December 6, 2019

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Ah, the good old days of immigration

On a cold January morning in 1968, my parents, Rey and Gloria Pagtakhan, arrived at Emerson to immigrate to Canada. About 12 weeks earlier, my father sent in their immigration application from St. Louis, Missouri, where he and my mother were going to school on visas from the Philippines. Instead of a visa confirming his immigration, my father was sent a telegram by what was then Manpower and Immigration Canada with the simple instruction to proceed to the border.

A few years later, my parents began helping their parents and siblings immigrate to Canada. This was the early 1970s and the process involved going down to the Manpower and Immigration office on Edmonton Street to speak to an immigration officer. After filling out a 3-4 page form in which my parents had to declare that they had $50 in assets for each family member, their sponsorship applications were approved.

Within six months, the first three of my father's siblings with their families — a total of 16 persons — arrived in Canada. By the end of one year, all of my parents' siblings (16 more persons) who wanted to come to Canada arrived.

The year before my relatives came, the Christmas reunion was my mother, father and my brother. Within a couple of years, the Christmas reunion involved some 40 uncles, aunts, cousins and my grandfather.

Ah, the good old days of immigration.

Fast forward to the world of Citizenship and Immigration Canada in 2012.

Gone are the days of in-person service from government. The three-to-four-page immigration form that my father filled out has morphed into application packages of dozens of pages.

The $50 per person in assets ($200 for a family of four) has now been replaced by a requirement that this same family of four have $16,000 or more before they will be allowed to immigrate.

The 12 weeks my father waited for his "telegram visa" is now one to two years or more for a visa in a similar immigration category. The six months it took my grandfather to get his visa is now closer to eight years for the today's comparable immigration category.

To top it off, it has been decades since a person could sponsor their siblings. Sure, siblings can still immigrate, but the criteria are more stringent. If a family can raise the money, they still must meet minimum criteria for education, work experience and language.

Meeting these criteria is supposed to make sure that new immigrants are successful. Still, even when immigrants meet these criteria, many find themselves underemployed when their foreign-obtained credentials are not recognized here.

As well, having met these criteria, they are not put in "priority streams" for immigration. Priority streams are reserved for foreign nationals already working in Canada. By prioritizing these immigrants, some claim immigration is "smarter." After all, isn't having an immigrant come to Canada without a guaranteed job a recipe for disaster?

I am not so sure. While my mother and father had a guaranteed job when they came here, their siblings did not. Yet my uncles and aunts went on to careers in government, business, and industry. Their children, my cousins, are accomplished in professions and trades.

Parents and grandparents are another story. The suspension of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents means that these relatives can no longer immigrate to Canada. When this suspension is lifted in 2013, will the doors be opened again or slowly shut?

I sometimes wonder if my parents would have come here if the immigration system was as frustrating as it is today. Would they have remained in the U.S.? How would that have changed the lives of the patients my parents treated while my father was a practising doctor and my mother was a dietician at the Children's Hospital?

Who would have substituted for him as a medical teacher to many aspiring doctors at the medical school? Who would have filled my father's place in the cabinets of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin?

As well, if my father was $50 short on that day back in the early 1970s, my cousin may not have been in Canada to serve as a Winnipeg city councillor.

This article of general information was prepared for readers of the Winnipeg Free Press and should not be viewed as legal advice or opinion. Reis is a partner with the Aikins Law


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