How we process privately sponsored refugee applications

The Government of Canada sets the number of applications that can be processed in a given year in the Annual Immigration Levels Plan. In 2018, that target is 18,000 privately sponsored refugees. We generally process applications on a first-in, first-out basis. There are applications for roughly 41,000 refugees waiting to be processed (as of December 2017). 

An application to resettle a privately sponsored refugee to Canada has two parts:

  1. a sponsorship portion, and
  2. a refugee portion.

The Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa receives the full application (both portions) to make sure it’s complete.

If the application is complete, we then assess both portions before a refugee can be approved for resettlement:

  • the sponsorship portion is assessed first (at the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa), and if approved,
  • the refugee portion is assessed at one of our migration offices overseas.

Refugees being resettled to Quebec follow a slightly different process as the province must also approve.

Processing time

The processing time begins when we receive a completed application at the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa. The processing time ends when the:

  • sponsorship portion is refused or withdrawn, or
  • when we make a final decision on the refugee portion.

The processing time is impacted by:

  • how many applications are pending review (either sponsorship or refugee portion)
  • how many refugees Canada can welcome in a given year (see the Annual Immigration Levels Plan)
  • the security situation in the area
  • inability to reach or communicate with the refugee
  • how long it takes to complete the medical exam and security screening
  • family profile (family sizes/ages may impact processing time of security/medical checks)
  • dependants being added during processing 
  • exit permits the refugee may need
  • other barriers that cannot be controlled or anticipated

Application steps

Step 1: Assessment of the sponsorship application – Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa


Sponsors choose the refugee(s) they want to sponsor and submit an application. Each application includes both a sponsorship and a refugee portion.

Sponsorship application assessment

  1. We send an email acknowledgment to the sponsor when we begin processing the application.
  2. We put the application into a queue based on the date we receive it. The application normally stays in the inventory at the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa until we have assessed applications with earlier dates.
  3. We make sure the application is complete.
    • If an application is incomplete, we will return it to the sponsor. The sponsor will need to submit a new, complete application.
  4. We send an email to confirm we received a complete application.
  5. Once we make a decision on the sponsorship portion, we send an email to the sponsor and the refugee with the decision and explanations.
  6. If we approve the sponsorship portion, we send the full application to one of our migration offices.

Step 2: Assessment of the refugee application – migration office

Refugee application assessment

We generally process refugee applications in the order we receive them at the migration office.

Interview with the refugee(s)

  1. When we start processing the refugee portion, we will schedule an interview with the refugee. We will also tell the sponsor when this is scheduled.
  2. A Canadian migration officer interviews the refugee to check if they meet the eligibility criteria for resettlement to Canada.
  3. The officer will ask questions to:
    • confirm the refugee’s identity and where they live
    • find out why protection is needed
    • make sure the refugee is in need of resettlement (i.e., there are no other durable solutions such as returning home or staying where they are)
    • find out if there are any special needs (for example, medical needs)

    In most cases, we tell refugees in person if they pass the eligibility criteria.

    We also collect biometric data such as digital photographs and fingerprints.

  4. If they pass the eligibility criteria, the refugee must then pass admissibility screening.

    If the refugee does not pass the eligibility criteria, they have the opportunity to respond to our concerns before we make a final decision.

Admissibility screening

  1. Medical examination

    We send instructions to the refugee to complete a medical examination with a Government of Canada approved panel physician to ensure there is no health risk to Canadian residents. Medical exams include a health exam, lab tests and an X-ray. Refugees should not attempt to schedule a medical examination without first being advised by our migration office.

    If the medical exam is not passed, we will notify the refugee of the medical results. If the health condition is likely to cause a danger to public health, such as active tuberculosis, we will ask the refugee to receive medical treatment before we make a final decision.

  2. Criminality and security examinations

    We will do security and criminality checks to ensure there is no safety or security risk to Canadian residents. This review is done with immigration, law enforcement and security authorities to confirm that the refugee:

    • has not committed serious crimes
    • is not a safety or security risk to Canada
    • has not committed identity fraud

    If the refugee does not pass the criminality and security examination, they have the opportunity to respond to our concerns before we make a final decision.

Final decision

  1. If we approve the refugee for resettlement, we issue a visa. If we refuse the refugee, we send a letter to both the refugee and the sponsor with an explanation.

    After we issue the visa, it may take time to arrange for exit permits, if required by the local authorities.

  2. We send a Notice of Approval to the sponsor to advise them of the upcoming refugee arrival. We send the notice about 4 to 10 weeks before departure.
  3. We then send a request to the International Organization for Migration to book transportation, deliver orientation sessions about Canada, and arrange for medical escorts (if needed). If refugees cannot afford the cost of their travel to Canada, we give them a loan.
  4. We send a Notification of Arrival Transmission to the sponsor with travel details about 10 days before the refugee arrives in Canada.

Departure for Canada

  1. The refugee leaves for Canada. The sponsor greets them at the airport at their final destination.
  2. Resettled refugees become permanent residents once border officials authorize them at the Port of Entry in Canada.

Privately sponsored refugees can access free settlement services that we fund. These services can help newcomers feel at home in Canada more quickly. Learn more.

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