Avvy Go: Canada’s immigration rules kept families apart even before COVID-19. Now, as immigrants suffer from the pandemic, family reunification seems impossible

Given that the underpinning of immigration policy is to address an aging demographic, calling for an increase in parents and grandparents beyond the 30,000 is unrealistic. In many ways, the overall increased levels provided the government with flexibility for this increase.

With respect to spousal sponsorship, Go cites a 2015 memo that was rightly condemned as being overly simplistic and biased in its guidelines to visa officers and is no longer being used, I believe.

But like in other areas, spousal sponsorship fraud exists and the government has an obligation to counter it. The question is more in the how, and it is ducking that hard question by only suggesting “anti-oppression” and “anti-racism” training. Perhaps the authors could develop an alternative draft manual or operational guidance bulletin as a more concrete approach to the issue:

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us reassess our priorities. It has made us realize that the most important thing in our lives is not money or wealth, but family and health.

Story after story of Canadians losing their loved ones to the deadly virus are gut-wrenching. 

Equally devastating are reports of individuals being barred from visiting their parents or grandparents languishing in nursing homes overrun with COVID-19 cases, and essential workers in the health care being kept apart from their family to keep them safe. 

But for some Canadians, these people are the “lucky ones” — that they’re at last able to see their loved ones through a window, or live in the same area to drop off goods and gifts. But when your parents and spouses live on a different continent, it’s heartbreaking and isolating with the pandemic, and that isn’t even the reason why families and loved ones are being kept apart.

Even before COVID-19, Canada’s immigration policy had already made family reunification an impossible dream for many. The stringent income requirements imposed on sponsors of parents and grandparents (PGP,) and the mean-spirited quota system for this class of immigrants, have disqualified many low income Canadians from becoming sponsors. While the Liberals have relaxed the income rule and promised to increase the quota to 30,000 people in 2021, these measures are insufficient to meet the needs of tens of thousands of Canadians, whose ties with their parents are strengthened not only by love, but by culture and a strong sense of filial piety — to honour and respect their elders.

It should not come as a surprise that the top two source countries of PGP immigrants are India and China, which have both embraced the notion of extended family as a norm. However, given the racialization of poverty in Canada, Canadians of South Asian and Chinese descent are also among those least likely to meet the tough income rule to render them eligible sponsors.

These two communities, along with other racialized communities, have also been hardest hit by the pandemic-triggered economic downturn. With the rising unemployment rates among these communities, it may take years before they could earn enough income to make themselves eligible sponsors again.

While income eligibility is no bar to spousal sponsorship, Chinese and South Asian Canadians who want to bring their spouse to Canada often have their application denied due to systemic bias and racism within the immigration system.

Under the pretext of stopping “fake marriages,” Immigration Canada routinely rejects spousal sponsorship applications, particularly from countries like China, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. According to an internal IRCC documentrecently released by the Star, IRCC sees visa officers as “first line of defence” against marriage of convenience, rather than as civil servants whose job is to assess all applications fairly and objectively. 

The internal document is also filled with culturally and racially biased notions of what a genuine marriage should look like, and what evidence must be presented to support such applications. For instance, IRCC appears to rely on a three-page training which warns officers about sham marriages based on “photos of couples who are not kissing on the lips during the ceremony; university-educated Chinese nationals who marry non-Chinese; a small wedding reception; a Canadian sponsor who is relatively uneducated, with a low-paying job or on welfare.”

Using these criteria, none of the clients served by our two legal clinics would ever qualify. On reflection, our own long-term spousal relationships could easily have been considered “fake marriages.” Whoever came up with these preposterous indicia are probably white, belong to middle or upper-middle class, and know nothing about any other culture but their own.

Instead of relying on any “manual,” immigration officers should receive anti-oppression and anti-racism training to ensure all their decisions are biased free, so that all Canadians, regardless of their race and income, would have an equal chance to family reunification. Let’s hope the COVID-19 is not the only virus that will disappear after the pandemic. 

Let’s get rid of the virus of racism once and for all.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/01/14/canadas-immigration-rules-kept-families-apart-even-before-covid-19-now-as-immigrants-suffer-from-the-pandemic-family-reunification-seems-impossible.html

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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