How Do Sponsors Think about 'Month 13'?

Author:Lenard, Patti Tamara
 
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Abstract

There are many different ways in which one might describe the goal of Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. For sponsors, though, one goal is clear: to get "their" refugees ready to handle the rigors of "month 13." The supposed ideal is that, by month 13, newcomers are employed and living independently in Canada, as productive members of society. The reality is messier. The objective in this article is to offer an account of how sponsors think of their job, in relation to month 13. Using data collected via interviews with nearly sixty private sponsors in Ottawa, it is shown that sponsors are motivated by securing stability for newcomers by the time month 13 arrives, but that sponsors differently flesh out the meaning of the stability they are seeking to achieve on behalf of newcomers. In particular, the data suggest, sponsors believe that newcomers' attitude to integration is especially strongly related to their actual integration, and newcomers do especially well by month 13 to the extent that sponsors are able to build and support a positive attitude towards it.

Resume

Il y a plusieurs facons dont pourrait etre decrit l'objectif du Programme de parrainage prive de refugies du Canada. Pour les parrains, toutefois, l'objectif est clair: il s'agit de preparer > refugie a gerer les rigueurs du >. L'ideal suppose est qu'a partir 13e mois, les refugies travaillent et vivent de facon independante en tant membres productifs de la societe. La realite est plus compliquee. Cet article a pour objectif de rendre compte de la facon dont les parrains envisagent leurs taches en lien avec le 13e mois. S'appuyant sur des donnees recueilles aupres d'une soixantaine de parrains a Ottawa, cet article demontre que les parrains sont animes par le desir d'assurer la stabilite des refugiees avant 13e mois. Cependant, les parrains definissent de maniere differente ce qu'ils entendent par stabilite. Notamment, les donnees indiquent que les parrains estiment que le niveau d'integration des nouveaux arrivants est particulierement relie a leur attitude envers l'integration. Les parrains estiment egalement que la reussite des nouveaux arrivants depend de leur capacite a developper et soutenir chez eux une attitude positive envers l'integration.

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There are many different ways in which one might describe the goal of Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program: (1) it gives Canadians with a commitment to refugees a way to personally increase the number of resettlement spaces for them in Canada; it provides a highly personalized and robust welcoming team for newly arriving refugees; it involves the community in the larger Canadian project of welcoming refugees to our country. Refugees to Canada are admitted in one of two ways: as government-assisted refugees and as privately sponsored refugees. Government-assisted refugees are admitted with formal links to Canadas extensive settlement services, which take charge of supporting them as they construct their new lives in Canada. Privately sponsored refugees are selected by Canadian citizens and permanent residents for admission. In supporting their application to Canada, sponsors commit to a range of tasks with respect to "their" refugees, including finding them accommodation, health care, language classes, and so on, all of which are directed at facilitating their integration into Canadian society. This commitment is officially one year long, and the supposed ideal is that, by month 13, refugee arrivals are self-sufficient in a meaningful way. The reality is messier. Using data collected via interviews with nearly sixty private sponsors in Ottawa, this article offers an account of how sponsors think of their job, in relation to month 13.

In this article, Part 1 outlines the overarching theoretical questions that motivated this work, and elaborates the ways in which the terms integration, independence, agency, and self-sufficiency are understood across a range of fields in social science. Part 2 offers a summary of recent accounts of the objectives of month 13; this summary includes anecdotal accounts suggesting that not all refugees are prepared to be on their own when their sponsorship comes to an end. Part 3 describes the methods deployed to carry out the research. Part 4 offers an account of how "independence," and the related concepts listed above, is conceptualized by sponsors, to reveal that they describe it both in "hard" terms, i.e., with respect to whether refugees have jobs or competence in a national language, and in relatively "softer" terms, i.e., with respect to whether refugees arrive with attitudes towards their new lives that makes integration easier or more difficult. This part also offers an account of how sponsors worked to support refugees in achieving success in both dimensions. The results suggest, ultimately, that while many sponsors have a multidimensional understanding of what success at month 13 entails, a significant minority of sponsors continue to have narrow accounts of what counts as success at month 13, understanding it only or mainly in terms of economic self-sufficiency. These latter sponsors, in particular, expressed some disappointment with their sponsorship experience, in those cases where this objective was not reached. Yet it is well known among scholars and settlement workers, as described below, that integration into Canadian society, and the labour market in particular, is gradual; the failure to attain it by month 13 means neither that the refugees have failed, nor that the sponsorship has failed. As the guidelines from the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program for Month 13 note, "It is important for sponsors not to feel disheartened or discouraged if the refugee(s) they have sponsored are not self-sufficient by the end of Month 12 ... integration is a long-term process." (2)

