Liberals promise to boost number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada

Targeting key voting groups and ridings:

In an election-style campaign stop in B.C., Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa is going to triple the number of parents and grandparents Canadians can sponsor to Canada in 2021 to 30,000.

Flanked by two Liberal colleagues in Surrey, where South Asians make up almost 60 per cent of the population, the Ontario MP made an in-person appearance at a community centre to praise the importance of family reunification, a big issue for newcomer communities.

Mendicino was quick to remind the audience how the Liberals have raised the annual quota of the parents and grandparents program — which allows Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their parents to the country — since it took over from the Conservative government in 2015, when the intake was capped at 5,000 a year.

“We are going to welcome under it to a record level of 30,000. Let’s not gloss over that fact, in 2015, when we took reigns over from the last Conservative government, they were at just 5,000. We are now at six times that rate under this program,” he said.

“And worse, they put a two-year pause on the parent and grandparent program when there wasn’t even a pandemic.

“So my message to the community is: continue to see the parent and grandparent program as an opportunity to reunite with your loved ones, to reunite with your families. This is a government that believes in you, believes in family reunification, and we will deliver on these commitments.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government scaled back its 2020 intake under the program to 10,000, half the level in the previous year. Now, with speculation that an election call is coming, the Liberals are promising to reverse that.

“Every immigrant that I go to, this is what I’m hearing, ‘Parents and grandparents play a major role in the success of new immigrants,’” said Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Surrey—Newton, citing other immigrant-friendly policies his party has rolled out since coming into power.

Through a random draw, the immigration department will select 30,000 applicants from a pool of potential sponsors who have already submitted “an expression of interest” to sponsor their parents and grandparents from abroad to be permanent residents in Canada.

Selected individuals will be invited to submit the full applications over two weeks, starting the week of Sept. 20, through a new digital platform created to “speed up and simplify” the process.

Citing the financial challenges faced by Canadians during the pandemic, Mendicino said sponsors’ income requirement for the 2020 tax year will be reduced. For instance, to bring in two people, a sponsor only needed to make $32,270 last year, down from $41,007 in 2019.

Incomes from regular employment insurance benefits and temporary COVID-19 benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will be counted toward their 2020 income.

Source: Liberals promise to boost number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada

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

Immigration committee study highlighting coronavirus impact on Canadian immigrants

Will be interesting to follow, particularly with respect to backlogs and processing (hopefully citizenship as well):

Separated family members, approved permanent residents unable to travel to Canada, and others are speaking up in the House of Commons as witnesses in a study on Canadian immigration.

Canada’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is conducting a study that will examine the impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian immigration system over the course of no more than eight sessions. Once the study is complete, the committee will report its findings to the House. The government then has 120 days to table a comprehensive response, however, they are not obligated to make any change in policy.

This particular study will look into the following issues relevant to the coronavirus impact on Canadian immigration:

  • Application backlogs and processing times for the different streams of family reunification and the barriers preventing the timely reunification of loved ones, such as denials of Temporary Resident Visas (TRVs) because of section 179(b) of the Immigration and Refugees Protection Regulations, and the ongoing closures of Visa Application Centres;
  • Examine the government’s decision to reintroduce a lottery system for the reunification of parents and grandparents; to compare it to previous iterations of application processes for this stream of family reunification, including a review of processing time and the criteria required for the successful sponsorship;
  • TRV processing delays faced by international students in securing TRVs, particularly in francophone Africa, authorization to travel to Canada by individuals with an expired confirmation of permanent residency, use of expired security, medical, and background checks for permanent immigration.

While House is in session, the committee is meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The next meetings are scheduled for November 16, and 18. Immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, has been invited to appear before the committee on November 25 and December 2.

How travel restrictions are affecting immigrants’ mental health

Among other early findings, the mental health of immigrants and their Canadian family members was examined in two scenarios relating to family separation.

Faces of Advocacy is a grassroots organization established to reunite families in Canada during COVID-19 travel restrictions. They say they are directly responsible for the exemption on extended family members, which was announced on October 2.

The group indexed the mental health of 1,200 members at the end of August. They used validated mental health rating scales for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress in civilians. The results are not diagnostic, but offer a glimpse into the mental health effects that have resulted from travel restrictions.

