News Analysis by NCM Newsroom
Days after being sworn in as prime minister on November 4 last year, Justin Trudeau listed priority tasks for his ministers.
Like that of his colleagues, the list for John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, drew much from the Liberal party’s election promises.
While resettling Syrian refugees was the number one priority, McCallum was told that his overarching goal was “to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to its success.”
The wording was clever. While it tried to highlight the previous Conservative government’s reluctance to open Canada’s door to refugees, it retained the essence of what the country’s need for immigrants has always been: It’s the economy, stupid.
And, McCallum has stuck to the time-tested script. Tabling this year’s report on immigration targets in parliament, he said the government is boosting the base number of immigrants to be admitted next year to 300,000. The previous annual targets from 2011 to 2015 was 260,000, but it swelled to 300,000 this year on account of the Syrian arrivals. The last time this base figure was reached was way back in 1913.
Attempting to give this annual setting of targets a more long-term view, the minister told reporters that it “lays the foundation for future growth." What was unsaid is that last year’s election rhetoric for letting in more refugees was a one-off political gesture meant to to induce a feel-good across the country and reinforce the "Canada is back" mantra.
Although the 2017 intake targets includes 40,000 refugees and protected persons, it is down from nearly 56,000 this year. Also slightly down is the number of people who would be let in on humanitarian or compassionate grounds: 3,500 against this year’s 3,600.
And when it comes to government-assisted refugees, the numbers are far lower. The number for 2017 is 7,500, down from nearly 20,000 admitted so far this year, and still fewer than the nearly 10,000 admitted in 2015.
Like the previous government, the targets focus on boosting entries for those in the "economic" class. It has been increased to 172,500 from 160,600. In the family class, the number of sponsored spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents will climb to 84,000 from 80,000.
Signalling left, turning right
While people in the settlement sector would bemoan the cuts to refugee intake given the continuing crises around the world, others would call it pragmatism. Those less charitable to the Liberals would say they are back at their game of signalling left, turning right.
The Liberals know that Canadians will not continue to be supportive of refugee resettlement. Reports about the government being caught off guard by the large number of children each Syrian family had in tow would cast doubts about the whole manner of bringing them in, starting from the vetting process.
Keeping both public perceptions and capacity constraints in mind, the government has astutely kept in abeyance its own economic growth council’s recommendation to raise annual immigration levels to 450,000 over the next five years.
However, it is doubling down on bringing in economic immigrants. Early on, Ottawa indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students becoming permanent residents, with McCallum terming them as “the perfect immigrants.”
The Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, is now being seen as a tool to also promote family reunification. The idea is to give candidates with family members already in Canada additional points.
The unsettling thing about the emphasis on immigration levels is the indifferent attitude towards the very feature that makes our system unique: one of the shortest paths to citizenship, that over 80 per cent of immigrants eagerly choose to take. At least until recently.
The number of citizenship applicants has plummeted for the second year in a row after the more than a doubling in the application fee from $300 to $630. For a while it was $200, after being at $100 for a long time.
Evidently, citizenship applications are down. Only 36,000 citizenship applications were received from January to June this year, a little more than one-third of the number for the same period last year, according to data obtained for policy analysis by Andrew Griffith, a retired immigration department director-general. In 2015, a total of 130,000 applications were submitted compared to an average of 200,000 in the previous years.
While $630 itself is a hefty sum, the actual cost incurred could be much more if one includes the fee (around $200) for a language proficiency test that many applicants would need to take, and further for the Canadian passport (minimum $120). And, in the case of persons from source countries like India that do not allow for dual citizenship, the expenses add up. The fee to process the giving up of Indian citizenship and obtaining a new visa would take the costs to well over $1,500.
Imagine a family of four needing to spend $6,000 when struggling economically to put roots in a new country. No one is suggesting that citizenship should come cheap, but forcing those on the cusp of becoming citizens to bear the whole cost of the process is rather unfair. Especially when the government is ready to waive or subsidize fees for refugees. How much more do new Canadians need to do to become citizens of a country they cheerily chose?
More importantly, isn't ultimate citizenship the whole point of welcoming new immigrants in the first place?
Whereas the Liberals were critical of all the changes to immigration rules made by the Harper government, they were coy about reviewing the citizenship fee during the election campaign. Now that they hold the reins and are reviewing Bill C6 to amend the Citizenship Act, there is still no mention of any adjustment to the fee.
