‘Anything would be better:’ Critics warn Ottawa’s family-reunification lottery is flawed, open to manipulation – The Globe and Mail

Almost comical if it were not for the impact on people. And it should not be surprising, given our immigration system’s emphasis on high skilled economic immigrants, that some of them should have the mathematical and technical smarts to point out the lack of randomness:

Canada’s family-reunification program is using a common spreadsheet application to select candidates as part of a process critics say is flawed and open to manipulation.

As the first step in the program, the federal government uses Microsoft Excel to randomly pick applications in its lottery, The Globe and Mail has learned. Experts have warned that using Excel to conduct such a sensitive lottery could be problematic, and that the lottery process itself may make the system less fair over all.

The Parents and Grandparents Program allows Canadians to sponsor family members for permanent-resident status. The Liberals introduced a lottery in 2017 in an effort to make the system fairer – previously, applications were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The program receives roughly 100,000 applications each year and selects 10,000.

Details on the lottery, obtained through an Access to Information request shared with The Globe, show a procedure carried out in just a few steps: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses Excel to assign each application a random number, then takes the first 10,000 numbers.

Excel’s method for generating random numbers is “very bad,” according to Université de Montréal computer-science professor Pierre L’Ecuyer, an expert in random-number generation. “It’s a very old generator, and it’s really not state-of-the-art.” Prof. L’Ecuyer’s research has shown that Excel’s random-number generator doesn’t pass certain statistical tests, meaning it’s less random than it appears. Under the current system, “it may be that not everybody has exactly the same chance,” Prof. L’Ecuyer said.

Excel uses pseudo-random number generators, a class of algorithms that rely on formulas to generate numbers. These generators have a key flaw – they rely on a “seed” number to kick off the mathematical process. In the case of Excel, this seed is generated automatically by the application. “If you know one number at one step,” Prof. L’Ecuyer explained, “you can compute all the numbers that will follow.”

This means the process could be exploited by someone with the right skills. It’s happened before: In 1994, IT consultant Daniel Corriveau discovered a pattern in a keno game – which uses a random numbering system – at the Casino de Montréal and won $620,000 in a single evening. An investigation later determined the game was using the same seed number at the start of each day.

Using more robust generators, such as the ones used for cryptography, may not cost the government much, either. “Cryptographic generators are free. They are on the internet,” Prof. L’Ecuyer said. “Just pick one, you need to know about it and that’s all. It’s not complicated.

“Anything would be better.”

For its part, IRCC is satisfied with its use of Excel, spokeswoman Shannon Ker said in an e-mailed statement. “We stand by this randomized selection process as a sufficient means of equal opportunity for all who look to express an interest in sponsoring their parents and grandparents.”

Others would rather see the lottery scrapped altogether. For the past two years, Igor Wolford, a data-analytics manager at Loblaws, has applied to sponsor his parents in Russia. He hasn’t made it past the lottery stage, and recently started a website to petition the federal government to abandon the system.

Mr. Wolford has corresponded with members of Parliament about his concerns. “I actually prepared an Excel sheet showing how random processes work,” Mr. Wolford said. “After 10 years of selection, only half of people who were eligible 10 years ago would be selected.”

Number of people from an original pool of 95,000 applicants who haven‘t made it past the lottery stage
Assuming 20,000 new applicants each year and 10,000 applicants selected each year

https://s3.amazonaws.com/chartprod/cZByyEpAhKuPixSBk/thumbnail.png 

Although the lottery selects roughly one in 10 applications, the number of people who pass additional vetting and ultimately make it into the program is far lower.

“Last year, they selected the original 10,000 people [during the lottery], but only 6,000 people actually [made it into the program],” Mr. Wolford said. This is partly be cause the lottery is the first step in the process, meaning anyone can fill out the form.

IRCC responded to these complaints in 2018 by including a self-assessment screening for applicants. However, the questions are still optional, as one Twitter user noted.

When told the lottery was conducted in Excel, Mr. Wolford wasn’t surprised. “That’s a very sad process. It’s easily manipulatable,” he warned. According to IRCC, the process is double-blind, and to date there is no indication the system has been manipulated.

“The process has become unpredictable,” Mr. Wolford said. “Before, you knew that it would take seven years from start to finish, and you could plan your life. Right now, you don’t know if it will happen this year, in five years, in 15 years.”

“Because it’s a lottery, you might never be selected.”

via ‘Anything would be better:’ Critics warn Ottawa’s family-reunification lottery is flawed, open to manipulation – The Globe and Mail

Parental sponsorship rules are antifeminist

Well I suppose. But assuming one needs to have criteria and limits to parental sponsorship in terms of overall levels of immigration (and of course assuming one supports managed immigration and levels), what alternative criteria should one use?

2018 levels plan has target of 6.5 percent for parents and grandparents:

Can you imagine being required to show proof of income of $39,000 a year for three years just to be able to have your parents close by? That’s about how much new Canadians must show to be reunited with parents through Canada’s parental sponsorship program. And only a few thousand Canadians and permanent residents are allowed, each year, to make the application to bring parents and grandparents here. As if that weren’t tough enough, the processing time is so long and the process can be so cumbersome that aging parents might die before the application is processed.

That’s what happened to the Jaffers, a family forcibly displaced from Kenya when they fled persecution of ethnic South Asians, as the Toronto Star’s Nicholas Keung reported in early March. When Shabbir Jaffer applied to sponsor his mother to come to Canada from the UK in 2007, after the death of his father, he did not know that the application would take 11 years instead of the promised 36 months. He did not know that she would be denied on the basis of the possible costs of a medical procedure that, as it turned out, she did not require. He did not know that the family would incur additional costs because of the appeal process, nor that his mother would pass away in January 2018 from pneumonia with the application stuck in processing, so that all these efforts came to naught.

Here’s the problem: simply put, Canada views parents as a burden. Canada’s parental sponsorship system is set up so that we let as few parents into this country as possible. The requirements imposed on a Canadian citizen or permanent resident submitting the application are onerous. The applicant must undertake to provide their parents with financial support for 20 years, show three years’ worth of income of at least $39,000 per annum and hope that they literally win the lottery: applicants first submit an expression of interest, and then are randomly selected (10,000 spots are available in 2018) to be allowed to apply.

Moreover, medical inadmissibility laws remain on the books; they prevent the granting of permanent residence to someone who may cause “excessive demand” on Canada’s health care system. For most aging parents, this is effectively a bar to admission that can be overcome only through an additional costly application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. That’s why the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has said that medical inadmissibility rules are not aligned with “our country’s values of inclusion of persons with disabilities in Canadian society.” With changes promised by April 2018, Canadians and permanent residents wait for meaningful reform to the discriminatory requirement, eager to be reunited with their families.

Critics argue that liberalizing parental sponsorship will cost taxpayers money, burdening the system with the disproportionate health care needs of parents and grandparents. We know that the cost savings from medical inadmissibility rules are negligible: 0.1 percent of all provincial and territorial health spending. Moreover, most sponsored parents and grandparents arrive in Canada with assets, many find employment upon arrival, and new Canadians are, as a result, able to keep their savings in Canada rather than sending them home as remittances.

The existing program also discriminates against many new Canadians, because a significant proportion are low- and middle-income families unable to afford the high costs associated with sponsorship. Nor can they afford the high-priced “super visa,” which also requires private medical insurance and is often difficult to obtain; what’s more, this channel is currently plagued by a large processing backlog. Further, family separation hurts not just new Canadians but also the economy. It is the cause of anxiety and emotional distress that can lead to more sick days and less productivity.

But these cost arguments do not account for the emotional and child care support that parents provide. By providing mental and emotional support to their children, parents help set new Canadians up for success. Moreover, without affordable child care, many newcomer parents, particularly single mothers, are shut out of the workforce. By making it easier to sponsor parents, the government can uplift an entire cohort of workers otherwise unable to work.

