Private Sponsorship and Public Policy:
Political barriers to church-connected refugee resettlement in Canada
Canada has traditionally been known for its humanitarian efforts to help resettle those whose families have been uprooted and who live in fear for their lives. In 1986, “the people of Canada” received the UN Nansen Medal, an award given to individuals or groups for excellence in service to refugees.
Today, two-thirds of privately sponsored refugees come through one of 85 Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs). SAHs are incorporated organizations that have a signed agreement with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to submit sponsorship applications for their own organization and for other sponsoring groups who work through them to submit their applications. The sponsorship commitment consists of financially and emotionally supporting a refugee or refugee family for their first year in Canada, a task that includes raising about $20,000 to $30,000 depending on the family size and helping find accommodations, furniture, groceries, and eventually jobs. Since the inception of the PSR program in 1978, the majority of SAHs have been churches and church-connected organizations.
Some recent changes in policy, priorities, and processes at CIC have had significant implications for privately sponsored refugees and the faith communities that help them come to Canada. This study identifies church-connected SAHs’ top concerns relating to policy and government practices or processes that impact their refugee resettlement work. It then explores the methods used by these SAHs to engage the federal government on their concerns, investigates the efficacy of these methods, and documents SAHs’ perspectives on the best way to ensure the PSR program’s integrity moving forward.
With over 50 million refugees currently displaced from their homes around the world, the resettlement work done through SAHs over and above the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) quota makes a life-and-death difference for thousands of individuals each year. It is the hope of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) that this research will highlight the consequences of current government policy on the PSR program, and that it will enhance the ability of Canadian churches and the wider SAH community to advocate for policies and practices that better enable them to follow Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.