Despite 49 per cent of respondents reporting they have never been diagnosed with mental illness, just over 69 per cent would screen positive for symptoms of clinical depression. In addition, 16 per cent of respondents had a history of self harm or suicidal thoughts prior to the travel restrictions, but after family separation this nearly doubled to 30 per cent.

Spousal Sponsorship Advocates was established during the pandemic. It is as another grassroots movement, created to advocate for the accelerated reunification of families with ongoing spousal sponsorship applications in Canada.

Their survey took a mental health snapshot of 548 respondents, who had been separated from family for months or even years at a time. Of these, a reported:

  • 18 per cent have suicidal thoughts;
  • 22 per cent had to stop working;
  • 70 per cent have anxiety and 44 per cent generalized anxiety;
  • 35 per cent started having panic attacks;
  • 78 per cent have periods of severe depression;
  • 76 per cent have severe energy loss;
  • 57 per cent now have physical pain;
  • 52 per cent gained or lost weight abnormally;
  • 85 per cent have sleep problems.

The mental state of expired confirmation of permanent residence, or COPR, holders was also mentioned. These are people who were approved for permanent residence, but were not able to travel to Canada before their documents expired. As a result, many are unable to come to Canada without an authorization letter from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, and they have already upended their lives in their home country. The evidence includes a series of tweets that are intended to show the “pains, agony, [and] mental torture” experienced by COPR holders.

Source: Immigration committee study highlighting coronavirus impact on Canadian immigrants

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

How to improve Canada’s Parents and Grandparents immigration program in 2020

Interesting proposal by Kareem El-Assal for a Parents and Grandparents Human Capital Pilot:

January has typically marked the opening of the window for immigrants to express their interest in sponsoring family under Canada’s Parents and Grandparents Program, or PGP.

However, given the challenges Canada has had managing the PGP and the recent federal election in October, it remains unknown as to when the PGP intake window will open in 2020 and what the application process will look like.

This provides an opportunity to think of innovative solutions that could help improve the PGP. For instance, the federal government might consider launching a new Parents and Grandparents Human Capital Pilot.

PGP costs and benefits

Canada is keeping its PGP intake target stable at about 21,000 people under its 2019-2021 Immigration Levels Plan.

The PGP accounts for only six per cent of all newcomers to Canada because its economic benefits are not as strong as Canada’s other social immigration streams.

It is more beneficial to Canada’s economy to welcome spouses and other dependents, as well as refugees, who tend to arrive at a younger age and will contribute more in working hours and taxes than the average parent and grandparent. The time these former groups spend working in Canada will help to subsidize the health care they will require later in life, whereas parents and grandparents arrive in Canada at ages when they need health care the most, even though they will have yet to contribute in taxes.

There is, however, an economic justification for welcoming parents and grandparents. They provide child care, which enables their families to save money and earn more income by working extra hours. They also help to supplement the household income by working in Canada themselves. This helps us understand why data from the 2016 Census show that immigrant families tend to have nearly identical homeownership rates (69 per cent) and household incomes as Canadian-born families (CAD 85,000 annually).

We must also take into consideration the PGP’s social benefit: strong families are the bedrock of Canadian society.

Frustration abounds

Given that some 100,000 people tried to access a request to sponsor form in January 2019, vying for just 21,000 PGP spots, pleasing everyone is an impossible task and the PGP process has inevitably become a source of widespread frustration.

The federal government has recognized the limitations of the different approaches that it has tried to process PGP applications. It previously operated a first-come, first-served model where it would review applications in the order in which they were received. By 2011, this had produced a backlog of about 165,000 PGP applications. Processing times were over five years which meant that unfortunately, some parents and grandparents passed away before their application could be reviewed.

To tackle the backlog, Canada announced in 2011 that it would temporarily freeze new PGP applications and increased its PGP intake target from about 15,000 annually to 25,000 people in 2012 and 2013, before reducing it to the current target.

In 2017, the federal government introduced a lottery system for the PGP. Interested sponsors had 30 days to submit an expression of interest and the government then randomly selected candidates and invited them to apply to sponsor family.

While this approach was innovative, it had several limitations. Applicants were uncertain if their family member would ever make it into Canada. There were also applicants who were not serious about sponsoring their parents or grandparents—some of them were randomly selected but they never went ahead and submitted an application, regrettably causing delays for the federal government and more genuine candidates.

