fit the legal definition of a refugee.

Qualifying for PSR can also be confirmed by possession of refugee status with the UNHCR. If the person is found to qualify as a refugee, the SAH can submit the sponsorship with or without finding a church or group willing to financially support the refugee (or refugee family) for one year in Canada. Sometimes there is a group which is already willing to provide support. When this is the case the group or church must be assessed to confirm they have enough financial resources and volunteers for settlement work for one year after arrival. Once both the refugee and church are eligible, formal documents must be completed and submitted to the Government of Canada.

These documents must include an explanation for the reason the person qualifies as a refugee, their background information and personal history along with supporting documents to collaborate their story. The church or group must also submit documentation proving their ability and capacity to fulfil the sponsorship requirements. The amount of information that is required varies based on what type of group is sponsoring. If both the refugee and the church or group’s documents are accepted locally by the Government of Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration branch then the case is referred to the appropriate overseas visa post.

Processing times for Private Sponsorship of Refugees program

While the Government of Canada has many embassies and visa posts around the world many do not process refugee applications. This limitation leads to wait times of anywhere from 1 to 9 years before a refugee is interviewed, accepted, granted a visa and arrives in Canada. During this processing time the case must be reviewed regularly by the SAH and group and if the family composition, location or overall circumstances change the file must be amended and these changes identified to CIC to ensure these changes do not cause more delays in the process.

You can download AURA's factsheet Refugee Sponsorship: An Overview here.

PSR Works

PSR is usually the fourth largest resettlement program in the world, after the governments of the USA, Canada, and Australia.

Refugees who arrive in Canada through the PSR program become self-supporting much more quickly than refugees who are completely supported by the government.

PSR is the only program in the world that allows private citizens to help refugees directly through the resettlement process.  


Why Canada helps refugees through PSR

PSR is aligned with the Government of Canada’s objective of upholding Canada’s humanitarian tradition of protecting those in need.

PSR is aligned with CIC refugee protection mandate, which is derived from the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).

PSR supports the CIC strategic outcome of successful integration of newcomers and promotion of Canadian citizenship.

Canada is one of 16 countries that take part in United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement programs.

In 2002, Canada endorsed the UNHCR’s Agenda for Protection, which focuses on activities to strengthen international protection of asylum-seekers and refugees.



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