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Ask Tito Mike by Michael Scott

Only the rich need apply

The redesigned sponsorship of parents

By Michael Scott

The sponsorship of parents is back. The changed Parent and Grandparent program is set to re-open January 2, 2014. Wow, what a relief. And I thought we would not hear anything until the fall. But before we start cheering and singing praises for our federal immigration minister we should take a step back and look at what has changed. What are the requirements for sponsorship and who can use the program?

It is important to understand that family reunification has been an important part of Canadian immigration since the immigration Act of 1976. One of the essential features of our current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is to ensure “that families are reunited in Canada” (Section 3, 1, d). This is one of the reasons why many highly skilled immigrants choose Canada above other destinations and it is something that sets us above other first world countries. The return of the sponsorship of parents and grandparents is not a gift but something we should consider to be a fundamental right of all Canadians. When this right is infringed upon or curtailed, we should question the government.

The reasons for freezing applications given by Minister Jason Kenny in November 2011 are well known. He said he was suspending the program to address a much-publicized backlog that neared 165,000 and processing times of almost eight years. The backlog is now on track to be cut in half by 2014 and the number of visas issued to parents and grandparents in the existing cue could rise to 50,000 in 2012 and 2013, according to Minister’s Kenny’s recent press release.

The two-year freeze was coupled with the introduction of a pilot 10-year multiple entry visa called the Super Visa. More than 15,000 Super Visas have been issued since 2011 with approval rates surpassing 86%. I am not here to debate the imposition of the moratorium but rather to point out that the some of the news is encouraging. It is good to hear that applications in the cue are still being processed and that the Super Visa has increased the number of parents and grandparents who are visiting the country. However, the Super Visa is, in many ways, accessible only to richer sponsors because of the high, up front cost of $100,000 minimum in travel insurance that must be bought and paid for before any application is submitted.

The reworked sponsorship of parents & grandparents will be:

  1. Reintroduced in January 2014.
  2. Canada will continue to maintain high levels of admissions for parents and grandparents.
  3. The Super Visa will become permanent and provide flexibility for sponsors and applicants alike, allowing visa holders to remain in Canada for up to two years at a time.
  4. Other dependents of the parents or grandparents will have to meet high (unspecified) standards.
  5. The new qualifying criteria for permanent residency will increase the financial responsibility for sponsors with a 30% minimum increase over the low-income cut-off (LICO) and the responsibility period increased to 20 years
  6. A cap of 5,000 new applications will be set for 2014.

“These new criteria ensure sponsored family members are well supported by their sponsors throughout their time in Canada,” said Minister Kenny in his May 10, 2013 news release. “The redesigned Parent and Grandparent program reunites families faster while respecting Canadian taxpayers and the limited resources for health and societal programs.” The Minister’s department was quick to add that the sponsorship of parents and grandparents is something that distinguishes Canada from other first world countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The news release did not include additional (perhaps unscripted) comments of Minister Kenny. The Minister said that the changes were intended to do more than address backlogs.

“We choose to have such a program in a way that corresponds to our fiscal limits as a country, the limits in our health care system.”

The Minister apparently intimated that government data shows that about three per cent of sponsored parents and grandparents go on social assistance and that the number rises to 20% once the sponsor does not have to repay the benefits. This is coupled with the obvious fact that the average age of sponsored parents and grandparents is 65 years old and nearly 44 per cent of all health-care money is spent on people over that age.

“Elderly people place a much greater burden on the public health-care system, a public health care system that is already in crises, where costs are growing much faster than the economy, much faster than the population, where emergency wards are overcrowded, where wait times are enormous.”

Are we to conclude that sponsored parents and grandparents are responsible for the ills that plague the country’s health care system? In the absence of public research data it is not surprising that the last statements are not widely circulated. What is the source and how responsible was Minister Kenny in characterizing sponsored parents and grandparents as takers not givers?

Jinny Sims, the NDP critic, was quick to respond to the federal press release. She said that Minister Kenny is inventing a drain on the public purse that does exist when it comes to parents and grandparents who’ve been sponsored to Canada. “These kinds of barriers are a very creative way, and not-so-creative, of basically saying family reunification is not where Canada is at right now.” In terms of the increase in sponsor income she points to one obvious conclusion that only Canadians with high incomes can actually sponsor parents and grandparents when the program is reintroduced in 2014: “It’s only for those who are wealthy and not for everybody.”

My own conclusion is that the reworked parent and grandparent sponsorship appears to be something that can only be utilized by rich Canadian sponsors. In the past, sponsors were responsible for the care of their parents or grandparents for 10 years and therefore any welfare payouts would be repaid by sponsors. Therefore there was no cost to the country. The welfare rates suggested by Minister Kenny are a fiction, possibly based on the suspect research of the anti-immigration lobby Immigration Centre for Policy Reform.

There are other sources of information that point to the advantages of the extended family over the nuclear family and the lower incidence of using social services and the Canadian medical system for seniors from extended families. Jinny Sims is correct to challenge the Minister on this point.

My major concern is about the increase in income level from the LICO. Why raise the level? Are richer Canadians more likely to be responsible sponsors? Why use the LICO for the Super Visa and other classes of Family Sponsorship and impose a higher bar for the sponsorship of parents and grandparents? The recommendation that sponsors should be responsible for 20 years is interesting because it would potentially involve changing the residency requirements for old age pension also from 10 to 20. Did Minister Kenny consider this or was he too hasty in just getting something about it to the public?

I see no problem with faster processing times but question a government that allows backlogs to increase and then takes actions to punish the applicants. Why blame the applicants for your department’s inefficiency and failure to provide timely service? Perhaps Minister Kenny made the announcement to gauge public reaction. If so, let him know in no uncertain terms that his government is in office to represent all Canadians, not only the very rich, or those newcomer families who can meet the proposed LICO plus 30 per cent income barrier.

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: mscott.ici@gmail.com

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