How does Refugee Sponsorship work?

How Can We Help?

Canada has a long history of welcoming refugees. Through the refugee sponsorship system, Canadian citizens and permanent residents act as sponsors and support a refugee or refugee family for up to a year after they settle in the country. For more information on how refugee sponsorship works, continue reading this guide.

The Basics

Canada plans to welcome an estimated 57,000 refugees through private sponsorship from 2018 through 2020. If you’d like to become one of these sponsors, you will need to do some research. Your approach may differ depending on whether you want to sponsor a particular refugee or select a refugee from a pool of applicants.

Only refugees who are outside of Canada and have fled their home countries can be sponsored privately. To learn more about eligibility, click here.

Refugees must be referred to the sponsorship program by a recognized agency. This can be the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or a private Canadian sponsorship group.

Private sponsors must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents and over the age of 18. They also must live in the same community that the refugee will settle in. In addition, they must prove that they can support the refugee for up to a year

One person cannot sponsor a refugee alone. They must work with others in one of three types of groups:

  • Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) – a legal group that has an agreement with the government to sponsor refugees
  • Community Sponsor – a local organization or company that agrees to sponsor a refugee
  • Group of Five – five or more people who work together to sponsor a refugee

Sponsorship groups must be approved by the government. To learn more, click here.

The Process

The sponsor and refugee must both complete and submit an application to the government.

Please note, the process can take months or even years. Check this online application tracker to estimate when you will receive news on your application.

Groups of five and community sponsors can only sponsor a refugee who holds a status document. This document proves their status as a refugee. To find out how refugee status is determined, click here.

If you wish to sponsor a refugee who does not have a status document, contact a SAH. This is the only group that can sponsor a refugee without a status document. You may be able to partner with them to co-sponsor the refugee in this case. For a list of SAHs in Calgary, select “Alberta” from the drop-down menu at this link.

Sponsors and refugees should also be aware of the “One-Year Window” rule for family applications. Information on that can be found here.

Select a refugee from a pool chosen by Canada’s visa offices. The UNHCR recommends these cases and pre-screens the applicants. Pre-screened applicants may come to Canada quickly once matched with a sponsor.

These matches usually happen as part of the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program. The government supports the refugee financially for the first six months while the private sponsor covers the next six months.

Help and Resources

The process and paperwork for refugee sponsorship can be hard to understand. Luckily, there are many resources that help sponsors.

The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website has the latest information about refugee sponsorship. Resources include a program guide, a description of the application process, and a Help Centre for frequently asked questions. There are also guides about what refugees can expect after they submit their applications.

The Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) exists to help sponsors understand refugee sponsorship.

RSTP has trainers in major cities, including Calgary, who conduct training. You can do training in-person or online. The RSTP website has many resources for sponsors including a handbook, a video library, and a self-assessment tool.

Other groups that offer resources for sponsors are the Canadian Council for Refugees and the SAH Association.

You may want to speak with a lawyer to help you with the sponsorship process.

The Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (RSSP) connects sponsors with lawyers across Canada who offer free guidance and advice. You can email the Calgary branch at and check out their resources at

The Refugee Alberta website includes a list of refugee services and programs in Alberta. 

Here at the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society, we offer many programs that help refugees after they arrive in Canada. These include the Refugees and Newcomers Emotional Wellness program and our language and employment training. Whether you are a newcomer or a sponsor, we look forward to meeting you.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Jessica Whiteside for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.

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