The federal government returned to a first-come, first-served approach in January 2019. The government set a date and time when the PGP Interest to Sponsor form would be made available online and accepted the first 27,000 submissions. This approach again proved problematic as more than 100,000 people tried to access the form at the same time and the submission period lasted about 10 minutes before the quota was met. Many could not access the form and others that did could not complete it on time, leading to renewed criticism of the process.

Federal government should not be afraid to innovate

We can expect another revamped version of the PGP in 2020. Since the demand to sponsor will continue to exceed the number of available spots, managing the PGP to everyone’s satisfaction will never be possible. But recent lessons provide us with a roadmap of how the federal government can proceed prudently.

First, dropping the expression of interest approach in favour of a return to an application-based model would solve a key headache for the government. This move would require giving stakeholders advance notice of when the application window will open so they can prepare their documentation. When the window does open, the federal government needs to give sponsors a reasonable amount of time to submit an electronic or paper-based application. To avoid overburdening the system, the federal government can increase efforts to attract genuine candidates by requiring that they pay the sponsorship fee in full upfront.

Second, the federal government can adjust its immigration levels based on the number of applications it receives. This would require more flexibility to, say, welcome up to an additional 10,000 PGP in certain years to ensure a reasonable processing standard (e.g., within three years).

Third, it can continue to promote its Super Visa that enables parents and grandparents to visit Canada multiple times for a period of up to 10 years. The Super Visa has been criticized for requiring these individuals to obtain private health insurance, which may be unaffordable for some families, but it at least provides families with certainty that they will be able to reunite with their loved ones. Moreover, encouraging greater use of the Super Visa would take the pressure off the PGP.

Fourth, the federal government can explore other innovative approaches to managing the PGP. Despite the criticism of its efforts to better handle the PGP in recent years, a key reason why Canada’s immigration system is so successful is the federal government’s willingness to find new solutions to longstanding challenges, such as managing backlogs. The introduction of the Express Entry system in January 2015 is a case in point.

Parents and Grandparents Human Capital Pilot

One innovation for consideration is introducing a human capital-based approach to managing some PGP applications. The federal government could launch an Economic Class pilot whereby parents and grandparents who are younger in age and have higher levels of education, work experience, and English or French proficiency would get first preference. The pilot would complement the existing PGP Family Class stream and the Super Visa.

One of the reasons the pilot would be novel is that candidates under federal Express Entry-managed programs receive fewer points once they hit a certain age (a candidate gets no points for their age once they turn 45).

Under the Parents and Grandparents Human Capital Pilot, the federal government could welcome up to 2,750 principal applicants per year (the maximum number allowed under a pilot). This figure would likely be more in the neighbourhood of 3,500 parents and grandparents per year since a share of principal applicants would be accompanied by their spouses.

This idea may be unpopular since critics could argue the PGP exists to strengthen Canadian society, not its economy. But this pilot could at least expedite processing for individuals who meet its criteria and would reduce the number of applications submitted to the PGP, which would help to improve PGP processing times.

Moreover, it is an idea that would be easier to sell to the Canadian public. Previous federal government research has indicated the PGP has less public support than other immigration streams. This is likely due to the perception the PGP has little economic benefit and is a burden to the health care system.

However, by bringing in parents and grandparents who are younger and possess stronger human capital, the federal government could make the argument that such individuals are more likely to contribute to the labour market as workers and could help subsidize the health care they will eventually need in Canada.

The future of the PGP in 2020 remains uncertain. The only certainty is it will remain difficult for Canada to manage a program with some 100,000 people vying for just 21,000 spots.

Source: How to improve Canada’s Parents and Grandparents immigration program in 2020

Federal government could face new lawsuit over family reunification program

A challenge for any government given the demand and the quest for balance between the economic, family and refugee classes:

The federal government is facing an angry backlash and the prospect of more legal action by Canadians trying to bring their parents or grandparents into the country.

Outraged applicants are considering their next steps after learning the government made a secret settlement with more than 70 litigants and granted them coveted spots to apply to sponsor their family members.

CBC News reported on the lawsuit resolution this week, which included a confidentiality clause barring the parties from publicly disclosing details. Legal actions were launched in Toronto and Vancouver after the new online application process went live on Jan. 28 — a process that left tens of thousands of people frustrated and furious because they couldn’t access the form or fill it out fast enough.

