While most of the coverage of duelling asylum-seeker policies centred around Labor’s plan to establish a processing centre in East Timor, opposition leader Tony Abbott announced a plan to increase intake numbers through a refugee sponsorship program. According to the Coalition, the program would see Australia lift its refugee immigration from 13,750 to 15,000 within three years.

The plan is based on a Canadian initiative known as the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. Crikey consulted Citizenship and Immigration Canada to see how it works:

So, what’s the deal?

Under the PSR program, groups and individuals can apply to the Canadian government to sponsor refugees from abroad. As well as financial assistance, sponsors also provide accommodation, clothing and food. Most sponsorships last for a year or until a refugee can financially support themselves.

In exceptional circumstances, sponsorship can be extended for up to three years for refugees with special needs, such as victims of trauma and torture, or women and children at risk.

How many refugees do Canada sponsor?

Canada took 22,844 refugees last year. This included 5,036 privately sponsored refugees.

Who can apply to be sponsored?

Canada’s immigration regulations describe three classes of persons who may qualify as refugees for the PSR program. To be eligible for sponsorship, applicants must be outside Canada and meet the definition of one of the classes of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Who can be a sponsor?

Sponsorship Agreement Holders: organisations that have formal sponsorship agreements with the Canadian government to sponsor refugees. These are typically religious, ethnic, community or service organisations.

Groups of Five: made up of five or more Canadians. The group must agree to support one or more refugees emotionally and financially for the full duration of the sponsorship.

Community Sponsors: an organisation, an association or a corporation based in the community where the refugees are expected to settle. Unlike sponsorship agreement holders, they don’t have an ongoing agreement to sponsor refugees.

What are the responsibilities for sponsors?

Sponsors have certain responsibilities they are expected to uphold if they are to sponsor a refugee. This includes helping refugees to find suitable housing, learn English or French, find a job and make friends. Sponsors are also expected to provide for the reception, care, lodging and settlement of the sponsored refugees.

What are the advantages of the system?

According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, the PSR program allows “more refugees to find a permanent new home”. The program also offers a “network of support” that “helps refugees settle more quickly”.

Another big advantage is that refugees don’t drain public resources. According to the CCR, private support of the program equates to about $79 million annually, as well as an estimated volunteer contribution of over 1,600 hours per refugee family.

Is there any criticism of the program?

The main criticism of the PSR program is that refugees face long processing delays, with waits of three or four years being routine.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey