Back pages or front-page news?
The sponsorship of parents and grandparents
By Michael Scott
The sponsorship of parents and grandparents is something that now occupies a short news cycle in the mainstream media but looms large for those who want to sponsor. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Kenny’s announcement about the reopening of the sponsorship program in January 2014 was largely overlooked by the wider Canadian public. It is a side issue, lost in the daily senate scandal and what the Prime Minister did or did not do. The Winnipeg Free Press reported the story on page 14 of its Saturday paper (May 18, 2013) under the heading “Canada: only well-to-do eligible?” The question mark is noteworthy because the staff writer was trying to measure whether the applicants are beneficial or harmful to Canada’s future: her subtitle is “Givers or Takers.”
The lack of wider coverage does not mean that Canadians do not care about the issue but that the focus of the public and our elected politicians is on Ottawa and the daily questioning of Prime Minister Harper about wrong doing. Who knows? Perhaps the sponsorship controversy will have its day in the news or become part of a wider issue about a government that has become too removed from the people who voted them into office – including members of newcomer communities.
The overall response to the May announcement is muted compared to the controversy that swirled about this same issue just two short years ago. In February 2011 CBC radio broke the news that Minister Kenny was going to impose a limit of 11,000 on the number of parent and grandparent visas for 2011.
In 2010 there were 15,322 visas issued; 17,178 in 2009; 16,599 in 2008; 15,813 in 2007 and; 20,005 in 2006. The federal immigration Minister explained: “There have to be choices made… I know that the most popular thing they could do politically would be to say that this year, we are going from 14,000 to 100,000 parents and grandparents…. But it wouldn’t be responsible because that means fewer economic immigrants coming and paying taxes, or fewer refugees to save from refugee camps.”
The defenders and opponents of the Minister squared off. The issue of reduced visas became a major obstacle for the PC re-election campaign and Minister Jason Kenny made an abrupt change in his public support for cuts. The Minister said there was a “great deal of misinformation spread” and strongly criticized his political opponents whom he said were “using fear and misinformation on the sensitive issue of immigrants.”
Minister Kenny made a promise to the voting public: “there would be no cuts.” At the time I applauded the immigration Minister for his change of heart but warned readers that my biggest fear was that it was a political tactic to get your vote and his real face would be revealed in the future. The Conservatives were successful. They returned to office with a majority government and the true agenda on immigration began to be revealed.
On November 4, 2011, without any warning the sponsorship of parents and grandparents was stopped. The Minister said that he did not give any warning of his action because he suspected unscrupulous sponsors would submit applications before the date. The reason for the moratorium on new applications was the existing backlog of 160,000 applications and processing times that were up to eight years.
First he assured the public that there would be no cut in the number of visas for 2012 and 2013: “Action must be taken to cut the backlog, reduce the wait times, and ensure that the parents and grandparents is sustainable over the long run.”
The Minister also took this opportunity to re-release the 10-year multi-entry visa and called it the “Super Visa.” The whole resources of his Department were mobilized to provide this new improved visa for bringing in parents and grandparents faster as visitors. The Super Visa appeared to be little more than repackaging the 10-year multiple entry visa that was offered earlier in the same year and proclaiming it “Super” in an attempt to cushion the political fallout caused by the freeze on applications – and it worked.
This has been the status quo to this date. First the sponsorship of parents and grandparents is still frozen and secondly there is the new visa, much acclaimed by the Minister’s own media people, as the “Super Visa, Super Successful.” As a reminder this visa allows applicants to come to the country for two years at a time before requiring any extensions but requires them to undergo medicals, have a minimum of $100,000 Canadian travel insurance up front and sponsors must meet low income cut off (LICO) levels.
Over 13,000 applications have been received to date and the processing times and approval rate of over 80 per cent is laudable. At the same time the freeze has had the desired effect of lowering the backlog with the freeze on new applications and the plan to issue roughly 50,000 visas in 2012 and 2013. In May 20013 the federal Minister announced his intention to reinstate the sponsorship program but with changes.
First, the Super Visa is now proclaimed as a permanent addition. Second, the sponsorship of parents will reopen in January 2014 but with new requirements. Sponsors must now meet a new income minimum to be set as LICO plus 30 per cent and their responsibility will be increased from 10 to 20 years. The minister also imposed a strict limit of 5,000 new applications.
The justification for the changes is interesting because Minister Jason Kenny provided a power point presentation in which he alleged that many landed parents and grandparents are actually ending up on welfare and that they cause increased health costs. They should be labeled as “takers” not “givers.”
It is important for the reader to step back and analyze what has happened:
- The reunification of families has been part of the Immigration Act since 1976.
- New and old Canadians should have the same rights under the law.
- The moratorium was imposed because of a backlog of files and slow processing times, both of which are the responsibility of the federal immigration department, not the applicants.
- The Minister’s allegation about “users” has not been debated in public or even supported by credible research data.
- The Winnipeg Free Press writer points out that only 5.5 per cent of immigrants who landed in Manitoba between 2007 and 2010 ended up on welfare, and parents and grandparents comprise 37 per cent of this group – hardly the crisis cited by the Minister.
- Any study on social costs must be matched against social benefits. Many, including myself, argue that the social benefits of the extended family network far outweigh any increased cost.
- The proponents of family immigration also point out that sponsored parents and grandparents have a significantly lower participation rate in medical services.
- Why impose a LICO plus 30 per cent level for sponsors when other federal programs, including the Super Visa, simply use the LICO level.
The limit of 5,000 applications for 2014 is interesting because this is the same Minister who promised no cuts in the programs. Defenders will say he is not cutting visas but the reality is that visas come from existing inventory and the current inventory will soon be depleted with the two year freeze coupled with the 5,000 application cap.
Finally, Minister Kenny is guilty of “using fear and misinformation on the sensitive issue of immigration” (his own words) by labeling or demonizing parents and grandparents as “takers.”
Prime Minister Harper and his party were successful in winning a majority in the 2011 election but at what cost? What about the immigration Minister’s promise not to cut parent and grandparent sponsorships? Continue to follow the Senate scandal because there should be a day of reckoning when voters, especially those in newcomer communities, understand that immigration reform for the Conservatives means the same as immigration cuts.
There is an old adage I heard from my mother: “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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