In Climate Migration, Humanitarian Issues, Refugee Outside Canada, Sponsor Refugees

Canada offers protection to people abroad through the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program (“RHRP”).  RHRP is managed by the Federal ministry of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) and the program applies only to refugees located outside Canada. It does not apply to claimants who have already arrived in Canada and wish to make a refugee claim in Canada. Those applicants are subject to a different procedure.

Canadian officials, stationed overseas, work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) and nongovernmental organizations (“NGO”) to identify refugees or persons in refugee-like situations who are in need of resettlement. This program is not intended to be used as ”asylum shopping” meaning that those who have meaningful, realistic possibilities to avail themselves of protection in other countries must seek refuge there.

The RHR be allows private groups to sponsor refugees.


An application for resettlement through RHRP is not initiated by the claimant but must be initiated by one of the following:

  1. Sponsored-referred case (or “named cases”) where the refugee may already have found a private sponsor
  2. Visa office-referred case (or “unnamed” cases) where the refugee does not have a sponsor or a sponsor may wish to sponsor someone, but does not know any specific refugee. In these cases, IRCC matches refugees to sponsors who qualify.
  3. Government-assisted refugee cases where the refugee does not have a sponsor and IRCC takes a certain number of UNHCR- referred cases per year


  1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”)

A person seeking to resettle in Canada as a refugee from abroad and who does not have an eligible sponsor must be referred by a recognized referral organization pursuant to section 140.3(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR”) Currently only the UNHCR is the only recognized referral organization. UNHCR’s  goal is to identify cases where resettlement in another country is the only durable solution. Such referrals are electronically submitted to IRCC.

  1. Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”)

IRCC is the federal administrative body responsible for the selection and approval process for refugees and resettlement applications. IRCC officers receive referrals from the UNHCR or named referrals from private sponsors.  IRCC works with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to arrange the refugees’ travel and resettlement needs.

  1. International Organization for Migration (“IOM”)

The IOM is an Intergovernmental entity that assists in the resettlement process of displaced people, refugees and migrants. The IOM works closely with government entities such as IRCC. It provides counselling, performs medical examinations or screens medical documents for refugees. It assists refugees with language training and integration in preparing for arrival in Canada through the Canada Orientation Abroad program.

 Eligibility Requirements of the RHRP

Section 139 of IRPR requires that a refugee must:

  • be outside of Canada and in need of a durable solution
  • be seeking to come to Canada as a permanent resident and not on temporary intent
  • be a member of either the Convention Refugees Abroad Class or the Humanitarian-protected Persons Abroad Class
  • have an eligible sponsor or if a member of the Convention Refugees Abroad Class, be in receipt of financial assistance from a government resettlement assistance program or be self-supporting
  • demonstrate ability to become successfully established in Canada (except in cases of vulnerable or in urgent need of protection situations)
  • not be inadmissible to Canada except for health grounds causing excessive demands

Classes of refugees for RHRP

1.Convention Refugees Abroad Class

Refugees qualifying under this category must first be granted refugee status by a visa officer as indicated in section 145 of IPR. Such Individuals must possess the financial resources to resettle or have the support of a private sponsor. They also need to prove that resettlement is the only viable solution. Convention refugees are those who demonstrate and prove a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion and/or membership in a particular social group.

2.Humanitarian Protected Persons Abroad Class

This category includes persons who are not Convention refugees, but are in  similar circumstances to those of a convention refugee as indicated in section 146 of IRPR

3.Country of Asylum Claimants

Individuals under this category are those who are outside their country of nationality and are in refugee-like situations. Section 147 of IRPR requires that they “have been and continue to be, seriously and  personally affected by civil war, armed conflict or massive violation of human rights”. Such applicants must have a private sponsor or have their own financial means to support themselves.

Financial and resettlement support

Refugees and families who are need a resettlement and do not have sufficient resources can obtain support from any of the following:

  1. Government-Assisted Refugees (“GAR”) program

This is generally provided through the Resettlement Assistance Program (“RAP”) or the interim Federal Health Program. RAP provides both financial and immediate essential services for those who require help integrating into the community

  1. Joint Assistance Sponsorship (“JAS”) Program

This program is focused on those refugees who are not likely to become independent after 12 months of living in Canada which could include:

  • urgent need of protection cases,
  • women at risk
  • refugees who are severely traumatized by torture
  • large families of refugees,
  • refugees who have lived in refugee camps for extended periods, and
  • refugees with medical conditions.
  •  JAS requires cooperation between IRCC and private sponsors. The former provides basic financial assistance to help with resettlement costs such as food, shelter, clothing and essential household goods. The private sponsors provide ongoing guidance, orientation to the community and searches.
  1. Private Sponsorship Programs

In this case sponsorship is considered to be a three-way commitment between the government, the sponsor and the refugee.  Sponsors enter into a legal contract with the Canadian government where they agree to be responsible for income support and medical costs for one year after the refugee’s arrival, including the accompanying family members. Support could be assistance in finding accommodation and basic household items helping the family to adjust to the community, advising on services available in the community, such as banking, public transportation, shopping, searching for jobs, and language classes

Types of private sponsorship

  1. Group at five (“G5”)

Any group of five or more people can team up to sponsor one or more refugees provided they:

  • are citizens or permanent residents and at least 18 years of age,
  • live in the community where the refugees are expected to settle,
  • are not in default on any other sponsorship undertaking,
  • have the necessary resources to support the refugee for up to 12 months and
  • can provide a plan for the resettlement support of the refugee
  1. Community Sponsors

This category is open to organizations, associations and corporations that meet the following requirements where such sponsors can:

  • demonstrate financial capacity to fulfill the sponsorship obligation which can include capacity in raising of funds if necessary
  • demonstrate the ability to provide the necessary emotional and social support and
  • be based in the community where the refugees will be living.
  1. Sponsorship Agreement Holders and their Constituents Groups

Sponsorship agreement holders (known as “SAH”) are established, incorporated organizations. There are many SAHs across Canada ranging from religious organizations to ethno-cultural groups. The main advantage is that the referral by the UNHCR is not required.

Sponsorship application process

If the sponsor does not have a particular refugee in mind, they may request a “match form” from IRCC. There is a separate application kit depending on the type of private sponsorship. The sponsoring group must submit the application, the undertaking and a financial and the settlement plan. IRCC that evaluates the application:

  • to determine the sponsor’s eligibility and to ensure that there are no bars to becoming a sponsor set out in section 156 (1) of IRPR (default of child support or other sponsorships, criminal records)
  • to confirm that in non-SAH sponsorships the prospective refugee has previously been recognized as a refugee by UNHCR (or another state).

Once the IRCC approves the application, an approval letter is sent to the sponsor and IRCC advises how long the process could take. The application is then processed by the visa office that serves the country where the refugee claimant is located.

Some Key statistics

On November 1, 2023, IRCC announced that for 2024, it wishes to welcome 76,115 refugees and protected persons which is broken down as follows:

  • Protected persons in Canada and Dependants Abroad 27,000
  • Resettled refugees (Government assisted) 21,115
  • Resettled refugees (privately sponsored) 27,700
  • Resettled refugees (Blended visa office referred) 250

In 2021 there were:

  • 9,531 refugees resettled in Canada through the privately sponsored pathway which represents 16% of all refugees and were granted protection that year in Canada
  • 10,811 refugees resettled in Canada who were government assisted and referred by UNHCR