TIMELINES FOR PRIVATE SPONSORSHIP:
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE APPLICATION
This is always a big question. "Once I submit the application, how long until I come to Canada?" The answer varies from country to country, application to application - a range of anywhere from months to years.
Each country has a slightly unique process, and follows its own schedule. According to an online workshop with Canadian immigration, hosted by RSTP in February 2021, the wait times listed on the typical wait times website are an indication of what 80% of refugees experienced in the past 12 months. And times change, as Canadian immigration clears the backlog of old cases, or gets a wave of new cases.
The good news is, you'll get an email to indicate each new stage of the process. And both the sponsors and the refugee will get that email. So there's not really much point in obsessively checking the 'Check application status' website (once you have your G number) to see if there's any update.
All that said, here is a timeline based on recent applications. Remember, it's a very rough schedule. Cases in Turkey, for example, might go from application to flight within a matter of months. Other countries take longer. And COVID-19 has changed everything. While the Canadian side of the process has been as fast as ever (more efficient, in recent months), many of the overseas Canadian embassies are half-closed, which means the interview might take longer than in the past.
With all that said, let's consider a typical timeline, based on what we've seen in recent cases.
Month 1: Application submitted
Hurray!!! That was a lot of work and you should feel proud of yourself and your hard-working sponsor team for making it this far.
Month 2-3: Email that they are now processing your application.
Around month two or three, you may receive an email from Canadian immigration saying you have a G number (tracking number) and your file is now officially in the system. This email used to be a big moment of celebration for refugees.
But around the start of 2021, they stopped sending these emails consistently. More likely, you skip to the next step in the process.
Month 3-4: 'Sponsor approval'.
If you're lucky, Immigration will approve all your sponsor and funding documents in Month 3. In that case, they email to say you have 'sponsor approval' and the file is now being sent to the Canadian embassy nearest to where the refugees live.
Bonus tip: If you're lucky enough to be sponsored by an SAH (sponsorship agreement holder), you will likely receive 'sponsor approval' right away, since the SAHs have already proven their capacity to sponsor refugees. In which case, Month 3-4 might be your Month 1.
If your sponsorship is through a Group of Five or Community Sponsorship, you may be in for an extra step here. As of March 2021, it's typical for Immigration to email you and ask you to fix a document or provide a new one, so that the application can proceed. At this point, you don't have a G number, but an "XG" number, which means they received your file, but it's not fully logged into the system - not until you can provide or correct the documents - mostly about the "Sponsor Documents" and "Proof of Funds" - they describe in the email.
This extra step, called "Pre-Return Information", sounds disheartening, but it's actually a good thing. Prior to March 2021, Immigration used to just reject the application entirely if they found something in error, and you'd have to redo your documents (with new dates on them) and submit all over again. Thanks to some very helpful lobbying by RSTP, Immigration now gives you a chance to correct the problem.
Month 4-12: The long, boring wait
At this point comes a long wait, where nothing much happens. If something does change on the refugee's end, like they get a new phone number or change their address, the sponsors should email immigration to let them know about it. Otherwise it's just a long wait - see the bottom of this post on how to make the best use of this time.
Month 12: Request to update the application documents and submit a few new ones.
This email request comes in advance of the embassy interview. They want to make sure the refugee is still in the same country, and their facts are still the same.
It's okay if you moved, you just need to fill out the forms to indicate that. You may also be asked to fill out a few new forms, like one that contains all your social media handles, and a form to indicate your military service, if any. Also one that lists all your relatives. The documents requested at this stage depend on which country you're in.
Month 13: A phone call to invite you to the embassy interview.
Make sure your phone number works because they often call you to make sure you're really in the country and available for the interview.
Month 14: Embassy interview and medical check
Here are some tips on how to do well in the embassy interview. And don't be scared of the medical check. It's very hard to 'fail' it, even with some serious conditions. The only risk is if you have a communicable disease, like tuberculosis. It's ok to be HIV positive though.
Month 14-17: Security check
Once you're done your interview (or before your interview, if you're applying from Ghana, to list one random exception), your case is sent to a contracting firm to make sure there are no big, bad secrets hiding in your past. Fighting in a war might be a deal breaker, especially if you didn't mention military service on your application.
The security check phase is something of a mysterious black box, since it's outside the hands of the embassy or immigration - it's handled by private contractors - and can take any amount of time. Three months is normal though.
Month 17-18: Orientation
About a month before you fly to Canada, you'll be invited to a hotel in the capital city of the country where you're living. The IOM also arranges you to bring you to the hotel for this orientation (arranging transportation and even flights, if you're on a different island than the capital city).
During those three days, you'll be taught all about Canada, the history and culture in this country, and get the first of your Canadian paperwork. It's the last step before you fly. Enjoy it.
Month 17-18: Fly to Canada
After the hotel stay, the IOM gets you on your flight to Canada. Your flight is financed through a loan from the Canadian government, which you will have to start repaying in instalments after you've been in Canada for one year. And no, it's not a good idea to book your own flight (to save money or time) because that puts you out of the protection of the IOM, which you will definitely need as a semi-stateless person. The risk of going it alone includes being thrown into an airport prison during a connecting stop.
Also, as part of this process, you're given important papers, like the first (paper-based) version of your permanent residence ID for Canada, a temporary heath plan, and so on. The IOM is there to bring you to Canada safely, and they will be with you every step of the way, until your sponsors greet you at the airport and sign another paper to release you into their care.
Which is good! That's what private sponsorship is all about. Enjoy the process, knowing that you are finally on your way to somewhere safe, where you can build a future, and where you'll have your sponsor team to help you each step of the way - for your first year, and if you get along, maybe longer.
The wait to Canada can take longer than what's described here, or it may come faster. The key thing is not to stress about it, but spend that time wisely, by preparing for the future ahead. Some good and helpful things you can do while you wait:
Get to know your sponsor team better - you will be very close to them when you arrive.
Learn about Canada!
Brush up on English!
Pursue online education!
Remember, if you have a sponsorship to Canada, you are definitely one of the lucky ones. So enjoy the ride!