What does the resettlement process look like for sponsored refugees?

It is important to keep in mind that a person cannot apply directly to the government of Canada for resettlement as a refugee. People go through several assessments in order to be approved to come to Canada.

The first step in this process is that they must be referred by:

  • the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR),
  • a designated referral organization, or
  • a private sponsorship group.

Following this referral, they will then complete eligibility and admissibility assessments before final decisions are made.


To be referred for resettlement, refugees need to be outside their country of nationality or the country they formerly lived in (habitual residence) if they have no country of nationality.

An applicant must meet the criteria of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or meet the criteria of the Humanitarian-protected Persons Abroad Class (HPC) to be determined eligible for resettlement as a refugee. According to the Guide for Convention Refugees and Humanitarian-Protected Persons Abroad, “a Migration Officer must be satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect, within a reasonable period of time, for the refugee applicant to obtain another durable solution.”

United Nations Referral

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supports the resettlement of individuals who have been recognized as refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate, and where resettlement is the most appropriate long term solution for their individual situation. And they also fall under UNHCR’s Resettlement Submission Categories.

UNHCR refers only the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement, this includes:

  • Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs,
  • Survivors of Torture and/or Violence,
  • Medical Needs,
  • Women and Girls at Risk,
  • Family Reunification,
  • Children and Adolescents at Risk, and
  • Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions.

When a case is referred for possible resettlement, UNHCR resettlement staff will first verify the individual’s registration and refugee status, then set up an appointment for a resettlement interview. This resettlement interview will include all family members listed in the case, and an interpreter if one is needed.

Private Sponsorship Referral

There are two ways that a private sponsoring group can identify a refugee they wish to sponsor:

  1. Sponsor-referred: The sponsoring group submits the name of an individual refugee or refugee family they hope to sponsor. The group might have received the name of the person from an overseas contact, a friend, a community member, a relative, or elsewhere. The sponsoring group, whether they fall under the category of:
    • Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs)/Constituent Groups(CGs),
    • Groups of Five (G5), or
    • Community Sponsors (CSs) (for more information, visit Groups that can sponsor refugees)
    will then submit the sponsorship application on behalf of the sponsor-referred refugee(s) to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O). G5 and CSs must provide a refugee status document with the sponsorship application.
  2. Blended visa office-referred/visa office-referred: Cases from all UNHCR referrals are collected by ROC-O for inventory. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) then match a private sponsoring group (SAH, G5 or CS) with a refugee from this inventory under the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) or Visa Office-Referred (VOR) programs.

Eligibility Assessment

Once referred, a Canadian visa officer is tasked with conducting a review of the refugee’s documentation. Which is then followed by an in-person interview. Through this process, the officer confirms that the identified refugee(s) meet the eligibility criteria to enter Canada. This interview is usually conducted in person in the host country.

Admissibility Assessment

If the refugee is determined eligible by the visa officer, they must go through another series of security checks conducted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). This step is called the admissibility screening and includes:

  • Medical screening: full immigration medical exam, including screening for contagious diseases (e.g.: tuberculosis, also known as TB).
  • Criminal screening
  • Security screening

Security screenings and criminal background checks are conducted to ensure that the refugee does not pose a threat to national security or the safety of others.

As part of the security screening process, applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 (inclusive) are required to provide biographical and biometric information, including fingerprints and digital photos. The Canadian visa officer will then proceed to double-check the security and medical screening documents.

Final Decision on Applications

If CSIS recommends that the refugee be admitted and the Canadian visa officer agrees, then the refugee is granted Permanent Resident (PR) status in Canada. IRCC will issue a permanent resident visa and a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR).

If the application is refused, the decision may not be appealed, but the refugee may complete a new application.

Upon arrival to Canada, the Canadian Borders Services Agency (CBSA) processes their admission. The border officer will reconfirm that everything is in order, which includes a final check of identity and cross-checking biometrics.

For More Information

  • Canada's Refugee System - Information about the structure of Canada's refugee system. From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). 
  • Immigration and Refugee Board - An independent tribunal that is responsible for hearing refugee claims and appeals.
  • WelcomeOntario.ca - Brings together trustworthy information for those helping refugees settle in Ontario. From OCASI.
  • What is the O-Canada (Orientation-Canada) App? - O-Canada App is the United Nations Migration Agency’s digital tool for refugees selected for resettlement to Canada. From WelcomeOntario.ca.
Last updated: November 30, 2023 4006456