It should be clear, particularly to this government, that existing parental sponsorship rules are decidedly antifeminist. They keep families apart, cost thousands of dollars to newcomers and hold single parents, particularly women, back from success. If the government is serious about governing through a feminist lens, it could start by overhauling this system that creates two tiers of citizens: one of Canadians who have their families here by accident of birth, and one of new Canadians who must pay thousands in fees, wait many years and win a lottery to be reunited with theirs.

Canadians should have the right to be with their children, and children with their parents. The Jaffers told their story in the hope that nobody else will suffer the heartache forced upon them by the Canadian government. As we reflect after International Women’s Day on building a country that is truly feminist, let’s act by reuniting parents with their children.

via Parental sponsorship rules are antifeminist

Parent sponsorship program still deeply flawed despite changes, immigration lawyers warn

No perfect system:

The federal government has made changes to a problem-plagued lottery program for those wishing to bring their parents or grandparents to Canada, but immigration lawyers warn the updated system is still deeply flawed.

The 2018 sponsorship program for parents and grandparents opened Tuesday. This year, those interested will have to provide more information about who they want to sponsor and whether they meet the program’s income requirements before their names are entered in the lottery. The change is an attempt to winnow out those who aren’t eligible to apply, after thousands of people selected last year failed to follow through with their applications.

“Helping more people reunite with their parents and grandparents in Canada demonstrates the government’s commitment to keeping families together, leading to successful integration and stronger ties to Canada,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in a statement from Dec. 22, when the 2018 program was announced.

But Elizabeth Wozniak, a Halifax-based immigration lawyer, said the lottery system is “just a bit of a crapshoot.” She believes ineligible applicants will still submit the initial paperwork, bogging down the system and making it harder for those who do meet the criteria to bring their loved ones to Canada.

“Anyone can throw their name in once again, same as last year,” she said. “It’s just going to be more of the same.”

In years past, the sponsorship program for parents and grandparents was first-come, first-served. People submitted full applications during the earliest days of the new year, and the first 5,000 would be processed. In 2016, that number was doubled to 10,000.

But last year, the government decided to change the rules and use a lottery system instead. Those interested had to submit only basic information using an online form between January and February, after which 10,000 names were randomly selected to submit complete applications.

The change was intended to make the system fairer for those living further afield and for those who couldn’t afford a lawyer to help them prepare the full application on time.

Last year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada received 95,000 online forms, and randomly chose 10,000 of them. But according to information presented by Hussen in the House of Commons in December, the department only ended up receiving 6,020 applications.

Wozniak said the program’s income requirements are the biggest obstacle for would-be applicants. The government requires that sponsors prove they meet income thresholds for the previous three years, which vary depending on the size of their family.

But the 2017 online form didn’t ask for any information about income, which meant ineligible people could be selected from the lottery and only then realize they couldn’t actually apply.

This year, the new online form asks whether would-be applicants meet the income thresholds — but it doesn’t require proof. Wozniak said that’s not good enough. “Ineligible people can still be selected and they won’t be vetted out,” she said.

Last year, the immigration department eventually sent out a second round of invitations to make up the rest of the 10,000 spots. The applications were due in December. The government has yet to say whether it reached its target.

Wozniak said she had about 25 clients who were in the pool last year, and none were selected in either draw. “It was a real letdown for people who were eligible,” she said.

Toronto-based immigration lawyer Matthew Jeffery said the new online form is a “definite improvement” over last year, but cautioned that it will still be difficult to weed out ineligible applicants.

“At the end of the day, I consider the process arbitrary and unnecessary,” he said. “It boils down to luck. So someone who’s qualified to sponsor their parents and has been for a long time, if they’re unlucky, they may never be able to sponsor their parents.”

He believes the 10,000-person limit should be scrapped altogether, and said he thinks the income threshold and other requirements are enough to limit the number of applicants.

