Tougher rules for sponsorship of parents, grandparents
By Dyan Ruiz
Parent and grandparent sponsorship resumes with major changes
The federal government will be resuming immigration sponsorship program for parents and grandparents in January 2014, but will be setting the bar much higher for the relatives in Canada sponsoring them.
Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced on May 10, 2013 at a press conference in Mississauga that major changes will be in effect when sponsorship of parents and grandparents resumes after the temporary pause implemented in September 2011. The government temporarily stopped the program to deal with the growing backlog of applicants and long wait times.
Increase to minimum necessary income
When the parent and grandparent sponsorship program resumes on January 2, 2014, the government will accept 5,000 applications for the year and will be implementing new regulations, including increasing the income the sponsor will have to earn to qualify.
The minimum income level for sponsoring relatives will increase 30 percent. At the press conference, Kenney gave an example of what this means for a husband and wife wishing to sponsor the wife’s parents, for instance. “Currently the minimum necessary income for two people in Canada to sponsor two people from abroad creating a household of four people would be $42,000. With the increase in the minimum necessary income, that will go up to $55,000.”
On the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website, it said a household of six (such as a husband, wife and two kids who are sponsoring the husband’s parents) will need to earn $71,992 under the new regulations in order to qualify.
The other major changes announced that day include:
• Increasing the number of years the sponsor is earning the minimum necessary income from one year to three years;
• Allowing only notices of assessment issued by the Canada Revenue Agency to show evidence of earning the required income;
• Extending the time that the sponsor is financially responsible for the relative from 10 years to 20 years. This means the sponsor will have to repay any social assistance benefits (such as welfare) that are paid to the sponsored relative for a period of 20 years.
• The Super Visa is now a permanent program. It allows for relatives to visit using a 10-year multiple-entry visa. Visa holders can remain in Canada up to two years at a time if they fulfill requirements such as purchasing private health insurance for visa holder.
Reasons for the changes
In an interview with The Philippine Reporter, Kenney talked about the reasons for the changes.
“We need to make sure that the sponsoring relatives really do have the capacity to take care of their parents,” he said, “that they don’t become a burden to taxpayers, they don’t go on to welfare, they don’t go on to low income housing. And we have to make sure that the sponsoring family is making a sufficient income, that they’re contributing some taxes into our system to offset at least some of the health care costs that their parents represent.”
According to Kenney, 30 percent of immigrant seniors receive social assistance (such Ontario Works or welfare) after their tenth year in Canada. He has received reports from municipalities of increasing numbers of immigrant seniors going into public housing.
The government is also concerned about the amount of money it costs to pay for the health care of immigrant seniors. Healthcare for a 65-year-old who lives for 20 years will cost the government a total of approximately $200,000 on average.
Change to the age of dependents
There were also changes to who qualifies to be sponsored as a dependent, such as a child of the sponsor living in Canada, or a dependent of a parent or grandparent being sponsored to immigrate.
• The maximum age of dependents sponsored for immigration to Canada in all categories of immigration will decrease from 22-years-old to 18-years-old.
• Dependents who are currently in school and are over 18-years-old will no longer qualify for sponsorship to Canada.
CIC says on their website that they reduced the age for dependents because younger dependents have a better chance of doing well in Canada. They “receive a Canadian education and later obtain Canadian work experience, which is better recognized by Canadian employers.” They also adjust better to their new culture and language.
Past exceptions for dependents who are in school full-time will be discontinued as of January 2, 2014. CIC says the students’ status was too time consuming for the visa offices to verify.
Dependents who are older than 18 will have to qualify in another immigration stream such as the Federal Skilled Worker category after January 2014.
Exceptions for current applicants and Live-in Caregivers
There are exceptions to the changes in the definition of dependents. Anyone whose application is already submitted will go by the existing rules for dependents. That is, people who have already submitted an application will be allowed to sponsor dependents who are 22-years-old and younger, or are full-time students.
Anyone who is currently in the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), regardless if they have or have not processed their permanent resident application, will be allowed to use the existing definition of a dependent. Some refugees will also be able to use the existing definition of a dependent.
The road to permanent residency for caregivers involves many steps, including two years of full-time work. Many caregivers, the majority of which are Filipinas, come to Canada so that they can eventually sponsor the children and husband they left behind in the Philippines.
“Given the processing specificity for these groups of applicants, the existing definition of dependent child would continue to apply,” the CIC said on their website.
Dealing with the backlog
Kenney said in an interview that the new regulations will also help deal with the huge backlog and long wait times. “The overall goal is to cut the huge backlog in the parents program and the ridiculous wait times. We have a backlog of 160,000 people and with eight year wait times [as of 2011]. It was growing to a backlog of 250,000 people with 16 year wait times in 2015, much like the US program for parental sponsorship with 25 year wait times.”
“So if we continue to do the same thing, we were on track to a completely dysfunctional program where people would be literally dying before they could come to Canada,” he said.
CIC receives about 40,000 sponsorship applications a year for parents and grandparents and in the past few decades, Canada has admitted about 17,000 applications a year on average according to Kenney at the press conference. He says it is this disparity that causes the backlog.
“Some people say to me, ‘Minister, why don’t you just add more public servants to process these applications more quickly?’ That misses the point, which is Canada chooses, of course, to limit the number of immigrants each year,” Kenney said in his speech.
Kenney said in his speech that in 2012 and 2013, which is the period when the CIC stopped receiving new applications, the government will have admitted 50,000 parent and grandparent sponsorships. By 2015, Kenney anticipates the backlog will be reduced to about 43,000 with wait times being about one to two years.
The changes Kenney announced were made after consultation with stakeholders and the public, which included an online questionnaire and in-person meetings by the Minister.
“Quite frankly, if I was just making the decision based on public opinion … we would not have any sponsorship of parents and grandparents,” Kenney said in his speech. This “is the case effectively in many other countries with very limited programs,” he continued.
However, others say that the changes go too far.
NDP MP José Nunez-Melo started a petition that says “the Conservative government’s radical overhaul of Canada’s immigration system is turning Canada into a less welcoming country … these changes weaken our communities by limiting possibilities for families to reunite.”
Liberal Immigration Critic Justin Trudeau on his website, “The government has not been up front with new Canadians … They enticed skilled workers to come to Canada with a promise their parents and grandparents will soon be able to follow. They’ve cut funding for the settlement services that provide supports, and now they’re cutting the family support system along with it.” The Liberals say that the Harper government cut overall settlement and integration funding across Canada by almost 10 percent.
“There’s been some really drastic changes to the family reunification in Canada,” said Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, John Shields. “Family reunification has really been a bedrock of Canadian immigration for many years and it’s actually proven itself to be quite effective and beneficial to the country. And also demonstrates an element of the human side. Families do want to be united over time; basically this is an attempt to thwart that. It’s very much biased towards immigrants that have more resources and more money,” he said.
“Our immigrant population is paying taxes just like the rest of us. They deserve reunification in the family,” Shields said.
The Secretary General of the immigrant rights group Migrante Canada, Perry Sorio, said in an interview that the new regulations will, in effect, shut down the parent and grandparent immigration stream for many Filipinos.
“Making [the minimum necessary income] higher will make it inaccessible for a lot of people to benefit from this kind of sponsorship because it will not be reachable. So they might as well say that they’re closing the program,” Sorio said.
“They’re just making it impossible for people to avail of this program,” he said.