While tax-paying permanent residents are already an underclass unable to vote even in local elections, this disenfranchisement is now set to grow and become a permanent feature of our polity. It calls into question our own understanding of democracy and surely not something we should be proud of.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all NCM columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of New Canadian Media.
by Laura Payton
The Liberals hope increasing the government’s target for new permanent residents to 300,000 will boost the economy, the 2016 federal budget says.
The 2016 target is seven per cent higher than last year’s, and includes an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees the Liberals plan to resettle in Canada, on top of the 25,000 who arrived before the end of February.
The total cost for the 35,000 Syrian refugees is budgeted at $923 million over six years.
The Liberals promised in the election to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, but it was quickly apparent it wasn’t possible to ramp up either the civil service or immigration settlement services in time to meet that goal. The government adjusted the deadline to Feb. 29 and hit that target instead.
The new 2016 target of 300,000 permanent residents will allow officials to “reunite families, offer a place of refuge to those fleeing persecution and support Canada’s long-term economic prosperity,” the government says in the budget, tabled Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
In Pakistan, where retirement homes do not exist, children consider it a moral duty to take care of their parents as they age.
Asad Khan says this is why he wanted to sponsor his father last year after his mother passed away. His sisters are married, and his elder brother lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Khan, who works in Toronto as a human resources manager, couldn’t apply for his father’s sponsorship immediately as the annual cap of 5,000 applications is usually reached soon after Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) begins accepting applications the first week of January each year.
Therefore, Khan opted for the super visa, which has an approval rate of 85 per cent and takes a maximum of eight weeks instead of the four or more years it takes to process a regular sponsorship.
Khan was happy that he did not have to meet the required minimum income needed – a pre-requisite of sponsorship – or have to wait in a long queue to process his father’s application.
“Because of [the] super visa, my father is not alone back home and waiting anxiously,” says Khan. “In fact he can travel back frequently.”
Khan managed to get the visa in five weeks after buying medical insurance for his father, which must be renewed every year.
Elderly are not a burden
Sikander Lalani, CEO of Lalani Associates, a leading immigration consultancy provider in Pakistan, says that relocating in Canada is often not the preference of elderly Pakistani people, as they do not want to leave their homeland, culture, family and religious values at such a tender age.
The only exception to this is if the situation is critical to the extent that there is nobody to take care of them back home.
“The number of dependent parents who opt to settle in Canada is not more than 10 per cent of the total immigrants from Pakistan,” says Lalani.
More Pakistani parents and grandparents prefer to shuttle back and forth between the two countries, Lalani explains. Those who have financial constraints and health issues will not visit frequently.
“They come here not for medical or other financial benefits, but only for [the] love and affection they carry for their kids,” he adds.
Khan says many Pakistani people who are elderly do not prefer to live in Canada because of the harsh weather, which is usually tough for them to bear, as is staying indoors for most of the year. Cold weather can also aggravate some of their medical conditions.
In 2013, former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stated that the health-care costs of elderly immigrants creates a burden on the Canadian health-care system and other social resources. He further noted that a set of grandparents could cost the system $400,000.
Lalani refutes the claim. “What burden are they talking about?” he asks.
“They get [a] sponsorship fee. In return two family members – husband and wife – are contributing to [the] economy and paying hefty taxes. Later the kids – an average Pakistani family has three – will follow suit as [the] next generation. Is this a burden or constant contribution to [the] economy?”
Family reunification reforms needed
When it comes to the reunification of spouses or children with their families, Lalani says that laws should not disrupt the basic structure of a family. He says that now, the biggest hindrance is the time consumed by the process, which varies between six months to four years.
“It’s a trauma for a skilled person that he is away from his family – a mental torture – how could you expect someone to concentrate on his job or studies or overall performance in a totally new environment with a stress that seems endless?” asks Lalani.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised reforms to the 2013 family reunification program during his election campaign.
He pledged to double the number of parents and grandparents’ applications accepted from 5,000 to 10,000 and speed up the processing time, but Lalani says that it will take time to materialize.
“It was a political statement, as the change in policy will face resistance from bureaucracy and making it a law is time consuming so it won’t trigger that fast.”
The changes made in 2013 to the immigration rules also increased the minimum necessary income (MNI) to sponsor parents and grandparents by 30 per cent and reduced the maximum age of dependents from 22 years old to 18.
