Evaluation of the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program
Research and Evaluation Branch
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
Project reference number: E5-2019
This report presents the findings of the evaluation of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) Blended Visa Office--Referred (BVOR) program. The evaluation was conducted in fulfillment of requirements under the Treasury Board’s Policy on Results and covered the period of 2016 to 2020.
The evaluation’s primary focus was to assess the continued need for the BVOR program, as well as the extent to which the BVOR program is appropriately designed for resettling refugees. The secondary area of focus was to examine stakeholders’ awareness of the BVOR program. The evaluation also examined the services BVORs receive from their sponsors upon arrival in Canada, including sponsors’ capacity to provide supports during the first year of resettlement.
Summary of Conclusions
Regarding the primary evaluation focus, the evaluation revealed that while the BVOR program was introduced as a cost-saving measure, interviewees indicated there is a continued need for the BVOR program as it makes sponsorship more accessible to civil society, allows for sponsoring individuals with no ties to Canada, and allows Canada to honour commitments to resettling refugees identified as the most vulnerable.
With respect to the secondary evaluation focus, the evaluation found awareness of the BVOR program needs to improve within the sponsorship community and efforts could be made to ensure outreach is extended to new prospective sponsors. The evaluation also noted some informational gaps sponsors experience throughout the BVOR sponsorship process and prior to a BVOR’s arrival.
The evaluation also showed that sponsors are receptive to the needs of BVORs, and that BVORs’ resettlement needs are being met. Moreover, BVORs are referred to and are accessing settlement services and community supports.
In response to the evaluation’s findings, and in support of continued improvement of the program, five recommendations are proposed.
Summary of Recommendations
Theme 1: Rationale
The BVOR program’s original rationale was to save costs during a period of fiscal restraint, without reducing the overall number of refugees able to come to Canada. Over time, narratives around the rationale have evolved to incorporate the goal of sponsoring refugees who do not have prior ties to Canada, the creation of additional resettlement spaces, improved ability for the community to provide refugees with support towards integration, and the ability to quickly mobilize sponsorship in response to humanitarian crises (i.e., “surge capacity”) as positive outcomes of the BVOR program. The lack of defined program objectives underlines the inconsistencies between the program’s original rationale and the perceived need for continuing the program, and presents challenges for measuring the success of the BVOR program.
Recommendation 1: IRCC should formally define objectives for the BVOR program, including how the BVOR program aligns with and supports the broader Resettlement program.
Theme 2: BVOR Program Awareness
Promotional funding for the BVOR funding is limited, and efforts are more focused on matching sponsors with refugees and providing information to pre-existing sponsors rather than focusing on marketing the program. The evaluation highlighted a lack of internal capacity to market the program and a lack of evidence on where marketing efforts should be focused. As well, the evaluation found that awareness and understanding of the BVOR program is limited in the current sponsorship community and that there is room for improvement in the current tools and training made available to sponsors.
Recommendation 2: IRCC should put in place a strategy to increase awareness of the BVOR program including promoting the program beyond its current sponsorship base.
Theme 3: Financial Supports
The evaluation found that interviewees feel the level of financial support IRCC provides is not balanced with the level of financial support sponsors provide, as sponsors have the entire responsibility of start-up costs. More than half of sponsors surveyed as part of the evaluation indicated that they spent more money on sponsorship than was estimated, and the majority also indicated they continued to provide supports to refugees beyond the required sponsorship period. Moreover, evidence from interviews and the sponsor survey suggest that RAP supports do not adequately reflect the high cost of living (e.g., higher rent costs) and that these unexpected costs contribute to reduced re-engagement in the BVOR program.
Recommendation 3: IRCC should develop and implement a plan to improve supports provided to BVOR sponsors, which considers:
- Examining how costs are shared between IRCC and sponsors;
- Reviewing monthly income support rates to ensure supports provided to BVORs are appropriate; and
- Enhancing information on sponsorship costs, including on challenges sponsors may experience in providing support.
Theme 4: Communications on Refugees’ Needs
Sponsors and interviewees highlighted some gaps in the information available to sponsors that would be helpful when selecting BVOR cases, preparing for BVORs’ arrival, and in meeting BVORs’ resettlement needs. In particular, sponsors identified detailed health needs as a current information gap that could help sponsors to better prepare for BVOR arrivals.
The evaluation highlighted pre-arrival contact between sponsors and BVOR cases as a promising practice to bridge this information gap, as it would allow the refugee the opportunity to share additional information with the sponsor.
Recommendation 4: IRCC should enhance mechanisms to facilitate disseminating information on refugees’ needs, including lines of communication between refugees and sponsors prior to arrival.
Theme 5: Sustainability
The evaluation found that the program sustainability is in a fragile state. The costs associated with processing BVORs exceed those associated with processing PSRs and GARs, and the program has a low uptake rate and limited awareness. The evaluation also identified that non-selected BVOR cases were previously reconverted to GARs. IRCC stakeholders noted that these reconversions had a substantial impact on planning and resourcing exercises, which created unexpected financial pressures. As well, this practice may deter prospective sponsors from participating given refugees will be resettled as GARs if they are not selected as BVORs. In 2018 and 2019, the program benefitted from external funding to offset costs for sponsors and provided SAHs with administrative support to assist in coordinating BVOR sponsorships. The discontinuation of external funding, could negatively impact the achievement of levels targets.
Lastly, once the objectives for the program have been formally established, as per Recommendation 1, and program design improvements have been put in place as a result of Recommendations 2 to 4, the program would benefit from monitoring its sustainability, including the extent to which it is meeting its objectives.
Recommendation 5: Following the development of revised objectives and program design improvements suggested in recommendations 1 to 4, IRCC should monitor the BVOR program’s sustainability, including considerations of:
- whether the program is meeting its intended objectives, as defined per Recommendation 1;
- whether the amount of departmental resources required to meet program objectives and admissions levels are appropriate;
- whether the program should be retained in its current format.
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