For decades, one of the cornerstones of Canada's immigration policy has been family reunification. Earlier this month, the federal government announced changes to the immigration program that allows Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their parents and grandparents to immigrate to Canada. The result -- the door on family reunification is slowly closing.
The immigration program allowing Canadian sponsors to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada was frozen by the federal government in 2011 to allow the federal government to reduce the backlog of applicants, which had grown to more than 165,000, and to "redesign" the program to "avoid future backlogs and be sensitive to fiscal constraints."
When the program opens up in 2014, there will be a quota of 5,000 applications. When this program was frozen in 2011, the federal government indicated it was receiving nearly 38,000 applications for sponsorship for parents and grandparents annually.
By massively decreasing the number of applications the government will accept, many qualified sponsors will not be able to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada.
Has this low quota been set because processing more than 5,000 applications is too difficult? Hardly. Since the freeze was announced in 2011, Canada has boasted it will approve more than 50,000 visas in the parents-and-grandparent class by the end of this year. Since the system can process these applications, it appears the real reason for the decrease is the sensitivity to "fiscal constraints."
The sensitivity to fiscal constraints means Canadian sponsors who apply before the quota is met will have to meet more stringent income levels to qualify. Because parents and grandparents are not required to work in Canada, Canada has correctly required Canadian sponsors to prove they meet an income threshold to qualify.
Currently, the federal government uses what Statistics Canada calls the low-income cut-off. This is the income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family. Under current rules, sponsors must meet the low-income cut-off for one year.
Under the proposed rules, Canadian sponsors will now have to prove they have an income 30 per cent greater than the low-income cut-off for three years before being able to sponsor. This would mean someone with a spouse and two young kids who wishes to sponsor his or her parents will have to show an annual income of $71,000 after January, as opposed to the $55,000 required now.
There are four things that are unfair about this. First, if a Canadian sponsor's income is higher than the low-income cut-off, why does the family have to make 30 per cent more? If a family makes the low-income cut-off, the family is already above the average income for a Canadian family in this measurement.
Second, why is it necessary for sponsors to show they meet this higher income level for three years? While the federal government states a 12-month period is not a reliable indicator of a sponsor's financial stability, banks and credit unions do not require a person to have three years of income to obtain mortgages or loans.
Third, the immigration low-income cut-off number does not take into account differences in the cost of living in different areas in Canada. Historically, the low-income cut-off in large cities has been up to 50 per cent more than the low-income cut-off in rural areas.
A fairer solution would be to have sponsors meet the low-income cut-off for the area in which they live.
Fourth, while the government has increased the minimum-income level, it has maintained the rule only one person and their spouse can be sponsors. Why not allow adult siblings to co-sponsor with their other siblings to bring their parents here? Why not allow adult children to co-sponsor with their parents to bring their grandparents here? In many places in this world, family counts for something and family helps out family. Should we not allow family to help family?
Another change being proposed would be to make Canadian sponsors financially responsible for their parents and grandparents for 20 years as opposed to the current 10 years. While this may put an increased burden on the sponsor, it is fair this burden not be shared amongst all Canadians. Still, if other family members are allowed to co-sponsor, this would allow a family to share any financial responsibilities.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.