“I think the Canadian government needs to work fast paced on the re-location of the basic family structure and also reversing the minimum age of dependent children from 18 to 22, because in Asian culture children under 23 are dependent on their parents unless they are married,” says Lalani.
He notes that the pledge made by Trudeau did not say much on the MNI required for sponsors.
“It was criticized as a benefit for high-net worth [individuals],” Lalani says. “This still needs to be reconsidered as elderly people are not a burden at all.”
Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the second in our series and looks at the frustrations caused by painfully long wait times. Read part one here.
by Marieton Pacheco in Vancouver
Elmira Padlan-Bautista is no stranger to Canada’s family reunification program. She and her husband have been going through the process of sponsoring both their parents since 2005. But after 10 years, Elmira’s parents are now with them in Canada, while her husband Jerold’s parents are still waiting in the Philippines.
It’s a heartbreaking situation considering they tried to sponsor Jerold’s parents first.
The couple’s application to sponsor the Bautistas in 2005 was initially refused due to lack of income, but after submitting additional documents in 2006, they were given approval to complete the requirements for both sets of parents in 2008.
This included separate instructions to do medical tests in Manila and that’s where the problems started.
“There was always something in their medical tests,” says Elmira. “There was a spot in [Jerold’s] dad’s lungs the first time; he was asked to undergo medication and come back after three months. When he was cleared, they found another issue with his mom this time.”
Jerold’s mom has gone back for medical tests about 10 times already due to heart problems and complications from diabetes. It doesn’t help that she’s 73 years old. And with each exam costing around Php 3,000-5,000 (about $100-$150), it’s been quite an expensive and frustrating exercise.
“It’s been too long that I think they’ve lost interest in coming here, napagod na sa pabalik-balik kaya nawalan ng gana (it’s tiring to keep on going back [for medical reasons] and frustrating),” shares Elmira.
Despite this, they received a letter from Canada's immigration department in 2013 asking them to pay for the parents’ Right of Landing Fee. They did, and Jerold's parents were asked to submit their passports to the Canadian embassy in Manila.
But without medical clearance, their visas remain pending. It’s been so long that the parents’ have asked the embassy to just return their passports, which have been held for about a year.
Elmira says she remembered all these lessons when she applied for her own parents’ sponsorship in 2008. After receiving approval to sponsor them in early 2011, she asked Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), which is now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), to send all correspondence through her.
Both her parents were also visiting Canada when the letter for their medical examination arrived. She checked with CIC and was able to have both her parents’ medical exam done here. With no hitches in their documents and medical tests, her parents were approved for permanent residency in December 2012.
It was still a four-year wait, but Elmira is grateful, especially when compared with her in-laws’ case and those of some of her other friends in the community.
“I don’t mind going through all the requirements and application ’cause it’s really worth it that they’re here,” she says. “They’ve been very helpful in babysitting the three kids. I didn’t have a bad experience with my parents’ sponsorship like we did with my husband’s parents. They’re frustrated, and we’re still frustrated...”
More efficient, fair processing needed
At the beginning of this month the IRCC began accepting parent and grandparent sponsorship applications for 2016. Many immigrants are again trying their luck to bring their families here.
Current wait times to sponsor parents and grandparents (PGP) under the Family Class vary from four to six years depending on where your visa office is located. The IRCC’s website says its offices are currently working on PGP sponsorship applications received before November 2011.
Immigration consultant Arlene Tungohan says the key is really to improve processing times for these applications.
Doubling quotas as promised by the new Liberal government from 5,000 to 10,000 may be a good thing, she explains, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless they speed up processing times for those who’ve been waiting for years.
Tungohan adds she still has live-in caregivers’ applications for family sponsorship from five to six years ago.
Their family members in the Philippines have undergone medical exams two to three times already, but their applications remain in processing. Then there are those who submitted applications in 2015 and have been given their PR already.
“We don’t know why the process is that way,” Tungohan says. “It’s not a first-in, first-out system anymore. What’s happening is last-in, first out ... I guess they want to show it’s faster now with the changes, but it’s a little bit unfair. Many caregivers are suffering because of it.”
Tungohan says family reunification has always been a priority under Canada’s immigration system, so whether it’s sponsoring parents or grandparents, or caregivers trying to bring the rest of their family members to Canada, wait times should be reasonable.
Welfare not a ‘Filipino thing’
The immigration consultant also discredits criticisms on parents and grandparents being a burden to Canada’s health-care system.
