Starting today, Ottawa will stop accepting applications for immigration sponsorships of parents and grandparents until 2014 in hopes of reducing a growing backlog.
In launching the first phase of an action plan to expedite family reunification Friday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government will take in 25,000 parents and grandparents in 2012, 43 per cent above its 2011 level. Meanwhile, fewer refugees, nannies and people applying to stay on humanitarian grounds will be admitted.
By cutting new applications and increasing intake, Kenney said he hopes to reduce the current backlog of 165,000 parents and grandparents by half in two years.
To relieve the pain of immigrants separated from their older relatives, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will start issuing the new Parent and Grandparent Super Visa on Dec. 1, which will allow members of that group to visit their families in Canada on a temporary basis for up to two years.
The visa — which Kenney said will take only eight weeks to process — will allow holders to make multiple entries over a span of 10 years. But there is a catch: Elderly visitors must obtain private Canadian health-care insurance during their stay here. And applicants must still meet the minimum income requirement to apply.
“So many families say to me they don’t necessarily want moms and dads or grandparents to immigrate permanently to Canada,” Kenney told a news conference in Mississauga.
“They just want them to be able to come and stay for an extended period, to help care for their kids when they are young and also be able to go back home, where they are well settled with other families and friends.”
Kenney said he is confident Canadian visa posts have the resources to handle the anticipated influx of applications for the super visas and the enhanced targets for sponsorships.
While the super visas are welcomed, critics say the mandatory medical insurance will create an instant barrier for many families, favouring those who are well-off.
“This requirement will create a two-tier access to our immigration system. We have argued that there’s no research or experimental evidence that parents and grandparents of new Canadians are an undue burden on our social and medical systems,” said Debbie Douglas, of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.
The government plans to hold consultations next year on how to redesign the parents and grandparents program to avoid future large backlogs when it takes in new applications in 2014.
On Friday, the immigration department also belatedly released the breakdown of the number of immigrants it plans to accept in various immigration streams. In its annual report tabled Tuesday, Ottawa had only said categorically that it would maintain the same immigration level.
In 2012, the government plans to take in 157,000 economic migrants, down 3 per cent from this year, with the quota allotted for live-in caregivers-turned-permanent residents slashed by almost half to 9,000.
Canada will also take in 10 per cent fewer refugees — from 29,000 in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. Spots assigned to people allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds will be down by 14 per cent to 7,900.
The only category that will see an increase in 2012 is family reunifications, up from 65,500 to 69,000, though the quota for spouses and children will be reduced from 48,000 to 44,000.