Freeze lifted on family reunifications

New rules restrict applications to 5,000 a year, tighten support

A two-year freeze on the popular parent and grandparent immigration stream officially lifted Thursday as officials braced for an expected onslaught of applications, of which only the first 5,000 completed forms would be processed.
Temporarily shelved in an effort to deal with a backlog that had topped 165,000 applications with waiting times as long as eight years, the program relaunched along with tough new criteria to mixed reviews.
While many welcomed the return despite the limited number of available spots - the government has typically received about 40,000 parent and grandparent applications each year - concerns remain about the fairness of the scheme and the political motivation behind it.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said he expected lawyers were scrambling to make sure new application forms released New Year's Eve were filled in and delivered to Citizen and Immigration Canada as soon as possible.
"As we speak, people are madly filling in applications and madly filing applications," he said. "I will predict that in less than two weeks, this quota will be full."
Suleman said changes that have come into effect in 2014 are part of a major overhaul of the country's immigration laws. Without any discussion in the House of Commons, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is changing the immigration system from one that allows people to apply whenever they want to a quota system that establishes more restrictions, he said.
"If we leave it open ended, we develop backlogs," Suleman said. "If you do quotas, people are scrambling and not happy. " Toronto-based immigration lawyer Sergio Karas said the Conservative government's motivation is political.
"Basically the government is throwing a bone to some communities in order to appease them," he said. "But this is a bad program in terms of the economic interest of Canada."
Karas argues the program that allows immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparents to come to Canada should be shelved indefinitely. Parents and grandparents, he said, are older and less employable, which means they're less likely to pay taxes and contribute to the economy and more likely to put additional pressure on
already strained provincial health systems.
Noting the Conservatives have worked hard to court immigrant voters, Karas suggested the decision to freeze family reunification didn't sit well with many, particularly those in the Indian and Chinese communities. Reopening the program a year-and-a-half ahead of the next federal election, he said, is certainly "politically expedient."
Queen's University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken argues demand will far outstrip the cap "when you consider the overall number of permanent residents being landed in Canada every year" - about 250,000 - and that many would-be sponsors will inevitably end up "gravely disappointed."
She rejected the argument that parents and grandparents don't contribute to the economy, noting many provide child care, thus allowing parents to enter the workforce, and suggested they are not more likely to overburden the health system, since those who would are unlikely to meet standard admissibility requirements anyway.
"Anybody who looks at the actual terms and conditions of the new reopened program will be able to see quite easily that it's a program that will benefit the most economically advantaged of Canadian newcomers," she said, noting the plan could backfire.
"One of the reasons people choose Canada despite its bad weather ... is that we offer people family reunification .... We need to understand that Canada is competing in a global marketplace for the best and brightest immigrants and family reunification is one of the carrots that we can offer."
Under the new criteria introduced last spring, sponsors will have to demonstrate income levels that are 30 per cent higher than the previous norm and promise to look after the financial needs of their loved ones for 20 years, instead of the previously-required 10 years.