Many, if not all, of those approved to live here still want to work and contribute to the Canadian economy, she says, adding that collecting welfare is hardly a Filipino thing to do.
“You hardly hear of parents going on welfare especially in the Filipino community,” she explains. “We take pride in being able to support our parents, in showing them that ‘hey, we are successful.’”
But as long as processing times are not improved, families like the Bautistas will have to wait some more for a chance to support their parents here in Canada, or else they will continue hearing about the realities of their parents’ aging from thousands of miles away.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the first in our series and looks at what can happen when family reunification rules bring together and split apart a family at the same time.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Canada’s family reunification program brought Simei Wu’s parents to Canada, while simultaneously separating her from her husband, who chose to return to Mainland China to be with his parents.
Wu and her husband Feng Xie immigrated to Canada in 2008. Two years later, after they settled down in Toronto working full-time in the service sector, Wu applied to have her parents come to Canada under the Family Reunification (FR) class.
“I’m the only child to my parents,” she says. “They [wanted] to live with me and help me take care of my child.”
As a popular tradition in the Chinese community, elderly parents often help their children by looking after their newborn grandchildren and assisting with housework.
Wu had her first child in early 2010. At that time, both she and her husband earned just enough to pay the bills. There wasn’t too much leftover to hire a nanny or for Wu to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I sent applications to sponsor my parents to immigrate in May 2010,” she recalls. “I learned from CIC’s (Citizenship and Immigration Canada's) website that the average waiting time was five to eight years.”
She initiated the same application process for her husband’s parents later that year.
The impact of changing policies
When Wu submitted her applications there was no yearly intake cap for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program.
This soon changed, under the Conservative government, due to the large backlog of applications.
On Nov. 5, 2011, CIC imposed a two-year moratorium on new applications and announced that when they were accepted again, only 5,000 a year would be permitted. As such, the government also created the super visa allowing elderly parents to visit Canada for two year periods. The visa is good for 10 years.
Wu’s parents were consequently on the super visa, remaining with their daughter while waiting for their FR application to progress.
“My parents were anxious when they learned [about] the halt on new applications. They didn’t know when they will receive immigrant status and worried [that] they might not be able to afford going to the hospital if sick,” Wu shares.
In addition, when Wu initially applied, the minimum required income for a family of her size (four grandparents, two parents, one child) was $59,907. This was determined based on the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) established by Statistics Canada annually.
The Conservatives then introduced a 30 per cent increase, meaning Wu’s family would need earn $77, 879 annually in order to sponsor all four grandparents. This posed a challenge since the family had been earning a humble $60,000 a year.
Last summer, after Wu’s second child started to walk, she found out through CIC’s website that her parents’ applications had been approved and their next step was to undergo a medical check.
Her husband’s parents’ applications, however, had been forwarded to a Hong Kong office for further review, meaning possibly another five to eight years of waiting.
“Everything goes back to zero for my in-laws,” Wu explains.
She says the prolonged process has already consumed her relationship with her husband Feng. The different outcome of each other’s parents’ applications has caused tension between Feng and his in-laws. He now works in China to look after his ailing parents, and only returns to Canada during holidays.
Getting through the red-tape
As a result of her own experience, Wu has become more involved in talking with her immigrant friends and helping their elderly parents to apply for family reunification.
She and her friends formed an unofficial parents’ immigration club at the Peanut Plaza in Toronto’s Don Valley West community.
Group members exchange information with each other on the bench outside of the Feng Tai (Foody Mart) Supermarket. They pick up free Chinese weekly newspapers and magazines, searching for knowledge-based articles or immigration consultant advertisements.
Each November, Wu and her friends begin preparing application documents. They secure Purolator couriers and meet them right at 9 a.m. on the first work day of each new year for CIC, to hand in their application packages, which are now only accepted by mail or couriers.
“People pay couriers an extra $200 or more for this job,” explains Wu. “They have to line up at CIC’s office to ensure the application is sent … it’s a battle to get your hope started.”
Skeptical of changes ahead
Yang Haifeng, the president of New Canadian Community Centre, is doubtful about the Liberal government’s campaign promise to double the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 a year.
“We’re not sure if it is really 10,000 applications yet because the additional 5,000 applications are not a small amount. It takes four to five years for applicants to get their FR status approved,” Yang says.
