New immigration rules that limit the sponsorship of parents and grandparents to the well-off also paint them as "takers, not givers," say some riled Manitobans.
"They have a huge impact on the welfare and the future of the next generation," said Gloria Agravante, 67, an immigrant from the Philippines.
The Winnipeg grandmother was responding to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's announcement that next year, those seeking to sponsor parents or grandparents will need an income that's 30 per cent above the low-income threshold and prove it by submitting three years of income-tax assessments.
They'll also have to cover any welfare or health-care costs not covered by medicare for parents or grandparents for 20 years, instead of the current 10-year requirement. The feds say about three per cent of sponsored parents or grandparents go on social assistance, a number that climbs to more than 20 per cent once their sponsor no longer has to repay those costs.
"Families say to me they want to bring their parents to Canada not to be a burden to Canadian taxpayers, but apparently a large and growing number actually do end up being a burden," Kenney said earlier.
That doesn't ring true to Agravante.
"Look at the overnight workers cleaning at McDonald's and Walmart -- they're white-haired older workers," said Agravante. "They're working and they want to work."
The provincial government says 5.5 per cent of immigrants who landed between 2007 and 2010 and filed taxes in 2010 were on welfare.
Of the 5.5 per cent of immigrants on welfare, 37 per cent were parents or grandparents -- 290 people.
Agravante sees sponsored parents and grandparents contributing to families and Manitoba's economic growth, not as a drain on welfare and the health care system.
They play a major role in holding down the fort for working families, said the mother of nine and grandmother of 21. The retired health care worker takes her young grandson to and from school because both his parents start work early in the morning.
Allowing only the well-off to sponsor their parents or grandparents doesn't make economic sense, said Agravante, who taught in the Philippines before immigrating to Manitoba.
"Grandparents here are needed to provide support," she said. "Daycare centres can only do so much."
Grandparents help kids with their cultural identity and instill values like "industry, peace, respect and perseverance," said the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba adviser.
And they're making it possible for parents to hold down two jobs and do shift work. "They say it takes a village to raise a child. We can't take the whole village here to Canada but the presence of parents and grandparents provide that network of support."
The tougher rules are part of an overhaul of the family-reunification program. In 2011, the federal government stopped taking new applications, it said, to address a backlog of 165,000 with a wait time of eight years. It's working through the backlog and will accept 5,000 new applications next year.
An immigration lawyer who's worked for 30 years in Manitoba said Kenney hasn't shown how parents and grandparents are a "burden."
"He's pulling numbers out of the air," said Michael Scott, a columnist for Winnipeg's Pilipino Express, who is married to a Filipina. His recent column slams Kenney, saying he characterizes sponsored parents and grandparents as "takers, not givers."
"He should be called on it: 'Where do you get your stats from?' "
When asked to comment, Kenney's office provided a PowerPoint slide show promoting its policies.
Givers or takers?
68 per cent of sponsored parents and grandparents who immigrate to Canada are under the age of 65.
40 per cent of all sponsored parents and grandparents worked or were self-employed after two years in Canada while 30 per cent helped to take care of the household or other family members.
Under the new rules, a family of five (two parents with three children) who want to sponsor two parents would need to have a minimum income of $80,150 for three years.
Immigrants in Manitoba had the fourth-lowest unemployment rate (5.7 per cent) after New Brunswick (5.5 per cent), Alberta (4.9 per cent) and Saskatchewan (3.6 per cent). The national average is 8.2 per cent.
The age of immigrants isn't tracked in employment survey data.
-- sources: Atlantic Metropolis Centre: A preliminary investigation of the contributions of sponsored parents and grandparents in Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Labour Force Survey April 2013