Letting us help

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
7 December, 2018

Community sponsorship helps Canada accept far more refugees than the government’s quota could accommodate on its own. And it looks promising for New Zealand as well. But scaling the programme to its full potential may require sponsoring communities to pick up a greater share of the cost.

During the 2015–16 Syrian refugee crisis, Kiwis wanting to help were stymied by restrictions on the number of refugees allowed into the country. Governments make trade-offs in distributing scarce public resources, and helping refugees get their start here is not costless. But Kiwis willing to cover accommodation and travel costs to let another refugee family find a new life here needed to convince the government to open the door.

Over the past year, the government has trialled a small-scale version of Canada’s refugee sponsorship system. Four community organisations sponsored 23 refugees, covering their domestic transport costs, finding and providing accommodation and household goods, and helping sponsored refugees to settle in the community and find work.

The Initiative has supported this kind of approach. In 2016, we hosted the Canadian High Commission’s Dean Barry, who explained Canada’s sponsorship system to interested officials and NGOs. We welcomed the government’s trial.

Last week, Amnesty International petitioned Parliament to make the programme permanent. It also released a short report with successful stories of refugees and their sponsors. If the government’s evaluation proves as positive as Amnesty’s report, the programme should be scaled up. But how much it could be scaled up may depend on cost.

Sponsorship helps Canada to accommodate more refugees not only because the sponsors’ community of support helps refugees build new lives as Canadians, but also because it is cheaper for government to open the door to a refugee when sponsoring communities take on more of the cost.

Our government budgeted about $30,000 per sponsored refugee during the trial’s first year, with costs dropping quickly to under $20,000 per year – offset by taxes paid by these new Kiwis as they find their feet. After the first year, costs mostly consist of health and education services the government provides to everyone.

Accommodating sponsored refugees costs the government less than accommodating traditional refugees. But convincing government to substantially expand the sponsorship programme might require sponsoring communities to cover a greater portion of the cost. Government helping less could let all of us help more.

To read the Amnesty International report, click here. To hear Dean Barry’s talk for the Initiative, click here.

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