“I’m concerned that doubling the application numbers will also double the process time, making the waiting time as long as eight to 10 years. How could our seniors afford to wait for such a long time?”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Dear Minister John McCallum,
We are reaching out to you as a group of Canadians and immigrants with a vested interest in seeing improvements made in the immigration system, a system we know all too well, is broken.
Our group is called Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners. We are an advocacy and support group of more than 3,000 spousal sponsorship families.
The group began as a response to the painfully slow process of sponsoring a spouse for permanent residency; to campaign for improved processing of inland spousal sponsorship applications.
In parallel, we also provide support via the sharing of information and guidance through what is an intensely difficult process. However, our main goal is to address the difficulties we face at the source, with improved processing times and improved conditions for Inland sponsored spouses.
Program allows families to survive
We would like to bring your attention to the upcoming expiration on Dec. 22, 2015 of the one-year pilot program that allows spouses of Canadians under spousal sponsorship permanent resident applications to apply for open work permits.
Processing times for the first stage of the spousal sponsorship application are currently at an unbearably long 17 months, and no lasting improvements have been seen.
With the continuation of the work permit pilot program, Canadian families will be better able to endure this punitive wait without falling into crippling debt and suffering the lasting damages of great emotional stress.
The Canadian Bar Association, as well as several immigration experts, has raised this issue before. In a letter sent to Mike MacDonald, Director General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on May 6, 2015, the Bar expressed the following:
“… [W]hy is the Open Work Permit Pilot Program limited to those with valid temporary status in Canada? Those without valid status are often in the most desperate need of a work permit.”
Also, in an interview for the documentary The Backlog, Life Doesn’t Wait, immigration lawyer and a former senior manager at CIC, Klaudios Mustakas, said:
“If the person is out of status, then give them status because, at the end of the day, whether you do it in four months or whether you do it in 26 months you’re still going to give that person permanent status, so why put the family through the financial hardship that is involved? If the sponsored person is the breadwinner, how is that family supposed to survive? From a humanitarian point of view, we are doing them a disservice by having to wait that long. You’re giving them a two-year conditional visa anyways, so if you’re worried about fraud, you have two years to determine whether that case is fraudulent.”
The many benefits for Canada at large
The open work permit pilot program has provided many benefits to Canadian families and to Canadian society:
These benefits would be made even greater by the inclusion of all sponsored spouses.
For the aforementioned reasons, we feel that it would be beneficial for sponsorship couples and their communities for the pilot program to not only be continued as a permanent policy, but also extended to include all inland sponsored spouses, regardless of immigration status.
We humbly request that this be done before the expiration on Dec. 22.
Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners
This letter was sent by members of the Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners group to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum, the Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Arif Virani, and members of Parliament for the ridings where these Canadian families live.
This letter has been edited for clarity and published with permission here.
by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given his Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship a list of top priorities to work on in the coming months.
While leading efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees in the coming months was number one on the list, John McCallum was also asked to work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act [Bill c 24] that gave government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
These goals were set out in a mandate letter sent to McCallum along with similar ones to each of the 29 other cabinet ministers. The initiative is seen as part of the Prime Minister’s promise to provide open and transparent governance.
The letter to McCallum did not provide any details about the refugee resettlement efforts, stating: "Lead government-wide efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria in the coming months." On Thursday, the minister had said he and the rest of the cabinet had a "very good discussion" on providing "quick and substantial help to some of the most distressed people on the planet."
While the priorities draw heavily on the Liberal’s election platform commitments, McCallum was told that his overarching goal will be “to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to its success.”
Refugee health care
Another priority listed in the letter is full restoration of the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants.
McCallum had said that the Harper government’s 2012 decision to cut refugee health care was “economically foolish” and ended up costing more in the long run.
“It might have saved a few dollars for the federal government, but people who are really sick don’t just die in the streets. They go to the emergency (rooms) and hospitals, and the cost of that is greater than the cost of what they would have received alternatively,” McCallum told CTV.
On the family reunification front, the mandate letter talks of bringing forward a proposal to double the number of entry applications for parents and grandparents of immigrants to 10,000 a year as part of the Annual Immigration Levels Plan for 2016.
It also spells out giving additional points under the Entry Express system for applicants who have Canadian siblings and increasing the maximum age for dependents to 22, from 19, to allow more immigrants to bring their children to Canada.
McCallum was asked to bring forward a proposal regarding permanent residency for new spouses entering Canada and develop a plan to reduce application processing times for sponsorship, citizenship and other visas.
