What Role Does Type of Sponsorship Play in Early Integration Outcomes? Syrian Refugees Resettled in Six Canadian Cities.

Author:Hynie, Michaela


There is little longitudinal research that directly compares the effectiveness of Canada's Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) and Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR) Programs that takes into account possible socio-demographic differences between them. This article reports findings from 1,921 newly arrived adult Syrian refugees in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, GARS and PSRS differed widely on several demographic characteristics, including length of time displaced. Furthermore, PSRS sponsored by Groups of 5 resembled GARS more than other PSR sponsorship types on many of these characteristics, PSRS also had broader social networks than GARS. Sociodemographic differences and city of residence influenced integration outcomes, emphasizing the importance of considering differences between refugee groups when comparing the impact of these programs.


Il existe peu de recherches longitudinales comparant directement l'efficacite des programmes gouvernemental (RPG) et prive (PPR) de parrainage des refugies au Canada qui tiennent compte de possibles differences socio-demographique entre eux. Cet article rend compte des resultats de 1921 nouveaux arrivants syriens adultes en Colombie-Britannique, en Ontario et au Quebec. Les RPG et PPR different largement sur plusieurs caracteristiques demographiques, dont le temps du deplacement. De plus, les PPR parraines par groupes de cinq ressemblaient davantage aux RPG que les autres types de parrainage PPR sur plusieurs de ces caracteristiques. Les PPR avaient aussi des reseaux sociaux plus larges que les RPG. Les differences sociodemographiques et la ville de residence influent sur l'integration, ce qui fait ressortir l'importance de tenir compte des differences entre les groupes de refugies dans la comparaison de l'impact de ces programmes.


The number of people displaced worldwide has increased dramatically to 68.5 million over the last ten years. (1) More than two thirds of refugees face protracted displacement, with the average length of exile at around ten years, and over a third of refugees in situations lasting twenty years or longer. (2) Durable solutions have not kept pace with demands for protection. In 2017 only 3% of the more than 25.4 million people forcibly displaced across international borders were repatriated, locally integrated in host states, or resettled. (3) The international community has been seeking new solutions to forced migration, and Canada's unique private sponsorship model has garnered significant interest. (4) The Private Refugee Sponsorship Program allows non-profit organizations and groups of citizens to financially and personally support people through their first year in Canada, (5) one small additional way to contribute to the successful resettlement of refugees worldwide.

Between 4 November 2015 and 30 June 2018, Canada resettled 56,260 Syrian refugees, with almost equal numbers coming through privately sponsored and government assisted pathways. (6) The ability of the Canadian government to meet its increased targets reflects one of the intended benefits of the PSR Program: it allows rapid responses to exceptional situations. (7) This article addresses the question of whether early integration benefits observed among GARS and PSRS can be attributed to pre-migration differences, or to the anticipated benefits of private settlement--specifically, potential differences in social capital between GARS and PSRS.

Refugee Resettlement in Canada

Canada provides protection to resettled refugees through three different programs. Government assisted refugees (GARS) are provided financial and settlement support for the first year of settlement through government resettlement agencies. Privately sponsored refugees (PSRS) receive financial and settlement support from non-profit organizations and volunteer groups. In the third program, Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR), financial support is divided between government and private sponsors, while the latter provide settlement support. (8) In all categories, refugees should be offered reception, orientation, and focused assistance with housing, physical and mental health, language training, education, employment, referrals to essential federal/provincial programs and settlement programs, and financial assistance.

Private sponsors are citizens or residents who volunteer their time and money to support a refugee family or individual for one year. There are various types. Sponsorship agreement holders (SAHS) are incorporated organizations who have ongoing contractual agreements with the federal government to resettle refugees. They are frequently faith-based organizations, though they may contain subgroups that are faith or non-faith-based groups. Community sponsors are any organizations in a community that form an agreement with the government to settle refugees into their community. The program that has received the greatest attention in discussions of private sponsorship is the Group of Five (G5) sponsorship, where five or more private citizens or permanent residents (or as few as two in Quebec) (9) over the age of eighteen form a sponsorship group and undertake to sponsor a refugee.

Private sponsorship has been promoted as benefitting Canada and refugees. (10) More Canadian citizens have the opportunity to interact with refugee newcomers, which may promote better or broader intergroup relationships. (11) In addition, refugee newcomers could achieve better settlement through private sponsorship because of the increased social capital available through their relationships with their sponsors. (12) However, there is little longitudinal research that directly compares the effectiveness of the GAR and PSRS Programs in supporting the integration of refugees into society. (13)

Research identifies stronger employment outcomes for PSRS in general. (14) PSRS outperform GARS in the early years, but this relative advantage decreases over time. (15) However, there are significant differences between GARS and PSRS. PSRS and GARS are selected differently: GARS on the basis of their vulnerability according to UNHCR criteria, whereas PSRS may be named by family members resident in Canada or faith-based institutions, PSRS tend to have stronger English--or French-language skills and higher levels of education, often mirroring the populations already in Canada with which they have pre-existing family or social network connections. (16) They are also more likely to be single adults (57% vs. 47%) and thus have more mobility to pursue economic and integration activities. (17) As a result, it is not clear whether better employment outcomes for PSRS can be attributed to the category and the care of sponsors or whether their resettlement outcomes are more a reflection of the very different socio-demographic profiles of two groups of sponsored refugees. (18)

Research Design and Methods

This article reports on the data collected in the first year of a longitudinal study on Syrian refugee integration in Canada (SyRIA.lth). SyRIA.lth is a four-year, CIHR-funded study that compares integration outcomes for government assisted and privately sponsored refugees resettled into Canada as part of Canada's response to the Syrian conflict. The purpose of this longitudinal mixed-methods study is to compare how GAR and PSR resettlement programs in three different provinces support long-term social integration pathways for refugees and the impact of these pathways on physical and mental health. Ethics approval was obtained from a university-affiliated ethics board at each research site.

Theoretical Underpinning

The theoretical underpinning of this research study and the guiding principle for the quantitative longitudinal survey reported here is the holistic integration model (19) (see figure 1). The holistic integration model (HIM) is derived from the Ager and Strang model of integration (20) and was developed to emphasize key issues in integration theory. These include the interrelatedness of different integration elements and the moderating effects of refugees' past experiences and social identities. A central motivation for the development of this model was also the importance of considering the larger sociopolitical context in which refugees settle. Focusing only on changes in refugee newcomers fails to acknowledge how policies, institutions, and social environments create social and structural barriers to integration. (21) In emphasizing the importance of social and structural processes in the him, we echo calls from feminist and post-colonial scholars that concepts such as integration can result in "strategic integration" of refugees and immigrants from racialized backgrounds into "bare life" existence. (22) Resettlement for racialized refugees is often marked by persistent poverty, un/ underemployment, and overrepresentation in low-income underserved neighbourhoods, conditions that mirror and deepen colonial/racialized and gendered inequalities. In the him the onus to integrate, adjust, and change does not fall on just refugees/immigrants but also on the dominant host society. Holistic and equitable integration requires policies and public education campaigns to help overcome colonial/ racist and xenophobic world views, policies, and socioeconomic conditions. Although our quantitative measures do not allow us to measure the more structural elements of the him, our analysis and discussion places the elements we are able to measure (i.e., social networks) within the broader socio-political context.



Research sites include six urban centres of varying sizes in three of the largest immigrant-receiving provinces in Canada. The aim was to enrol at least 10% of the anticipated 18,000 adult PSR and GAR arrivals between January 2016 and June 2017. A total of 1921 adult Syrian refugees representing 856 households participated in Year 1. A small number of BVORS were also included, not...

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