British Columbia

Canada limits the number of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applicants in 2017

Private sponsors are scrambling to raise funds and complete applications for Syrian refugees after the Canadian government revealed that in 2017 there will be cap of 1,000 new applicants under a particular type of private sponsorship.

'We are in shock and dismay,' says sponsor scrambling to fundraise, finish paperwork

Canadian Minister of Immigration John McCallum, right, speaks with a Syrian family inside their tent, during his visit to a refugee camp in the southern town of Ghaziyeh, Lebanon, on Friday, December 18, 2015. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

Private sponsors are scrambling to raise funds and complete applications for Syrian refugees after the Canadian government revealed that in 2017 there will be cap of 1,000 new applicants under a particular type of private sponsorship.

Private refugee sponsorships aren't all the same: there are larger groups known as sponsorship agreement holders (SAH), and smaller groups in which individuals come together to be community sponsors, also known as a "group of five" sponsorships.

"We are in shock and dismay," said Canadian sponsor Vania Davidovic.

"It makes a huge difference because all of a sudden if your family is not in the first thousand spots, it means they will basically be rejected."

Davodovic has three families she's helping sponsor and is worried because just one application has been completed and only $8,000 has been raised for the others.

Ihave a very short time now tofundraise, and raising $16,000 or $17,000 in a few weeks is close to impossible.- Vania Davidovic

"You cannot submit your application until you have full funds in place ... if I have a three-member family, I need the full $23,000 proof of money in the account," she said.

"That means that I have a very short time now to fundraise, and raising $16,000 or $17,000 in a few weeks is close to impossible."

The most recent change by the government impacts both types of private sponsorship arrangements.

Government cites backlog 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says the cap was put in place to address the backlog in processing applications and the number of admissions expected in 2017 is double that seen in 2015.

"Due to accepting an unlimited number of private sponsorship applications prior to 2013, there was a large backlog of applicants," said IRCC spokeswoman Sonia Lesage.

Vania Davidovic is worried about the new limit on the number of privately sponsored Syrian refugees Canada will accept in 2017. (Vania Davidovic/Facebook)

"Annual caps help reduce processing times and prevent an inventory backlog to build up."

The new public policy — which came into effect this week — limits the number of Syrian and Iraqi groups-of-five and community sponsorship applications to 1,000 people in 2017.  

"Our goal is to eliminate the backlog by 2019 and reduce wait times for new applications to about 12 months," Lesage said.

Since November 2015, Canada has accepted more than 38,000 Syrian refugees. More than 21,000 are government-assisted refugees, and 13,000 are privately sponsored.

'It's really tough'

Refugee resettlement organizations, like Vancouver's MOSAIC, which help sponsors complete their group-of-five applications, say the new cap on group-of-five privately sponsored refugee applications is disappointing. 

"It's really tough because we have seen the demand for private sponsorships increasing," said MOSAIC's Saleem Spindari.

"Unfortunately, by having the caps there, it would be very difficult for us to help people submit the application ... 1,000 applications for all of Canada is really a small number."

Dozens of people eagerly awaited the arrival of a Syrian refugee family at Gander Airport in Newfoundland in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 11, 2016. (Courtesy Jenn Swyzer)

Spindari says he would rather see the government accept more refugees. 

"The backlog is a really big problem, I know that. But we have to understand that many of the refugees are really in need of coming here," said Spindari.

"If they increase the quota, it could be much better, instead of limiting the number of applications they are accepting."

The cap applies only to group-of-five and community sponsors. Sponsorship Agreement Holders can still submit a total of 7,500 applications for refugees from any country.

An IRCC media spokesperson said it is important to note that despite changes to application totals, Canada will process double the number of refugee admissions compared to 2015.

"In 2017, we will welcome one the highest numbers of refugees and protected persons in Canadian history," the ministry said in a written statement on Dec. 24. "There will be substantially more privately sponsored refugees in particular, increasing from 4,500 in 2014 to 16,000 in 2017." 


  • A previous version of this story said the Canadian government had put a cap of 1,000 on the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees allowed to enter Canada in 2017. In fact, the cap relates only to applications, not to people arriving in 2017.
    Dec 23, 2016 5:52 PM PT


Bal Brach


Bal Brach is an award-winning reporter at CBC News Vancouver. She has worked in television, radio and online news across Canada for more than 15 years. Bal's storytelling skills have earned her two Jack Webster Awards. She is also the recipient of regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association awards. Bal can be reached at or on social media @BalBrach