He was also asked to establish an expert human rights panel to help him determine designated countries of origin (from where refugee applications will be discouraged), and provide a right to appeal refugee decisions for citizens from these countries.
Modifying the temporary foreign workers program to eliminate the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee to hire caregivers was another priority on the list. McCallum was told to work with provinces and territories to develop a system of regulated companies to hire caregivers on behalf of families.
The Caregiver Program had come under fire by the previous government for its alleged misuse as a proxy family-reunification program.
But given Canada’s ageing population and the program’s appeal to both caregivers and families, Ratna Omidvar, the executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange, had in a column suggested that “rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” the government should retain the program and strengthen its integrity.
Omidvar said the government itself could become the first player in recruitment, assessing candidates to create a pool of qualified caregivers in the same way it was proposing to create a pool of job-ready skilled immigrants.
Other mandates for McCallum included him leading efforts to facilitate the temporary entry of low-risk travelers, including business visitors, and lifting the visa requirement for Mexico.
Also telegraphed were restoring the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and not requiring new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.
In his letter, the Prime Minister said the government’s agenda will be further articulated through Cabinet discussions and in the Speech from the Throne when Parliament opens.
by Will Tao in Vancouver
Dear Hon. Minister McCallum:
I want to take this opportunity to share with my thoughts on family reunification.
Attending an early platform-planning conversation you organized in 2014, it became clear that family reunification and the challenges faced by new Canadian immigrant families formed the central issue of stakeholder concerns with the immigration system.
A year later, in September 2015, I was not at all surprised when the Liberal party released its immigration platform focused on family reunification as a core priority.
I applaud your party’s pledge to give spouses immigrating to Canada immediate permanent residency and drop the current two-year waiting period.
Rather than protect sponsors from being victims of marriage of convenience schemes, this rule trapped foreign national spouses by tying their statuses completely to their sponsors.
Foreign national spouses were left with little recourse in the case of psychological abuse, adultery, or other types of marriage breakdown. While some channels were available to report wrongdoing, the law put applicants in a difficult and vulnerable situation.
Along a similar line, the return of the maximum age of a dependent child to 22 from 19 is good for Canadians. This rule prevented several families from uniting due to the fact their children were too old and several years away from any possibility of their own economic immigration.
Canadian families and their reunification concerns
Before writing you, I thought I would survey several stakeholders – sponsors and applicants – who are currently in the process of sponsoring spouses and family members.
You may be interested to note that backlogs and processing times are not the overwhelming source of concerns.
Instead, the way immigration authorities are handling their inquiries and applications, and their lack of short-term options in Canada topped the list.
While Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) provides several instruction guides, they are unavailable in non-official languages and often list only minimum requirements.
Because of this, Canadian families have to spend money hiring lawyers and consultants when their applications are refused or when further information is requested by immigration officials.
If unlucky, they will hire an unqualified practitioner that could ruin the family’s entire future. Many of these individuals operate abroad with little oversight by Canadian regulatory bodies.
Once applicants apply, they have a difficult time tracking the process of their applications.
The Electronic Case Application System (eCAS) does not often provide the necessary detail when missing documents and/or information are an issue.
Letters from CIC asking for further information are unnecessarily vague. Call centre agents, who are understandably under significant pressure due to the high volume of calls, are often prevented from providing updates.
For most applicants, who are without professional help, the only solution, Access to Information Requests (ATIPs), are a challenge to navigate.
I believe today’s families deserve more from immigration authorities in terms of greater transparency and better technology.
Often, during the time of application processing, the applicant cannot even visit or reside with their Canadian family member.
Given that processing times can take up to several years, this has the effect of separating families. This is particularly true with permanent resident sponsors, who simultaneously must meet their own Canadian residency obligations.
There is currently a pilot project providing open work permits to eligible spouses and common law partners living in Canada.
To qualify for an open work permit, a foreign national spouse must have be in Canada on a visitor, student, or worker visa prior to making their in-Canada sponsorship and work permit applications.
This program needs to be expanded to include all applicants who are found eligible to be sponsored. A spouse that has overstayed his/her Canadian visa for a legitimate purpose – such as to be with a Canadian partner – should have some options to work legally in Canada.
A closing thought
As you begin your term, Mr. McCallum, please direct your promises at giving Canadian immigrants and their families a greater peace of mind.
Canadian families want nothing more than to be here together and start contributing to the struggling economy earlier.