Shishir Shivhare, who has been trying unsuccessfully to sponsor his parents in India for seven years, is one of those now considering legal action. He said this year’s application process came down to how fast someone could type.

He said he thought that process was unfair — but he called the government’s move to quietly settle with some applicants “outrageous.”

“What I felt personally was shock,” he told CBC News. “Happy … for those people, but I felt it’s unfair and it felt like a third world country, where things can be manipulated and deals can be reached on something which was a government process.

“In a way, they invalidated their own January process, because if they’re reaching a deal with someone that means they admitted there was a flaw to it.”

This year, the federal government offered 20,000 spots for sponsoring parents or grandparents, and confirmed that more than 100,000 had attempted to access an online form to express interest. The online form opened Jan. 28 at noon ET, and closed less than nine minutes later.

Erind Shkurti, who has been trying to sponsor his mother from Albania for three years, was among those who lost out. He’s also considering legal action — not to “undo” the spots the 70 or so litigants received from the settlement, but to challenge what he called “conflicting and contradictory messaging and rationale” from the government.

He has written to his local MP,  Liberal Omar Alghabra, expressing concern about the settlement — noting the irony in the fact that the changes to the application process were designed to ensure people weren’t disadvantaged because of their geographic location, or because they couldn’t afford courier fees.

Frustration over ‘secrecy’

“It seems to me that what our government has done with this settlement is just state that being able to pay a few hundred dollars for a lawsuit can actually get you a spot in the program,” he wrote. “This is very frustrating to hear, especially with all the intended secrecy and justification behind it.”

NDP MP and immigration critic Jenny Kwan said her office has been on the phone non-stop recently with people outraged by the settlement. She said the fact the government offered a “side deal” proves its system is inherently flawed and unfair.

“With this side deal, the minister is effectively telling Canadians that you have to take the Liberal government to court to be treated fairly,” she said. ” And it shouldn’t have come to this. All the families want to do is be reunited with their loved ones. They should have a process available to them that is fair, and people should not have to go through such pain and anguish.”

Kwan said some people bought new computers or upgraded their internet connections to take their best shot at filling out the online form. They’re now angry the government tried to keep its “fix” under wraps.

‘Inappropriate, troubling’

Kwan said the government should lift the cap on the spots for family reunification. She said it’s a myth that parents and grandparents are a drain on the economy, since many bring financial assets and the ability to help with child care.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the legal settlement is an admission the process was flawed and criticized the government for using entry to Canada as a legal bargaining chip.

“It’s not a prize to be given away. It’s not a settlement, and I find this very inappropriate and very troubling,” she said.

A government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said the government opted to settle the legal challenges because the number of applicants was relatively small, because they included plaintiffs with disabilities and because a court proceeding could have suspended the entire set of applications.

Plagued with problems

The parent and grandparent sponsorship program has been plagued with problems for years.

The Liberal government moved to a first-come, first-served online application system this year after scrapping a controversial lottery system for reuniting immigrant families. The lottery system was contentious, with critics claiming it essentially gambled with peoples’ lives.

The lottery process had replaced another first-in system which itself was unpopular because it led to a “mad rush” every January, with people lining up overnight at the doors of processing centres or paying placeholders to stand in line and deliver applications prepared by consultants or lawyers.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said the government is committed to family reunification and will continue to listen to a variety of stakeholders to ensure it moves forward with the program in “a thoughtful and responsive way.”

“Any specific comment on the litigation would be inappropriate at this time,” reads a statement from Hussen’s office.

Source: Federal government could face new lawsuit over family reunification program

Federal government quietly offered a settlement to halt lawsuits over immigration program

No government has managed to get this right, given that demand vastly exceeds the levels, which reflect a balance between economic (which also includes family members: spouses and children), family and refugee classes.

A version of the point system for family class applicants holds the potential for greater transparency but would be extremely difficult to develop given the explicit and implicit choices that it would make, which would invariably controversial:

The federal government made a secret settlement to quash two lawsuits that claimed its contentious online application process to reunite immigrant families was flawed and unfair, CBC News has learned.

To resolve the group litigation, the government awarded at least 70 coveted spots to applicants allowing them to sponsor their parents’ or grandparents’ immigration to Canada.