Wozniak said the old first-come, first-served system was working fine.

“It wasn’t great, it wasn’t perfect… but we had no issues getting eligible people into processing,” she said. “It’s much more certain and it was faster, easier, more predictable.”

As for her 25 clients from last year, she said, their parents and grandparents would be permanent residents by now under the old system: “No doubt.”

Source: Parent sponsorship program still deeply flawed despite changes, immigration lawyers warn

Subsequent article with some of the comments during consultations on the changes: ‘Cruel’ immigration lottery system relaunched after angry backlash – Kathleen Harris

Feds should switch to points system for parent, grandparent visas: Ghazy Mujahid

Interesting alternative.

But any new system would also likely result in criticism and questioning the relative weighting of the factors being accorded points, as well as likely longer processing times:

Equally important, the lottery system fails to meet the family-reunification goals to which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded during the last election campaign: “Making it easier for families to be together here in Canada makes more than just economic sense. When Canadians have added supports like family involvement in child care, it helps productivity and drives economic growth and it brings in skilled workers we need so badly.”

These objectives can’t be met through an open lottery system. They must take into account differences in relevant capabilities of the sponsored family members and the needs of their sponsors.

For instance, grandparents who have no grandchildren needing child care would not have the same impact on the Canadian economy as those who can contribute to child care of grandchildren that may enable the non-working parent to re-enter the labour force. Giving them an equal chance of being selected is neither fair for the family nor is it in the best interests of Canada.

To fix this drawback, Canada could base the parents and grandparents selection on a points system similar to the one the country pioneered in the mid-1960s for selecting applicants eligible for applying as economic migrants.

Those wishing to apply as economic migrants are given points according to characteristics such as education, age, and language proficiency. Those planning to apply are advised not to if their total score falls below a certain minimum.

Similarly, for the parent/grandparent program, prospective applicants can be given points for relevant individual and family circumstances. In March, the Immigration Committee’s report on family reunification documented the positive and negative impacts of PGP immigration. This assessment could serve as the basis for a points system.

Here are some main characteristics of the sponsored to be taken into account, and the rationale for including them:

  • Age (as a general indicator of active status);
    Proportion of offspring in Canada (will entry really contribute to family reunification?);
  • Number of grandchildren under six years old in Canada (possibilities of contributing to child care);
  • Proficiency in official language (extent of risk of isolation in Canada);
  • Assets and pension transferable to Canada (likelihood of financial independence).

The government should consider setting up a multi-disciplinary expert panel to devise a comprehensive points system. A minimum score should be specified and prospective applicants advised not to apply if their score falls below it. This would reduce the application load.

The highest scoring 10,000 above the specified minimum should then be invited to submit completed applications.

An added advantage would be that if in any year some applicants are not approved for entry, the next highest scorers could be immediately invited to submit applications to fill the gap. This would avoid the long process of those in the waiting list being put through another round of lottery, as was done this year.

via Feds should switch to points system for parent, grandparent visas – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

‘Profoundly unfair:’ Frustration mounts over immigration lottery to reunite families

No matter which system, there will always be more demand for family reunification that can be accommodated easily within the overall levels of immigration.

And kind of funny to hear Conservative critic Michelle Rempel arguing the government to use a “sober, management lens.” After all, when in power, the Conservative government reduced the levels for parents and grandparents as part of the relative shift to more economic class immigrants, thus creating a backlog even with the introduction of longer visitor visas to address the demand.

A valid policy choice, although one that was not necessarily popular with affected communities:

Hundreds of Canadians frustrated by the government’s shift to a lottery system to sponsor their parents and grandparents as immigrants to Canada are hoping to prompt change through an electronic petition.

Petition e-739, which closes for signatures this afternoon, calls on the Liberal government to take a phased-in approach and give priority to qualified sponsors who have made repeated applications.

