The current Community Support Program (CSP) is a program that makes it possible for people and businesses in Australia to support a person in humanitarian need to come to Australia and assist them in their settlement journey. The CSP replaces the Community Proposal Pilot, a national trial which ran from 2013-2017.

Who can come under the Program?

There is a set number of places every year for the program. In 2017-2018, the number of places was 1,000, as part of the overall quota for the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

Under the Program, some applications will be given a higher priority. According to the government, priority will be given to:
  •  those who are aged between 18 and 50
  • have functional English language
  • have an offer of employment or a pathway to achieve self-sufficiency within 12 months and
  • reside outside their home country in a resettlement priority country.
As well, if they say that they are prepared to work in regional Australia, they are given additional priority.
According to the government, while no nationality is excluded from consideration, it identifies ‘resettlement priority countries’ based on a number of factors, including through the consultations on the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.The focus of the Program this year is on people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq.

Australian sponsors and Approved Proposing Organisations

Australian sponsors under the CSP can be individuals or families, businesses, or community organisations which work with Approved Proposing Organisations (APOs) and enter into arrangements to propose, and support offshore applicants for humanitarian visas.

There are now 10 APOs that are approved to submit the visa applications. They are:

The Department of Home Affairs has provided a table of the administrative costs charged by each organisation. For more details on the CSP please see the website of the Department of Home Affairs.

Learning from Canada?

The CSP is meant to be based off Canada’s successful private sponsorship program, which has run for over 40 years. In Canada, private sponsorship of refugees (PSR) has been part of the resettlement landscape since the Indochinese refugee crisis in the late 1970s and is estimated to have resettled more than 300,000 refugees since. Typically, this has occurred via religious, ethnic, community, or service organisations who are Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) or Groups of Five (five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents). All sponsors agree to give “emotional and financial support to the refugee for the full sponsorship period” and raise the equivalent of one year of social security, which is held in a trust account and paid to the sponsored refugees to meet their settlement expenses. The required cash amount can be reduced by in-kind commitments of housing, clothing, furniture, household goods and food.

Canada’s most effective and high-functioning Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) provide a good model for community sponsorship and partnerships in Australia. These SAHs bring together:

  • Trained and supported volunteers from the broader community
  • Close connections with refugee communities
  • Clear and effective settlement plans developed in partnership with local settlement agencies
  • Partnerships with business to help refugees find employment
  • Fundraising programs to gather the support required for their sponsorship work
  • High standards of accountability, lodging high quality sponsorship applications with government and monitoring the work of partners and volunteers to ensure that sponsorship undertakings are met

However, the current CSP model leaves much to be desired in light of Canada’s program. For a detailed outline of what Australia can learn from Canada’s private sponsorship program please see our briefing paper here.

Our concerns with the current CSP

There are a number of problems with this current model. Firstly, the program focuses on individuals or businesses being sponsors, rather than communities coming together to sponsor refugees. By focusing on individuals, there is a risk of relationship breakdown, financial pressure and exploitation. In addition, the settlement and integration benefits of broad community engagement with a newly arrived family may be lost.

Second, the costs associated with the scheme are prohibitively high. An estimation of the cost to an individual or business wishing to sponsor a family of five (two adults entering Australia to work together with three children under ‘working age’) would be up to $100,000, including an assurance of support of around $35,000 to cover income support for the sponsored family, to the extent to which they rely on social security in the first 12 months of arrival.

Third, the CSP currently gives priority to applicants who are: (i) considered ‘job ready’; (ii) come, are from certain countries; and (iii) are willing to settle in regional areas of Australia. The ’job ready’ requirement prioritises those with the highest education and skill levels, rather than those in most desperate and urgent need of resettlement. The country-of-origin requirements also may function so as to preclude those in most urgent need of resettlement.

Finally, the program currently sits within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which has a fixed annual visa quota. This means that sponsored refugees would take places out of the number of refugees that the government has already committed to resettle. In order to attract community members as sponsors, our community sponsorship program should be supplementary to the government’s existing commitment, allowing the community to support additional refugees to settle in Australia and expand our national response, rather than privatising an existing government commitment.

For a detailed outline of our concerns see our briefing paper.

A better model

The Refugee Council of Australia, together with a number of other non-government organisations, has developed an alternative model for a truly community led response to international displacement. Adoption of the below model could allow Australia to develop a world-renowned community sponsorship program at minimal cost to the tax-payer.  In doing so, Australia could enhance its humanitarian response to forced migration significantly and in a way which would facilitate the efficient and deep integration of refugees into the Australian community.  It would also provide an opportunity to leverage the compassion and generosity of Australians to meet Australia’s international responsibilities to support refugees in need of protection.

A better, fairer Community Sponsorship Program should focus on four key principles:

  • the principle of additionality
  • priority based on need, not skills, race or religion
  • guaranteed access to settlement services (however funded)
  • wide community engagement.

For details of the model and to pledge your commitment to sponsoring refugees under this model, please visit www.ausrefugeesponsorship.com.au