Legal actions were launched in Toronto and Vancouver after the widely criticized online application process went ahead on Jan. 28 — a process which left tens of thousands of people frustrated and furious because they couldn’t access the form or fill it out fast enough.

The process opened at noon and closed less than nine minutes later.

A flurry of angry complaints erupted. Some said the sprint to file applications worked against those who couldn’t fill them out quickly, such as people with disabilities or literacy issues, or those living in places with slow internet connections.

CBC News learned of the settlement through a legal source who was not directly involved in the lawsuits.

Lawyers who were involved in the settlement of the lawsuits, which included a non-disclosure agreement, declined to provide any details to CBC. There are no public court records on the settlement.

Immigration lawyer Mary Keyork said she was unaware of the legal settlement and called it “very unfair” to those who didn’t know about the lawsuits, or couldn’t afford to join them.

20,000 spots were available

“I think they’re going to feel very disappointed and I think they’re going to feel like they were cheated somehow,” she said.

“As much as people who have means are entitled to go and get a lawyer and start procedures and fight for their rights … when it happens personally to you, it’s very painful, especially when you have people who have been trying to bring their parents here for many, many years.”

This year, the federal government offered 20,000 spots for sponsoring parents or grandparents, and confirmed that more than 100,000 had attempted to access the online form to express interest.

A government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said the government opted to settle the legal challenges because the number of applicants was relatively small, because it included plaintiffs with disabilities and because a court proceeding could have suspended the entire set of applications.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman — who said he also was unaware of the settlement — said the online application process was extremely problematic and opened up multiple grounds for legal challenges.

“Obviously, what the government’s hope is … that by settling it quickly and by keeping the matter secret, other people won’t launch challenges as well,” he said. “So they’re trying to keep a cap on the number of people who will benefit from the legal challenge.”

He said he expects that once people learn about the settlement, they’ll seek similar concessions from Ottawa.

“When it’s made public, it’s basically an invitation to everybody else who didn’t get a spot to commence an action and demand the same equal treatment,” he said.

Waldman said the government ultimately must find a way to reform the program so that people are selected fairly, not arbitrarily.

Records from a federal court challenge filed in Toronto Feb. 12 by 13 applicants called the online registration process “so deeply flawed that thousands of interested parties, including the applicants … were denied a reasonable opportunity to sponsor their parents for immigration to Canada.”

‘Arbitrary, unfair, unjust’

“The online registration process in both its design and implementation was arbitrary, capricious, procedurally unfair and unjust,” the court document reads.

Dan Miller, the lawyer representing applicants seeking judicial review of the government’s process, said he could not state if their case was related to the litigation. He would not discuss the matter except to say the case has been resolved.

The parent and grandparent sponsorship program has been plagued with problems for years.

The Liberal government moved to a first-come, first-served online application system this year after scrapping a controversial lottery system for reuniting immigrant families. The lottery system was contentious, with critics claiming it essentially gambled with peoples’ lives.

The lottery process had replaced another first-in system which itself was unpopular because it led to a “mad rush” every January, with people lining up overnight at the doors of processing centres or paying placeholders to stand in line and deliver applications prepared by consultants or lawyers.

A statement from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said the online application process was brought in to ensure fairness and to safeguard against abuse, but added the system is now under review.

“We are continually monitoring all of our programs to find ways to improve them. It is too early to speculate on potential changes to next year’s application process,” the statement reads.

“Our government remains committed to family reunification, which is why we quadrupled the intake of parent and grandparent applications to 20,000 this year from 5,000 under the Conservatives.”

Canadian citizens and permanent residents also can apply to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada for up to two years at a time with a ‘super visa’, which allows multiple entries for up to 10 years.

Under that program, applicants must show proof of private medical insurance and financial support.

Source: Federal government quietly offered a settlement to halt lawsuits over immigration program

Is there a better way to reunite families? Thousands left in lurch by chaotic immigration application process

Good balanced discussion regarding the challenges of devising a system that pleases everyone – or displeases everyone equally:

The chaos around a new application process to bring parents and grandparents to Canada has left advocates and would-be applicants wondering if there is a better — and more fair — way to reunite families.

The immigration department’s new first-come-first-serve online application process launched Monday saw 27,000 “expression of interest” spots snapped up in mere minutes, leaving tens of thousands of other potential sponsors frustrated and angry at being shut out.