Yes, we as Canadians, may endure some short-term costs in facilitating this, but these individuals – wives, husbands, partners, children, parents and grandparents – are the foundation of this country and its future. They will pay it back.
Canada is a great country, an attractive country and personally, one that my foreign national fiancée and I hope to call our permanent home. However, it is not our only option and, as my fiancée reminds me on a daily basis, not our easiest option.
Like many other aspiring Canadians, she has an uphill battle to first earn the right, and then find the limited opportunities available, to work or study here. Anything your ministry can do to make our lives easier, and reduce the unnecessary fears engrained by the previous government, would be most welcome.
Will Tao is a Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Larlee Rosenberg, Barristers and Solicitors, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He would like to thank his Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers British Columbia mentee and University of British Columbia law student, Maria Qian, for her helpful edits.
by Samantha Lui in Toronto
“New Canadians”, a television show about newcomers in Canada, has now launched in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Produced by New Horizons Media in association with the New Canadian Media Professionals Network (NCMP), the show will focus on supporting newcomers and would-be immigrants by providing resources and information to help them integrate into Canadian society easily.
The show is split into five segments: settlement, employment/small business, education, successful immigrants, news and events.
Gerard Keledjian, the creator of “New Canadians”, immigrated to Canada in 2010. Having worked in the media industry in Dubai, he wanted to gain some local media experience and started volunteering at Rogers TV Toronto.
He came up with the idea for the show after looking into resources he could use to help him integrate into Canadian society.
“As I was researching my settlement and immigration journey, I realized that there were so many resources and programs that were targeted to newcomers that were either not being promoted at all or not promoted effectively,” he recalls.
“Using my media background to promote and talk about these programs and the successes immigrants are achieving, I tried to inform people about these programs and motivate them to use them as resources to minimize their struggles.”
Keledjian hopes to expand the show to other regions, including Hamilton and parts of Atlantic Canada such as Newfoundland and Labrador.
“New Canadians” airs on Rogers TV in Toronto every Friday at 7 p.m. on Cable 10 and 63, and every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in Peel region on Cable 10. The program’s web component is available at http://newcanadians.tv/.
Longest-Serving Visible Minority MP to Temporarily Lead Conservatives
As Stephen Harper steps down from Conservative leadership, longtime Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai will take over the party’s leadership duties for a short period of time.
Obhrai, elected in 1997, has been given the task to run its first post-election meeting next Wednesday because he is the party’s longest running member.
This is all part of a change made to the Parliament of Canada Act put forward by MP Michael Chong that was passed into law in June.
The new rules call for caucus to vote on key matters, managed by the caucus member “with the longest period of unbroken service.”
As it happens, Obhrai, who represents Calgary’s Forest Lawn riding, was elected the same year as Jason Kenney and Gerry Ritz. But because his victory in the federal election was recorded first, he was designated to lead the Conservative party.
While Obhrai initially had reservations about Chong’s requested provision, he now says it is an honour to serve the Conservative party in this role as it is the first time it’s had to happen since the law was passed.
“I’m so delighted and pleased to be part of this historical event that takes place on Wednesday where the caucus will decide what it wants to do,” he says, adding the meeting will focus on what the Conservatives’ next steps will be in deciding who will run for leadership.
But one question remains: is he hoping to make his temporary role a permanent one?
“No,” he replies, with a laugh.
“I think the fact that I’m the longest-serving member of the Conservative caucus, it’s an honour and privilege to represent my riding,” he adds. “But, I think I would elect new people to come in.”
He says that he’s just happy to serve his constituents.
“They put their confidence in me and I’m very humbled by that.”
More Time Needed to Settle 25,000 Refugees
Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised during the election campaign that Canada would accept 25,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria by the end of the year.
However, that is a substantial goal to reach in two months, according to The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA).
“Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis by resettling 25,000 additional government assisted refugees to Canada is to be applauded, but more time is needed to adequately settle and support these additional refugees,” says Chris Friesen, chair of CISSA-ACSEI, in a press release.
Noting that 25,000 refugees will need government support and help from other community initiatives, the organization made several recommendations to the Liberal government to consider.
Primarily the organization calls for the timeline to resettle 25,000 refugees be extended to the end of December 2016 as well as all outstanding family reunification cases for government assisted refugees to be expedited and processed before the end of this year.
CISSA-ACSEI also suggests more resources be allocated to help Syrian newcomers, such as settlement-related and trauma counseling and funding to help refugees travel to Canada.