This year the government moved from a first-come, first-served process to one where potential applicants were randomly selected by draw. The change was announced in December 2016 by then immigration minister John McCallum, just weeks before the deadline under the old system.

Brad Fach, a Cambridge, Ont., software engineer who launched the petition, was shocked to learn of the sudden change after he and his wife spent much time and money preparing the required forms and documentation to apply for her mother and father to emigrate from Belgium. He said the government has reduced a sensitive, emotional process to an undignified, “botched” system.

“I believe it mocks a very serious issue of family reunification, and is the wrong way to go,” he told CBC News.

Last week, the government announced that 95,000 people had filed an online form to win one of 10,000 spots to apply for sponsorship under the new lottery system. That put the chances at roughly one in 10.

Under the previous system, the first 10,000 completed applications turned in to the immigration processing office when it opened in January were accepted. The switch to a lottery system aimed to make it more fair and transparent, according to the government, as the old process favoured those who were geographically close to the centre or had the financial means to pay for couriers or legal representatives to help get them to the front of the queue.

Fach rejects that rationale. To qualify as a sponsor for parents or grandparents, he said, you must be in strong financial shape.

“You need money regardless, so you already have an advantage over the rest of the population. To claim that this somehow levels the playing field is complete crap,” he said.

Give ‘ray of hope’

Fach believes the new system is flawed because the online form to enter the lottery required only basic information, not details to ensure applicants were qualified and met financial requirements to sponsor their parents or grandparents.

If the government remains committed to the lottery, Fach said, it should at least devise a system that accounts for waiting time to give people a “ray of hope” they will eventually be invited to apply as sponsors.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel likened the lottery to an “abdication of responsibility,” leaving the system to chance instead of making improvements in a systemic, purposeful way.

“It almost seems like we’re giving up. We’re giving up on process efficiencies, and it’s luck of the draw on whether you get into Canada or not,” she said.

Rempel said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen must look through a “sober, management lens” to improve processes that match up with new legislation and immigration priorities.

“That’s going to be a tall order, because they’ve changed this so much and they’ve got so many problems now,” she said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the parent and grandparent program is the only immigration category where the fate of applicants is up to the “luck of the draw.”

“I think that is fundamentally wrong,” she said.

Source: ‘Profoundly unfair:’ Frustration mounts over immigration lottery to reunite families – Politics – CBC News

NDP’s hidden immigration pledge a concern: Candice Malcolm

From SunMedia’s Candice Malcolm, an indication of a likely NDP immigration priority (pending publication of their full platform or a more formal citizenship and immigration policy announcement):

While their immigration policies are not displayed anywhere on their website, the NDP has begun privately touting their plans to boost the number of parents and grandparents sponsored to immigrate into Canada.

Just last week, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told a group of South Asians in Surrey that family reunification for grandparents would be a top priority for him as Prime Minister.

These types of promises rarely make the evening news, but you can certainly read about them in ethnic media and community newspapers.

Meanwhile, the NDP have repeatedly opposed the Conservative governments requirement that sponsors must purchase private health insurance before bringing their parents and grandparents into Canada. The Tories paused new applications for parents and grandparents sponsorship in order to deal with a backlog of applications, but also created the “super visa” – a 10-year multiple entry visa to allow seniors to visit Canada but not drain our country’s social services.

Thomas Mulcair’s vision – the one he’s laid out when visiting ethnic communities but doesn’t promote elsewhere – is to bring more elderly immigrants into Canada to enjoy the benefits received by Canadian seniors.

No doubt, seniors have it good in Canada. And for good reason. Most have worked incredibly hard to build a life for themselves and their families. They can only expect to receive the retirement benefits they’ve been paying into their whole lives.

But is it fair for a person to come to Canada, having never worked or paid taxes in our country, to receive the same benefits as those who’ve been working and paying into the system for most of their lives? Will our healthcare, pensions and social services survive under ever increasing demand?

Source: NDP’s hidden immigration pledge a concern | MALCOLM | Columnists | Opinion | Tor