Are parents third-class citizens in Canada?
If immigration minister Jason Kenney’s musings are to be enshrined in policy, it seems that parents (and grandparents) who wish to immigrate to Canada will soon become a third class of immigrants. This is a debate that goes to the heart of what means to live in Canada, our immigration policy, how we amend our laws, and how we process permanent resident visas.
For any other minister such a change could be political suicide but for Kenney, as the go to Minister of Curry-In-A-Hurry (he is also the Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism), this impending change will be framed by him and his ministry as a necessary policy response to growing backlogs. He is a powerful Minister in a majority government with a fractured opposition.
Understanding the Classes
At present, it is possible for a Canadian citizen or permanent resident child or grandchild to sponsor parents or grandparents to Canada, if they meet certain financial and other conditions. Appearing before a Parliamentary Committee he noted that there were 37,500 applications filed in 2010 for parents and grandparents to immigrate to Canada but the annual processing limit is 18,500.
At present there is already a 10 year wait time. To be fair, this is a problem that the Conservatives inherited from the previous Liberal government, in which the Ministry took too many applications, but processed only a few, thereby creating a backlog.
The first of the two priority classes are close family members such as spouses, common law partners, and same sex/conjugal partners. They can be processed within a period of 12-18 months from most countries in the “western world”. Visa processing from the Middle East and Asia might take a few more months.
The second priority class is the economic class which includes high net worth millionaires, skilled workers who are on a specific list and need 67 points on a detailed assessment grid to quality, immigrants chosen by various provincial nominee programs, and other specific workers.
By contrast, sponsoring parents and grandparents, depending on where they live in the world, represent a third class of immigrants and their applications can take between 66 and 100 months (5 to 10 years). If parents or grandparents are already in their 70’s when the process is initiated, many precious years can be lost waiting for the permanent visa.
Parents and Grandparents – A Gain or a Drain?
Over the past few years, the issue of how Canada treats parents and grandparents in prioritizing their immigration to Canada has become a litmus test of whether a Minister understands and embraces “family values” or whether the Minister has a different definition of family. Depending on how successfully the Minister can be boxed into being opposed to extended family immigration, the opposition then hammers away at the Minister for being uncaring and not understanding what immigrants want.
NDP MP Don Davies notes in a letter to the Minister dated October 14, 2011:
Since your government has come to power, CIC statistics show that while we have been accepting more economic class immigrants, there has been a sharp decline in every category in the family class. Total family class visas have decreased almost 15 per cent between 2006 and 2010. This, of course, is a source of much family anguish as spouses, children, parents and grandparents remain separated for far too long. We also note that family class immigrants are often the most successful immigrants since they have a social structure that aids with integration.
In the case of Jason Kenney, his detractors will have a hard time putting him into any framing of this issue other than the one he wants to make for himself. This is a Minister who knows his portfolio well and who has an ease about his work arising from large amounts of self-confidence. One might even say hubris.
The Minister has been paving the policy road for his impending announcement for some months. The magic formula he refers to is a mix of 25-28 per cent Parents and Grandparents, 33-36 per cent spouses and dependents, 22-26 per cent economic immigrants; and finally, 13-17 per cent protected persons and others.
There is, of course, no such magic formula. The formula represents a cautious mix of advice from the bureaucrats and policy wonks; all tempered with a hefty does of the political realities. In many ridings across this country, the Conservative party has worked hard to segment, divide and court the “ethnic vote”. For most ethnic communities, many consisting of first and second-generation immigrations, “family reunification” is the buzz term for “will I be able to sponsor my parents and grandparents”. During the course of the recent Federal election, all parties made all the right noises about families being sacred and central to the Canadian social fabric.
Now after the election, Minister Kenney will have to finesse his comments on the campaign trail with the further erosion of parents and grandparents on the immigration priority-processing list.
The Power of Ministerial Instructions
Will he be able to do so with little political fall out? In my opinion, he will. He has the power under the terms of what are know as the “Ministerial Instructions” authority to amend any program or process he deems, the first Minister to have such broad powers. When these new Ministerial Instruction powers were first proposed the Canadian Bar Association opposed on the basis that the then current process of seeking regulatory amendments in Parliament provided the necessary sufficient oversight of the changes. By concentrating power in the hands of a Minister of Immigration, such oversight has the chance to be lost.
More specifically, the CBA noted:
The CBA Section agrees that the current backlog of visa application and the need for labour in particular strategic occupations are urgent issues that rightly require the government’s attention and action. However, the measures in Bill C-50 are not necessary to address these problems. Bill C-50 establishes a system of ministerial instructions that places essentially legislative power in the hands of the Minister, to be exercised at her discretion, and without Parliamentary oversight or stakeholder input. It changes the system from one based on objective legislative and regulatory criteria for visas to one of discretion and private consultation. This was the very mischief that IRPA sought to remedy. Further, it purports to render the application of the ministerial instructions beyond even the review of the courts. For these reasons the CBA Section believes that the Bill risks damaging public confidence in the immigration system. It is inconsistent with Canadian values, including respect for the rule of law.
There is a good business case to be made to encourage more economic class immigrants who generally add to the economy with their labour and taxes. Parents and grandparents find it harder to integrate into the labour force when they arrive and their productivity outcomes fall below those of resident Canadians. Of course, there is an argument to be made that what parents and grandparents add to family life is immeasureable and creates for cohesive and healthy family units. On the one hand there are the hard economic numbers, on the other the intangible, but equally real benefits of having family support systems.
For years, as a Canadian immigration lawyer in Vancouver, I have advised clients to put their parents and grandparents into the line up, just in the event that such a reduction in quota were to take place. With such a tightening up of the quota for this class, it still makes sense to apply as early as possible and then explore ways for the parent or grandparent visiting Canada on a regular basis so as to be able to set up a vacation home in Canada while awaiting the long processing times.
Welcome to the new Canada. More changes to follow.