What is it?
Private sponsorship is an alternative method of refugee resettlement that operates alongside government sponsorship programs. It typically relies on individuals, community groups or businesses to select a refugee, often based on family or other community connections, and pay the resettlement costs that would normally be paid by government. The benefits of private sponsorship have been found to include improved community integration, strong bonds between refugees and sponsors, engaged communities and the fostering of positive attitudes towards refugees.
The Community Support Programme (CSP), a private sponsorship initiative of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, commenced on 1 July 2017. It permits individuals, community groups and businesses to sponsor eligible refugees to resettle in Australia. There is a limit of 1000 sponsorship places per year. The program sits within Australia’s broader Humanitarian Program, which permits a total of 16,250 refugees to be resettled per year. The CSP was introduced following a 4 year pilot program operating between 2013-2017. Applications to sponsor refugees exceeded the 500 places offered annually.
CSP sponsorship requests are facilitated through ten ‘Approved Proposing Organisations’ (APOs):
To be accepted under the CSP, applicants must be outside both Australia and their home country, and be subject to substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of human rights in their home country. They must also be aligned with Australia’s settlement priorities and meet certain health and character standards. Priority is given to those between 18-50 years of age, with functional English, who have an offer of, or pathway to, employment or who are likely to become financially independent within 12 months of arrival. Priority is given to those willing to live and work in regional Australia.
Sponsors pay for visa applications, airfares, medical screening and resettlement costs for the first year. The visa fees component is estimated to be over $19,000. Resettled refugees sponsored through the CSP have immediate access to government services, including Centrelink and Medicare, but sponsors are required to pay back any social security payments accessed within the first 12 months.
The Australian program has been criticised for not increasing the total number of resettlement places. Each refugee admitted under the CSP reduces the number of places available for refugees under the Humanitarian Program, rather than increasing total resettlement places.
The cost-saving element of the program has also been criticised, with the government expecting to save $26.9 million over 4 years by shifting resettlement costs to the community without reinvesting those savings into increasing resettlement opportunities. The pilot program also showed that visas were approved faster than under other programs, leading to criticisms that those with money and resources are able to buy priority access.
Canada has a Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, operational since 1979, under which more than 288,000 refugees have been resettled. The program allows various groups to sponsor refugees by paying for living expenses, including accommodation, food, clothes etc, for at least 12 months. The cost is estimated to be approximately C$13,500 for one individual, or approximately C$30,900 for a family of five. Sponsors are not required to pay government fees or visa costs. The government covers healthcare, education and other integration programs. Refugees are eligible for social security benefits in their second year.
The major difference between the Australian and Canadian approaches is that the places offered under the Canadian model are additional to other government programs. Canada is expecting to offer 18,000 private sponsorship places in 2018, in addition to 9,000 government-assisted and blended sponsorship places. The Canadian Government also provides additional funding to reduce the commitment required of private sponsors for individuals from vulnerable groups, such as the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Pilot Program supporting the LGBTQ2 community and the Joint Assistance Sponsorship Program supporting refugees with special needs.
Canada, working with UNHCR and other partners, launched the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative in 2016. It is designed to assist other countries implement their own private sponsorship initiatives based on the Canadian model.
The United Kingdom launched a Community Sponsorship scheme in 2016, modelled on the Canadian program, after partnering with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. It allows registered charities and community interest companies to sponsor refugees selected under two programs initially introduced to resettle Syrian refugees, the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. As such, the Community Sponsorship program does not offer additional resettlement places.
Sponsors are responsible for providing housing for two years and assistance with integration for one year. To be approved as a sponsor, proof of available funding of at least £9,000 is required. Refugees under the program have the right to work and claim social security benefits. After five years they have the option to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
A major difference from the Canadian and Australian programs is that sponsors are not able to select specific individuals or families. They are refugees from the Syrian conflict assessed and referred by UNHCR. The first year of the program saw a modest 53 refugees resettled. A slow sponsor approvals process was cited as one of the reasons for the low numbers of resettled refugees.
New Zealand is piloting a Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship Category in 2018. It allows for 25 refugees to be sponsored by one of four approved community organisations. Refugees must be aged between 18-45, have an acceptable standard of health, have a basic understanding of English and have either a minimum of three years’ work experience or a qualification requiring at least two years’ tertiary study.
The New Zealand program provides resettlement places additional to the existing quotas, increasing the total number of places available.
Other community sponsorship programs
A number of other countries have also launched or are developing community sponsorship programs, such as Argentina, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. Some are designed specifically to assist refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, while others operate as a family reunification pathway.
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Last updated 3 May 2018