John Ivison: Canadian resident status shouldn’t be handed out like a game-show prize

While somewhat harsh, valid questioning of the approach but no government has been able to respond to the demand or take on the challenge of developing point-system type criteria given the difficulty in reaching a consensus. Moreover, with elections increasingly decided in new Canadian ridings (e.g., 905, lower mainland) hard to see the political advantages of making it more difficult for parents and grandparents, who often provide childcare to their children:

Welcome to the great Canadian lottery of life.

The Liberal government’s game of chance to select its new citizens opened on Tuesday, as the foreign parents and grandparents of immigrants bid online to join their families.

More accurately, prospective sponsors express their interest over the next three weeks, at the end of which 10,000 lucky winners will be chosen randomly and granted permanent resident status. Numbers are reduced this year because of COVID-19 and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has already said the number of arrivals will be increased to 30,000 next year to maintain the Liberals’ annual parent and grandparent target of 20,000.

Just about the only thing to commend it is that it is easy for the bureaucracy to administer.

Still, even this odd strategy may prove to be progress from last year’s first-come-first-served pandemonium, when submissions closed after 10 minutes — long before many people could access the website or fill in the form.

The problem is that the parent/grandparent program has always been massively oversubscribed. The first-come-first-served process was responsible for building up a backlog of 165,000 applications under the Conservatives. The Harper government froze applications in 2011 and increased intake targets for two years before returning to more traditional levels of admission and capping applications at 5,000.

The Liberals saw an opportunity in that policy and in the 2015 election, promised to double applications to 10,000 a year.

“Family reunification is important for family success and the Conservatives have shut the door,” Navdeep Bains, then the Liberal candidate in Mississauga Malton told me during the 2015 campaign.

In reality, little changed — the average annual number of P&GP admissions under a decade of Conservative rule was 18,688; under the Liberals over the past four years, the average has been 19,393.

But it handed Justin Trudeau an important message to sell in immigrant-heavy ridings in the suburbs of the country’s biggest cities. The lesson for serious contenders for government in Ottawa ever since has been: don’t mess around with family reunification.

Yet, the parent and grandparent admission stream is long overdue an overhaul. The government’s own analysis shows parents and grandparents of immigrants tend to be at the bottom of the income ladder after 10 years in Canada; they are less likely to become active participants in the labour force, less likely to integrate and more likely to have higher social costs.

There is strong support among Canadians for spouses, partners and dependent children to be reunited with the first arrival but studies suggest there are more doubts about the parent and grandparent stream.

That apprehension is likely to be heightened during the pandemic, as 10,000 potentially vulnerable, elderly residents prepare to arrive.

Sponsors are required to show they have enough income to support all the people they will be financially responsible for but that obviously does not include medical costs. As one 2015 study of health care costs in the last year of life in Ontario indicated, they may top $50,000 per person.

You don’t have to be a Trumpian opponent of chain migration to think there is a fairness issue at play here — that people who have not contributed to Canadian society should not automatically have access to this country’s social programs, just as their demand for those services is about to peak.

This is not an abstract consideration for those of us with elderly mothers, living overseas on their own. It would be nice for her to spend her golden years with her grandchildren. But it would be wrong.

A government interested in fairness would tighten the rules around the parent and grandparent program, and instead promote a vehicle that already exists — the super-visa that allows citizens and permanent residents to bring their loved ones to Canada for up to two years at a time, offering multiple entries for up to 10 years. Applicants have to show financial support, undergo a medical exam and, crucially, obtain medical insurance from a Canadian insurer.

The government could also create a new economic class of parent and grandparent — those with more work experience and ability to join the labour force could be fast-tracked to reduce the number of applicants.

Both measures would help shore up the integrity of a program that is in danger of descending to the level of a television game show, where the prize of Canadian residency is sandwiched between a luxury holiday and a speedboat.

Source: John Ivison: Canadian resident status shouldn’t be handed out like a game-show prize

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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