“Whatever system we have, there’s always the question of fairness,” said Surrey, B.C., lawyer Marina Sedai, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division. “No one can come up with a perfect solution that satisfies the needs of all Canadians.”

For decades, any Canadian citizen or permanent resident interested in sponsoring parents and grandparents could apply in an “all-in” system where they simply waited for their turn, based on the order applications were received. However, due to overwhelming interest and limited resources, the backlog had grown to 165,000 people and applicants had to wait for up to eight years for their relatives to arrive.

In 2011, the then-Conservative government suspended new applications for two years before reopening the process and, in 2014, imposing a cap of 5,000, to be accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis. Paper-based applications had to be sent by mail or registered courier to a single government processing centre in Mississauga and were assessed in order of their time stamp. Applicants complained that this forced them to spend large amounts of money on couriers each year in an attempt to make it into the top 5,000 spots.

In 2016, the Liberals raised the annual quota to 10,000. And in January 2017, Ottawa introduced the lottery process. Sponsors were asked to submit an expression of interest form, and from that pool, people were randomly selected to continue with the application process. That year, some 95,000 would-be sponsors vied for the 10,000 spots; only 6,020 applications were completed because some were deemed ineligible, others never completed the process, and multiple entries by the same applicants were discarded.

This year, applicants had to compete to fill out a 10-page interest-to-sponsor digital form and only the first 27,000 submissions were accepted. Based on the time of receipt, the first 20,000 eligible ones will be invited to submit a formal application for sponsorship.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said more than 100,000 people attempted to access the digital form when it went live online at noon on Monday but “no technical issues” were reported. In less than seven minutes, the quota of 27,000 was reached. Failed applicants took their frustration and anger to social media, blasting the government’s efforts.

Toronto immigration lawyer Clifford McCarten said people were unhappy with the old lottery system because they didn’t want to be subjected to a random process where they could miss out repeatedly and be separated from their family perpetually. “People want predictability,” he said.

McCarten offered three alternatives as possible solutions:

  • Taking in everybody and pre-screening them for eligibility before sponsors could bid for a place in the lottery;
  • A hybrid system where equal spots would be allotted for a lottery, for first-come-first-serve, and for humanitarian screening based on personal circumstances and factors such as the number of previous failed attempts;
  • A point system similar to one used to rank skilled immigrant applicants on personal attributes to decide which parents and grandparents were more deserving to come here.

Heather Otto, one of the would-be sponsors left in the lurch on Monday, said the good thing about the lottery was that everyone had an equal chance.

“They said it’s first-come-first-serve, but I was excluded right off the bat on Monday,” said the Toronto computer programmer, who would like to sponsor her parents here from South Africa. “I had everything ready by noon and started refreshing my computer every few seconds. By the time I saw the (apply) button at 12:08 p.m., it said the program had already closed.”

Otto said she wasn’t sure how a point system could work for parents and grandparents, but everyone interested in getting in the pool should be asked to pay the $1,040 fee ($75 for sponsorship, $475 for processing and $490 for the right of permanent residence) upfront so only serious applicants would get a chance.

Natalya Sakhno, another disappointed sponsor, said she preferred the lottery system to the mad-rush chaos on Monday, which ended up being a race of who had the fastest keystrokes and internet speed.

“Every system has its positives and negatives,” said the Toronto human resources professional, who wants to bring her father here from Ukraine. “It’s a gamble.”

Another failed applicant, Behnam Esfahanizadeh, said a real first-come-first-serve system is when the process is open to all and everyone waits in order.

“They just have to get the applications in line and let everyone wait for their turn,” said the Toronto IT consultant, who has made three unsuccessful attempts to bring his wife’s parents here from Slovakia.

Sedai said the debate over the “fairness” issue is bound to continue unless Ottawa is ready to raise the annual admission quota for parents and grandparents and deploy more resources to process applications.

Source: Is there a better way to reunite families? Thousands left in lurch by chaotic immigration application process

MALCOLM: It’s time to rethink Canada’s family reunification system

The simple answer is that significant numbers of immigrants want to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada to be with them and assist with childcare, and that their votes matter in a significant number of ridings.

