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Emmie Joaquin    

Super Visa or immigrant kryptonite?

As soon as Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister Jason Kenney announced the two-year moratorium on applications for immigrant parents and grandparents he immediately followed it with the announcement that they will now be allowed to visit their children in Canada for a period longer than six months without re-applying. He called it the Super Visa. See Michael Scott’s article about the Super Visa in this issue of the Pilipino Express

It took effect on December 1, 2011 and as soon as the news was released in the media, I was swamped with phone calls from our kababayans who wanted to invite their parents to come to Manitoba and visit for an extended period of time.

Curious, I asked a few of them their reason for the invitation. Hearing these reasons made me consider why this Super Visa could be very important to immigrants, especially the young families who immigrated with young children.

“I want my children to know and remember their grandparents… not just meet them and see them for six weeks when we go back to the Philippines on our holiday…if they stay here for at least a year, my children will spend quality time and have good memories of their grandparents…”

“Since my mother passed away, my father was all alone in the Philippines, we submitted our application for his permanent residency but there is no telling when his application to immigrate (to Canada) could be approved… we filed it two years ago but nothing has happened… he is not getting any younger and I am his only child…”

“I just gave birth to my first child and he is the first grandchild in the family… my mother wants to help me take care of my baby instead of hiring a baby sitter… I want my mother to help me raise my child…”

All these answers are valid. As immigrants, we did not only leave the country of our birth but also the comfort of having our immediate and extended families, relatives and close friends within our reach.

The reason I received so many phone calls about this was because, aside from being the editor of The Pilipino Express, I am also a licenced insurance broker and insurance is one of the key requirements of the Super Visa.

Briefly, Super Visa applicants must prove that they have medical insurance from a Canadian insurance company to cover their health care and hospitalization while in this country. This medical insurance must be valid for a period of one year with a minimum coverage of $100,000.

There is no doubt that medical coverage is very important to any tourist especially considering the high cost of health care in Canada. Unlike us – citizens and landed residents – many visitors and tourists have no coverage to pay for medical treatment if they suffer from an illness or need emergency medical care. Such a cost could run up to thousands of dollars and the financial burden would be on the family who invited the tourists to visit. Hospitals will not turn away any patients but the bills will definitely pile up until the patient is well enough to be discharged.

Ostensibly, due to the high cost of medical care, the $100,000 coverage for a period of one year seems reasonable. And it is. It ensures the sponsoring immigrant family that they won’t be financially ruined should anything happen to their visitors.

What is not reasonable is the cost of this type of health insurance coverage, which, by the way, must be paid up front and in full because CIC demands to see proof of coverage before they issue the Super Visa.

Bear in mind that the family sponsoring their parents (or grandparents) are relatively new immigrants who are still going through the struggle of settling in their new country. They may already have paying jobs but chances are they may be under-employed and are still be looking for higher paying jobs that match their professional skills or educational attainment. In other words, it is safe to assume that many of the newer immigrants are still financially unstable; some may be facing huge mortgages, increasing credit card balances, daily living expenses and also the uncertainty of their workplaces shutting down due to the economy.

Many of those who were initially excited about securing Super Visas for their parents thought that they could pay the visitor’s health insurance premium (for one year) on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, travel insurance or emergency health insurance for tourists does not work that way. It has to be paid in full for the period of coverage that’s being considered by the applicant. If a client wishes to pay for one month, a proof of coverage will be given showing exactly that, one month of coverage. As such, to comply with the CIC requirement, the applicant must show proof of valid health coverage for one year or 365 days.

If one’s parent is 60 years old and in good health, the average cost of $100,000 of coverage for 365 days (one year) is in the range of $1500 to $2000. If the parent is 70 years old, the average cost may go up to between $2500 and $3500. If the parent has any pre-existing medical condition the cost will be even higher and some travel insurance companies will add a surcharge to the daily basic premium if the pre-existing medical condition is to be covered as well. Imagine the cost to an average immigrant family! And, like any insurance product, the availability of the plan will highly depend on the age, health and insurability of the person to be insured.

And here’s another factor to consider: even if the immigrant family could afford paying the one-year premium, the Super Visa is valid for up to two years for one visit. Most travel insurance companies, at this time, only offer a maximum of 365 days (one year) health coverage for tourists. So, if the parents decide to stay another year in Canada, they may be able to get coverage from a different insurance provider as long as they are still in good health. Otherwise they would spend their second year without insurance coverage.

I suspect that whoever advised the federal immigration minister to require this costly health insurance coverage is probably only familiar with the financially affluent immigrants in Vancouver and Toronto – or perhaps the Super Visa is just one more strategy of the current government to keep all but the wealthiest immigrants out of Canada. Some immigrant families in Winnipeg might be able to shoulder this expensive premium but unless travel insurance providers change their rules or the government amends this particular requirement, I am sure the majority will have to put their dream of a family reunion on hold.

Thank you...

As we welcome 2012, please allow us, your friends at Pilipino Express, to tell you all how much we truly appreciate your support through the years.

To all our advertisers who trust the Pilipino Express to promote their businesses and services via our pages, you have kept us going and we thank you. We wish you continuing prosperity and success.

To our columnists and contributors, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts because you have shared with us your passion to make a significant difference in our community; to deliver creative and noteworthy journalism.

And of course, to our Pilipino Express readers, subscribers, and online visitors, maraming salamat po. Your valuable feedback will always be very important to us. Your continuing trust and confidence validate us.

From all of us, yours truly Emmie Joaquin, Rey-ar Reyes and Paul Morrow, we wish you all a joyous holiday season and continuing good fortune in 2012!

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