Are parents third-class citizens in Canada?

Graphic by Mindy Chapman

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.

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