So apart from her over the top rhetoric, the economic concerns are valid but neglect the humanitarian aspects of the policy. The “super visa” was and is a creative way to address the demand but one that appears not to satisfy the demand.

As Malcolm notes, all major parties support this program and the two major parties also support annual levels of around 20,000. We will see if Bernier’s party includes a specific reference in its proposed immigration policies:

Why do we allow elderly immigrants to come to Canada as permanent residents?

Why do we have a special immigration program — the “parents and grandparents” category — geared entirely towards relocating retirees to Canada, putting them on citizenship track and, eventually, giving them full access to our government-funded universal health care system?

Are we insane? No other advanced economy has a program that is anything like this.

The parents and grandparents program made the news this week — not because of the sheer ridiculousness of admitting elderly immigrants as permanent residents, but because many immigration lawyers complained to the media that the 2019 program filled up too quickly and many foreigners didn’t have a chance to apply.

It’s programs like this that show the extent to which Canada’s immigration system is broken.

Canada already has a visitor visa program dedicated to family reunification and welcoming parents and grandparents — as visitors.

The “super visa” has no annual cap, no backlog and no waitlist.

It allows relatives to stay in Canada for up to two years at a time, and the visa is good for ten years. Frankly, it’s more generous than comparable programs in other Western countries.

The super visa offers the best of both worlds. It shows Canada’s openness by allowing extended family units to stay together and for the older generation to offer a helping hand in immigrant households.

But it also provides a protection for Canadians and our taxpayer-funded social welfare programs. The super visa requires visiting seniors to purchase health insurance — a basic requirement for any world travel and something most immigrants are more than happy to do.

Nonetheless, Canada maintains a bizarre parallel program that admits a lucky 20,000 elderly immigrants each year as permanent residents.

Canada has a broad immigration program for two specific reasons: one, to help boost the economy, and two, to offset declining birth rates.

But bringing in elderly immigrants directly contradicts the stated purpose behind our immigration system.

It creates an added burden on our social welfare programs from people who never meaningfully contributed to the tax base, yet will eventually displace Canadians — folks who worked their entire adult lives to fund universal health care through their taxes — in doctors offices and emergency waiting rooms across the country.

Both major parties maintain this reckless program because most Canadians don’t notice it and the ones who do — immigrants from select communities who practice vote-bank politics — vocally demand it.

Unlike Canada, most Western democracies have built safeguards into their immigration system. They have strict rules when it comes to granting citizenship, designed to protect the country’s finances and prevent free-riders from manipulating the system.

Canada has no such qualms. When it comes to welcoming elderly immigrants as citizens, we don’t even ask that they learn a little bit of English or French — enough to communicate in an emergency or spark a friendship with a neighbour.

Instead, it’s all about entitlements and handouts.

Canada has long enjoyed something of a national consensus on immigration. Canadians, by and large, recognize the economic benefits of growing our population and welcoming like-minded people from around the world who will work hard, play by the rules, join the Canadian family and contribute to our country.

But when both major parties condone a program that so blatantly contradicts basic principles of both fairness and economics, it leaves many Canadians feeling resentful towards the immigration system as a whole.

Online immigrant-sponsor application claimed ‘profoundly discriminatory’ after it opened and shut within 10 minutes

One could argue that the online system was designed to select those more likely to integrate easily, given computer skills and official language knowledge (or engaging a good lawyer or consultant).

The over-subscription suggests that the 10 year multiple entry visa approach is not viewed by many as an adequate substitute.

See Howard Anglin’s good tweet thread on the ongoing challenges to the parents and grandparents program :

A new first-come-first-served online application for immigrants seeking to sponsor their parents and grandparents to come to Canada is being condemned as “profoundly discriminatory” after the program opened and closed in less than 10 minutes on Monday.

All 27,000 openings for the family-reunification program in 2019 were spoken for within minutes of the application form’s going live online Monday, sparking outcry from disappointed would-be applicants.

Matthew Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, says an initial analysis shows no technical problems with the system.

He says anti-bot features were also used to ensure all applications were legitimate and not from automated computer programs grabbing spots faster than humans could.

Genest says with over 100,000 people competing for 27,000 spots, there was simply more demand than there were spaces.

But immigration lawyer Clifford McCarten is among many now raising concern about the fairness of access to the program, as only those with reliable Internet access, quick typing skills and good understanding of English or French would have had any hope of success.