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. (And if you read in Dari: جدول زمانی برای حمایت خصوصی - though note we need to update this with 2023 timelines)

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 6 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. We've had to update this section a bunch of times as wait times keep changing due to COVID and refugee crises in countries like Afghanistan. The timeline below represents timelines for people in Indonesia, which are longer than they were a year ago, but will hopefully get shorter as Immigration adjusts to the workload.

With all that said, let's consider a typical timeline.

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 1-12: The long, boring wait

At this point comes a long wait, where nothing much happens.

If you're the refugee, you could spend this time worrying or driving your sponsors crazy by asking them when you'll get an update. OR you can spend this time wisely by getting ready to come to Canada. 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!

Your sponsors can be a big help during this time, by hosting weekly online chats to practise English and get to know Canada and each other.

So much better than worrying. Remember, if you have a sponsorship to Canada, you are definitely one of the lucky ones. So enjoy the ride!

Month 12-13: G number

If you're applying through a group of five or community sponsorship,, the sponsors and refugees will receive an email from immigration that provides you with a G number, a year or so after submitting your application. (Sponsorship agreement holders or SAHs tend to get it much faster, within a month or so after submission, though total processing times from application to flight end up being about the same).

The G number is a tracking or file number, and receiving it establishes that your file is in the system, and there is not anything glaringly wrong or missing. If there is something missing, you instead will get an email with an "XG" number, accompanied by a message about what you have to fix to get the full G number. You usually have 30 days to fix it or supply what's missing.

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.

Once you have a G number you can check the status of your application on this immigration website. Note, however, that this tracking website provides the bare bare minimum of information, and months can go by without anything happening on it. Also, any update will be sent to the sponsors and/or refugee by email, so there's little point in checking the website, as some refugees do, in the hope of seeing new information.

Month 15: 'Sponsor approval'

The next email that the sponsors and refugees from immigration is to indicate you have earned 'sponsor approval'. This means that immigration has looked closely at your application and found everything to be in good shape - specifically with regard to the sponsor and funding documents.

This milestone is in some ways a bigger deal than getting a G number, since when applications run into trouble, it's usually at this stage - because there was a police check that was expired at the time of submission, or not enough funds in the trust account, or some other problem. (Once again, SAHs tend to get 'sponsor approval much faster, within a few months of submission, but that's because they have done a LOT of paperwork in the past to show they are capable and worthy of carrying the weight of private sponsorship).

'Sponsor approval' also means your file is now being sent from the immigration office in Ottawa to the overseas embassy.

Month 15-22: Another long boring wait

See month 1-12 on more of this and how to spend the time wisely.

Here's a guide for the process by AURA, the SAH. You can also view the chart online.

Month 22: 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 23: 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 - if you need to do it! If you're a Hazara Afghan, you probably don't need to an interview. This has been true since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and turned all Hazaras, even those from Pakistan, into a vulnerable group.

Otherwise you may be called to the Canadian embassy for a conversation: and here's some tips on how to do a successful interview.

Month 24: Embassy interview, medical check, biometrics

The medical check takes place around the same time as the embassy interview. In fact, if you do an interview, you will likely be asked to do a medical check on the spot. Also at this time comes the biometrics, where they take your fingerprints and a retinal scan. Sounds scary! But it also means you're likely coming to Canada.

As for the medical check, it's not that scary. In fact it's very hard to 'fail' it, even with some serious conditions. The only risk is if you have a communicable disease, like tuberculosis. And some people have had their files delayed because they had scars of long-ago cases of tuberculosis on their lungs. It's ok to be HIV positive though.

Month 24-26: 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.

If you had a bad embassy interview and they have suspicions about your case - without any concrete grounds to reject you - the security check phase can drag on and on. After two years, it's time to hire a lawyer. But you will know if you had a bad embassy interview, since the visa officer will likely be outright hostile, or indicate he or she doesn't really believe your story.

Month 26-27: Orientation

Soon 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. This Orientation occurs a few weeks before the flight, in places like Indonesia, or immediately before flying in Turkey, for example.

Either way, this is the last stage before you come to Canada. Enjoy it.

Month 26-27: 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.

In Conclusion

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.