The prevalence of COVID-19 in the past two years have had as adverse an effect on the overall work of refugee sponsorship as it has in all other aspects of our lives. As such, in 2021 and 2022 the refugee desk has observed a slight decrease in the number of requests from congregations and presbyteries to sponsor named refugees from overseas through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.
During this period, application processing by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the various Canadian visa offices abroad have significantly declined. While processing has picked up pace, the Sponsorship Agreement Holders’ association (of which PWS&D is a member) continues to call on IRCC to further speed up application processing times than what has become a norm.
In 2021, the PCC’s allocation from IRCC allowed us to submit sponsorship applications for 81 people—a number which matches the capacity for what the refugee sponsorship team can currently handle. By the end of December, the applications for 81 people plus two additional individuals (a total of 83) were submitted. This was made possible through the effort and dedication poured into this ministry by sponsors, at a time when the whole world was grappling with COVID-19. The last quarter of 2021 was also when we saw refugee arrivals picking up pace, compared to 2020, when there were none.
This year, there has been a significant delay from IRCC in allocating the global cap for sponsorship to the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) organizations such as the PCC. Normally, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada allocates these spaces to SAHs within the first two months of every year, but this year we waited until July before allocations were confirmed.
IRCC has stated that this delay in allocating annual quotas is because of other priorities, especially the situation in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, as well as Afghani refugee applications.
A current major concern of the refugee sponsorship program is the considerable delay in application processing at IRCC and the various Canadian visa offices overseas. IRCC has reported a historic backlog—a little over two million applications for different streams of immigration, including refugee applications, are being processed with limited capacity and resources. IRCC is reportedly taking measures to deal with the delays and backlog of applications, but in the interim, many lives are caught in the system.
In the days of COVID-19 and processing delays, the uniquely Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees program seems to be challenged on all fronts; the courage, determination and welcoming heart of Canadians proves that hope is still alive even in times when it feels like it fades away. This is indeed felt by many who are in dire circumstances as they wait to start a new life.
If you are interested in learning more about refugee sponsorship, PWS&D’s sponsorship staff are ready to assist. To learn more or support this ministry, visit WeRespond.ca/refugee-sponsorship.