What Is the Goal of Month 13?

Month 13 looms large, for both sponsors and refugees. As articulated above, sponsors agree to support refugees for one year, and the legal dimension of the relationship between sponsors and refugees concludes one year after the refugee arrives in Canada. The most concrete dimension of the cut-off is financial: whereas sponsors take on the financial responsibility for supporting refugees for their first year in Canada, on the first day of month 13 this financial responsibility concludes. In a small number of cases, sponsors are willing and able to continue offering at least some financial support to refugees beyond month 13, but according to the data gathered from sponsors in Ottawa, that is not the norm. In a larger number of cases, strong affective ties have developed between sponsors and refugees, so the friendships continue beyond month 13.

Much of the commentary on the implications of month 13 is anecdotal. Between November 2015 and January 2017, over 40,000 Syrian refugees were admitted to Canada, over 18,000 of whom were privately sponsored. (3) In early 2017, after many of these refugees had been present for a year or more, journalists in Canada and the United States profiled many of these refugees, reporting on how their first year in Canada had gone. (4) One central theme in these stories was that there was a lot of nervousness felt among all parties--refugees, sponsors, and settlement workers--about how the transition would go. The point is not that support is not available--all provinces have welfare systems that will support refugees, if they require it, and refugees continued to be permitted to access settlement services of all kinds, although some reports suggest that refugees are unaware that ongoing support, financial and otherwise, is available. (5) But the precise mechanisms by which refugees would support themselves after the formal cut-off point, and how the relations among refugees and sponsors would be navigated, were all hazy in ways that generated anxiety for refugees and sponsors alike.

The Research Set-up

The data reported below were collected from interviews with nearly sixty sponsors in Ottawa, conducted as part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. (6) The research design was approved by the University of Ottawa Research Ethics Board. We recruited sponsors by communicating with refugee settlement agencies in Ottawa as well as sponsorship agreement holders, across all major religious groups in Canada. (7) These agencies forwarded our recruitment email to the sponsors with whom they worked, asking them to be in touch with us if they were willing to speak with our interviewer. Each of these sponsors reached out to the research team and an interview was scheduled, and it ran approximately ninety minutes. One interviewer conducted all of the interviews, between October 2017 and January 2018. The interviewer used a questionnaire (8) to direct the interview, but followed the standards associated with semi-structured interviewing techniques, allowing her to ask follow-up questions when sponsors hinted that they had more of relevance to say on the areas of focus. Respondents came from every major religious group in Canada (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu), and many were secular. (9) They were mainly women, often retired, many from the Canadian public service. (10) With two exceptions, sponsors resided in Ottawa. (11) All of the people interviewed had completed their sponsorship year. In many cases, interviewees were first-time sponsors who had responded to the call to support Syrian arrivals; in several others, interviewees had been participating in refugee sponsorship for years, and even decades. The intention was to interview sponsors individually, but several sponsors early on indicated a strong preference to be interviewed in groups, and that preference was respected. As a result, while most interviews were one-on-one, a dozen were conducted in small group of between two and four sponsors.

Three main questions form the basis of the analysis:

  1. One of...

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