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
Justin Trudeau has now officially been elected as Canada’s 29th Prime Minister and with him come promises of investment in infrastructure, electoral reform and changes to the lengthy family reunification process.
Some of those changes involve doubling the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 each year, speeding up permanent residency applications for spouses and raising the age limit for dependants.
These changes mark a reversal to the Conservative government’s overhaul of the family reunification process in 2011.
Limitations placed by the federal government at that time on the application process meant sons and daughters living in Canada could expect to wait up to six and a half years before their parents’ applications were processed.
Changes to regulations
Allowing immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparents is concerning to many economists and politicians because of the heavy price tag it carries.
According to Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Martin Collacott, each grandparent ultimately costs Canadian taxpayers more than $300,000 in services and welfare benefits over the course of their time in the country.
In his study, titled “Canadian family class immigration: The parent and grandparent component under review,” Collacott explains that the government attempted to limit Family Class immigration after noticing that some relatives who were brought to Canada were ultimately unskilled, had limited English language skills, and were likely to make little economic contribution to Canada.
Over the last few decades, these assumptions have led to an increase in the number of economic immigrants coming to Canada from 45 per cent in 1990 to 63 per cent. To contrast, family class immigrants have dropped from 34 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2014.
The group that has most acutely felt the effects of these changes are older prospective immigrants.
In 2011, the Conservative government temporarily stopped receiving applications for sponsored parents and grandparents in order to deal with a backlog of approximately 160,000 applicants.
When the stream reopened in 2014, the government limited the total number of applicants in this category to 5,000 per year.
Jason Kenney, who was then the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, explained these changes when they were announced, by stating: “We're not looking for more people on welfare, we're not looking to add people as a social burden to Canada. If their expectation is that they need the support of the state then they should stay in their country of origin, not come to Canada.”
The reforms in 2013 also increased the minimum necessary income (MNI) to sponsor parents and grandparents by 30 per cent and reduced the maximum age of dependants from 22 years old to 18.
“This is not a random phenomenon,” explains Marc Yvan Valade, a PhD candidate in policy studies at Ryerson University. “At the basis of this is an assumption that only economic immigrants are important.”
A different type of contribution
Despite these arguments, some experts argue that this focus ignores the many non-economic contributions these immigrants make.
“If it would help immigrant families to secure a stronger foothold in our society and feel even more belonging and want to contribute, well this is a gain for all of us,” says Valade. “It’s a gain not only economically in the short term, but it’s a gain in the long term as a society.”
A study by the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary found that family separation could both exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the children in these families as well as hinder meaningful integration into Canadian culture.
“Contrary to the representation of sponsored relatives as a drain on the health-care system and social services, we heard instead that sponsored parents and grandparents were playing critical roles as child care providers that allowed their children to go out and become part of the workforce in Canada,” the study explains.
The Liberals' promise
Navdeep Bains, just-elected Liberal MP from Mississauga-Malton and a member of Trudeau’s economic advisory group, told New Canadian Media during the election campaign that the party’s policies reflect this understanding.
“Family reunification is important as it enhances the family support system,” he said. “It will have meaningful impact for new Canadians as it will enable families to earn double incomes if a couple or shift worker gets child care support from their parents. It is sound economics, as good family dynamics help people to thrive.”
In the days leading up to his party’s Oct. 19 win, long-time Liberal MP John McCallum said his party intended to “put the family reunification program back on [the] rails.”
“Let’s be clear, Super Visas are not a substitute for family reunification,” McCallum said.
Introduced by the Conservatives, the Parent and Grandparent Super Visa (Super Visa) is a temporary resident permit that allows parents and grandparents to stay for up to two years in Canada per visit, and is valid for up to 10 years.
“The family reunification program is a priority for us. It is a huge issue, that is cause for anger, frustration and tears,” added McCallum, who formerly served as the party critic on the immigration file. “We see it as part of an immigration program that will welcome new Canadians with a smile instead of a scowl.”
Valade is optimistic about these changes, but says the real test will be whether sufficient resources are made available to treat demands in a reasonable time.
“Overall, the whole Family Class program should be reviewed in a way that considers the immigrant family as an asset for Canadian society, and a contribution to immigrant integration.”
With additional reporting by Election Desk Editor Ranjit Bhaskar in the Greater Toronto Area.
This is part two of a two-part series looking at family reunification policy. Read the first instalment here.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit