3.F All about Sponsorship Agreement Holders
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Name of Sponsoring Group: Anglican Diocese of Ottawa
Type of Sponsoring Group: Sponsorship Agreement Holder
Number of Sponsors in Group: Approximately 70 Constituent Groups or Co-Sponsor Groups with approximately 1,000 volunteers
Sponsoring Since: 1979
Sponsoring Group Description: All types of Canadians – members of our parishes, groups of neighbours, and groups of co-workers
Interviewee: Don Smith
Did you sponsor someone you know (e.g. friend, family) or did not previously know?
Our Constituent Groups and Co-Sponsor Groups have sponsored both unknown refugees (e.g. Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) refugees) and family-linked, sponsor-referred, “named” refugees.
How were you connected with the refugees you sponsored?
It is generally a Canadian friend or family member of the refugees overseas who approaches the Constituent Group or the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) requesting help in sponsoring their friend or relative. Sometimes, when a group has already sponsored a BVOR refugee, that newcomer will ask their sponsoring group to sponsor the friend or relative who has been left overseas. This is known as the “echo effect” and it is very common.
What is it like sponsoring someone you do not know?
Refugees are like people everywhere. Some are outgoing, some are ambitious, some are introverted, some are badly traumatized and depressed. Each person is different and so each relationship is different. When the newcomer is friendly and eager to learn, it can be the most wonderful experience in the world. When the newcomer is suffering from trauma, depression, or another serious physical or mental health issue, it can be very hard work.
What is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder?
A SAH is a corporation that has signed an agreement with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that allows it to sponsor refugees under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, the Visa Office-Referred program, the Blended Visa Office-Referred program, or the Joint Assistance Sponsorship program.
There are approximately 110 SAHs across Canada. The majority are faith-based or ethno-cultural corporations, although some are service-providing organizations (i.e. settlement agencies). Small SAHs sponsor refugees directly. Large SAHs partner with Constituent Groups and/or Co-Sponsors who do the work directly with the newcomers.
How are SAHs structured?
A SAH is a corporation incorporated under federal or provincial law. It is typically a not-for-profit, charitable agency managed by a Board of Directors. As a registered charity, its financial activities are governed by the Income Tax Act and Regulations. Large SAHs will have a small paid staff, small SAHs will be run by volunteers. Large SAHs will partner with Constituent Groups and/or Co-Sponsors to work directly with the newcomers. Small SAHs may work directly with the newcomers. Regardless of whether the SAH is large or small, it cannot relinquish or transfer its liability for the sponsorship to the Constituent Group and/or Co-Sponsor.
What are Constituent Groups and how does the SAH interact with them?
A Constituent Group is either a group of individual Canadians or (an) individual Canadian(s) in conjunction with a corporation, unincorporated organization or association, which a SAH can authorize to sponsor refugees under its sponsorship agreement. Each SAH may determine the modalities of the authorization. For many faith-based SAHs, their Constituent Groups are their assemblies, parishes, or congregations.
What are the advantages of faith-based infrastructures to organizing private sponsorship?
There are three advantages. The first is that supporting refugees (like helping the homeless or aiding victims of natural disasters) is generally part of the acknowledged mission of faith-based charities, which means that the charity can issue a receipt to the donor for income tax purposes. The second is that faith-based organizations are generally structured in a hierarchical fashion that lends itself to the SAH/Constituent Group/Co-Sponsor model and allows the work of sponsorship to be distributed across a large volunteer base. The third is that many faith-based organizations are involved in complementary services such as affordable housing, mental health counselling, or services to immigrants.
Why are so many SAHs faith-based organizations?
There is no requirement for a SAH to be faith-based. However, there are factors (described above) that promote faith-based organizations taking on the role of SAHs. An additional factor is historical. It was the Mennonite church, along with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, that signed the first Master Agreements for sponsorship with the Minister of Employment and Immigration Canada at the time of the Indochinese refugee crisis in 1979.
How do you select refugees to sponsor?
For Visa Office-Referred, Blended Visa Office-Referred, and Joint Assistance Sponsorship cases, the sponsor selects the refugee from a list of cases provided by the Government of Canada. These cases were originally referred to the Government of Canada’s missions overseas by UNHCR. For sponsor-referred cases (also known as family-linked cases or “named” cases), the refugee is generally referred to the sponsoring group by a relative or friend in Canada, although occasionally, the referral is made by a non-governmental agency overseas, perhaps a religious or humanitarian organization. For sponsor-referred cases, there are generally more requests for sponsorship than the SAH has the capacity or the allocation of application spaces to handle. The SAH therefore needs a way to prioritize cases for acceptance. Typical considerations for prioritization are: (1) date of referral (i.e. first-in, first-out); (2) credibility of individual or organization making the referral; and (3) vulnerability of the refugee.
What is the experience of arrival and the refugees’ first weeks like?
The first few weeks require the full-time commitment of several volunteers. Tasks involve finding housing and furnishings, applying for provincial health insurance, language testing, school enrollment, introduction to the banking system, application for child benefits, finding day care for pre-school children, instructing newcomers on public transit and other public services, and dealing with immediate medical issues.
How do you find accessing settlement services in your community?
Settlement services including language assessment, language training, and employment counselling are readily accessible and very useful.
What is the best part of your sponsorship experience?
The knowledge that we have given people, who had no possibility of a future in their country of origin or country of refuge, new lives in a safe and welcoming country.
How are the refugees you have sponsored doing today?
Some remain (very, very) close. Some have drifted away. Some of the young people are extremely successful, graduating cum laude and completing graduate studies. Sadly, none of the adults who arrived with professional qualifications – lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers – have been able to work in their field. Some of the young people have dropped out of school and are working at minimum wage jobs. Some have had Canadian babies. Some still suffer from the physical and mental disabilities that they brought to Canada. You learn to take a long-term view, celebrate the successes and share the sorrows.