What they are, Why they matter

When it comes to filling out applications for the private sponsorship program of refugees to Canada, the 'supporting documents' can seem like an afterthought. They're anything but.

For one thing, if you don't have the proper documents for the person you're sponsoring (such as the UNHCR certificate), that person may not even qualify for private sponsorship. More on that below.

And if you do have the right documents, it can take weeks to gather, translate and package them properly. Which means you should start early - even as you begin writing the narrative and the application itself.

First let's talk about which documents to include, then we'll talk about packaging them.

The basics: What to include

The point of the supporting documents is to identify the refugee applicant. A typical package includes:

  1. The official refugee status document - from the UNHCR and the host country.

  2. IDs from their home country

  3. Official translations of those IDs And while we're talking about collecting documents, we will also need (and these are absolutely necessary, though not actually part of the supporting documents package):

According to the Refugee Sponsorship Training program, you can also include documents relating to:

  1. The reason for the persecution

  2. Impact of persecution on the person

  3. Research articles about the persecution

  4. The refugee’s ability to settle successfully in Canada

The refugee status document

To be privately sponsored to come to Canada under the PSR program, you need to be officially certified as a refugee. That's because Canada may be the only country in the world that 'double screens' its refugees, first by an organization like the UNHCR, and then by itself (with the help of the IOM).

Who doesn't require this all-important refugee document? Those who have been lucky enough to find a Sponsorship Agreement Holder in Canada (often a church) to be their sponsor. However, SAH 'spots' are verryyyy hard to find, and the waiting list can last for years.

Everyone else needs an official refugee certification, usually given out by the UNHCR. It takes the form of a document that can look like a driver's license, a passport-style document with a blue cover, or most commonly a single piece of paper.

Note that across the Middle East, the UNHCR has largely stopped giving out these certificates. Instead it gives out the similar-looking 'asylum seeker' document - which is sadly useless in the eyes of Canadian immigration. This leads to the heartbreaking discussion:

"I have UNHCR status, so can I come to Canada?"
"You actually have the asylum seeker document, and so no, not so easy."

In countries where the UNHCR has not been allowed to process refugees, like offshore Australia, on Manus and Nauru, the immigration departments give out their own refugee status documents, and those are considered good enough to qualify a person for the program. Thankfully!


You can actually fly to Canada under the PSR program without having a passport or any other form of ID. Refugees are provided with a travel document and a (temporary) permanent residence paper right before their flight, to get them here.

That said, Canada does want to know who you are, which means it's good to provide as much proper identification as you can with the application. Proper identification means any identification from your country of origin that hasn't expired. Including:

  • Passport

  • National ID

  • Driver's license

  • Birth certificate

  • Family book (some countries issue these, kind of like a birth certificate but with all the members in the family

What isn't considered legitimate ID:

We can, however, use these non-essential IDs when they are all a person has. The idea is to make the job of Canada and the IOM as easy as possible, especially near the end of the process, during the notorious 'security check', which can last any amount of time.

Scanning the documents

If you are a refugee in detainment, or who had to leave everything behind to escape to safety, it's possible you aren't carrying these documents. If someone back home has them, ask them to take pictures: high quality , on a white background, with no weird angles.

If you do have access to a scanner, even better. The idea is that the IDs end up in:

  • on a white background

  • in a PDF that's 8.5 x 11" in size

  • at 200 DPI

Read blog post #4 - on finalizing the files - for more on this topic.


Any document written in a non-English language needs to be officially translated. That means they have to be signed and stamped by a translator. Sometimes the translator also includes a cover sheet that has more information about the business and its location.

Translations can be expensive in rich countries like Canada or Australia, and finding a translator who speaks the right language can be hard. In that case, the refugee applicant often asks a family member or friends back home to get the translation done there, and then send a scan of the result.

Reason for persecution

Let's quote the RSTP guide on the next supporting documents, which are not as crucial as the previous ones. Here's the explanation of 'Reason for persecution':

"For example, if someone is persecuted based on their membership of a workers’ union or political party, a document confirming their membership would be a great support. If someone is persecuted based on their religion, a document confirming their religious affiliation can be included, for example a baptism certificate if the person is Christian."


If someone has been physically injured through torture or conflict, medical reports if available are very helpful.

Research articles about the persecution

This can include newspaper articles, human rights reports, and country condition reports. Suggestions for places to look for research are major news outlets, Refworld, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Response to Information Requests at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and Country Condition Information on the RSTP’s website.

Some organizations - such as Capital Rainbow Refuge - do a very thorough job of their applications, and include a research-heavy document called a 'rationale' or 'country conditions letter'. (They have teams of volunteer law students to help).

This document will detail evidence of persecution faced by people with a similar background as the person you're sponsoring, written by media outlets or by human rights organizations, with footnotes to indicate sources.

The 'rationale' (it can look like this, only with plenty more footnotes) can be helpful in speeding up the wait time for people who are really in danger. A proper rationale, though, is a heck of a lot of work and needs to be done carefully.

Ability to settle in Canada

This might be the most 'nice to have' (that is, strictly unnecessary) supporting document in the bunch. Canadian immigration tends to accept people of all skills and abilities, based on need - rather than on economic potential. There are other programs for those who are primarily coming to Canada to support themselves.