So just how much is Grandma worth anyway? And how about Dad?
That, in essence, is the question that Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has now asked Canadians to ponder in a national discussion about whether or not it makes sense to encourage the sponsorship of parents and grandparents as immigrants.
Kenney froze any new applications for parental sponsorship for two years pending a deliberation about what to do with the program.
To be fair, while the moratorium on new applications is in place, Kenney has ordered his officials to crank up the processing of parent and grandparent sponsorship applications to try and reduce the backlog of applicants.
He is also creating a new ten-year ‘super visa’ that would allow parents and grandparents of Canadian residents to come and go almost as they please on visits, so long as they have private health insurance.
In the meantime, Kenney says, the government will consult Canadians on how to redesign the parents and grandparents program to ensure that it is “sustainable” in the future.
The clear subtext from Kenney is that parents and grandparents who come to this country as immigrants cost us money, use social services and take up space in hospital emergency wards.
Kenney talks repeatedly about his desire to make the parent and grandparent stream of the family sponsorship program “sustainable” and “sensitive to financial constraints.”
In other words, how much is Grandma worth? And is she worth more than she costs?
That’s a fair enough question for discussion, as long as you don’t start off by telling us the preferred answer by stating again and again that this class of immigrants is a drain on Canadian society.
Just how did the minister reach that conclusion? Which research study has he been consulting? It is one thing to do the math and calculate the cost of the services that sponsored parents and grandparents consume, compared with the financial contribution they make through taxes.
But is that all there is to it? Just how do we measure the contribution that an immigrant parent or grandparent makes to our society or the value attached to a complete family unit? Surely this is not just a matter of dollars and cents.
If it was only about money, we wouldn’t take in any refugees either. Many refugees arrive on our shores with nothing — having fled their homelands for fear of persecution. We don’t select refugees for the economic contribution they will make to Canada, or for their language or job skills. Refugees are allowed to stay in this country based on evidence that they need Canada’s protection.
It seems to be clearly understood that offering protection to a significant number of the world’s refugees is just something that Canada does. And it is not an immigrant stream that is measured in dollars and cents.
As we embark on a national conversation about the logic of sponsoring parents and grandparents as immigrants, let’s not forget to measure the true contribution this class of immigrant makes to our society and then decide how to proceed.
In fairness to Kenney, he is not the first immigration minister to question the value of parents and grandparents as immigrants. Liberal immigration ministers before him also put in place measures to make it more difficult to sponsor parents and grandparents, essentially making them second-class applicants behind spouses and children in the family class category.
So on one score, Kenney is right: It is time for a national conversation about our immigration program and the value we attach to different classes of immigrants.
But please, let’s remember that not everything can be measured with dollar signs.
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