The question of sponsorship

CIC maintains that the priority in sponsorships under the family reunification program is to reunite spouses and children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, while parents can visit the country on multiple-entry visas.

Gloria Elayadathusseril

If we do decide to sponsor, it’s going to take a very long time. I hear at least seven years. 
Kailash Kaur has been visiting Canada every summer since 2004. Each trip from India costs her son and daughter-in-law several thousand dollars. The couple is willing to bear this large, recurring expense so they can see her regularly, rather than spend a one-time expenditure of a few grand to sponsor her to live permanently with the family here — and wait perhaps years.

“She is in her mid-70s and if we do decide to sponsor, it’s going to take a very long time. I hear at least seven years,” says her daughter-in-law Gurdeep Kaur. “It will be a tough task for her to come and integrate into this new society and contribute to this country’s economy.”

However, Kaur concedes that even if her mother-in-law didn’t contribute economically to the country, she would definitely play a positive role in the society by helping raise her grandchildren.

Of course, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) maintains that the priority in sponsorships under the family reunification program is to reunite spouses and children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, while parents can visit the country on multiple-entry visas, just like the elder Kaur.

But not every senior is as lucky as her in obtaining a visa, let alone multiple-entry ones. Max M. Chaudhary, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer notes that issuance of visitor visas are “notoriously arbitrary” in places like New Delhi, India; Islamabad, Pakistan; Manila, Philippines and Beijing, China. “I have seen cases where elderly applicants are rejected for visitor visas four times and be granted a visitor visa the fifth time. New immigrants who have established themselves in Canada are very frustrated at the difficulty in getting their parents here [even] as visitors.”

Of course, immigration officers can get strict about visits if they think there is a possibility the elder will not return to their homeland after the visit.

Cuts to quotas

So what’s really going on here? According to a 2009 study by CIC entitled Elderly Immigrants in Canada: Income Sources and Self-Sufficiency, parents and grandparents are continually at the bottom of the income-earning scale even after 10 years — the maximum number of years sponsors pledge to support immigrant relatives — depending on their relative’s age and relationship.

Perhaps partly in reaction to this data, the federal government recently issued a plan to cut the number of family reunification visas for parents and grandparents of immigrants from 15,300 to 11,000 a year.

However, in response to an earlier appeal by the Chinese Canadian community, Ottawa has decided to increase the quota for sponsorship of parents and grandparents in the Beijing visa office from 1,000 in 2010 to 2,650 in 2011. While, on the other hand, in New Delhi visa office, the numbers are being reduced to 2,500 this year, from 4,500 in 2010.

New Democrat immigration critic Olivia Chow said at a recent press conference that the information obtained under an Access to Information request shows the reduced quotas will primarily affect applicants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. She also noted more than 148,000 parents and grandparents overseas are already waiting as long as five years to be reunited with their Canadian children and grandchildren. “In the five, eight, 10 years these Canadians are waiting, most likely, these parents cannot travel to Canada,” Chow said.

The long wait ahead

According to Chaudhary, worse still is the stress of waiting endlessly. “Canadian-based relatives are frustrated when their elderly parents have lost most of their relatives in their home country … and no longer have their own community in their home country for support,” he says.

“The Liberals started the trend of reducing family class immigration, but this reduction has been accelerated by the Conservative Party with regard to parents and grandparents.”
Chaudhary says the immigrants he interacts with on a regular basis in his law practice are dismayed by the current waiting period for sponsoring parents. “Not to mention the excessive medical scrutiny that the immigration department metes out on elderly sponsored parents.”

The other side

So what’s the argument being made to reduce sponsorships? According to a 2005 report by conservative think tank the Fraser Institute, “Given their age, many of them put high costs on the health care systems if their sponsoring children are unwilling or unable to meet their obligation and pay for these cost privately.”

The Vancouver-headquartered institute’s study also reveals that most parents of economic class immigrants are unlikely to become active participants in the labour force because of their “advanced age” and “poor ability to speak and learn English.” The study indicates that these parents and grandparents are able to pay few if any income taxes, yet are entitled to all of Canada’s social programs.

“Admittedly, there is an increased health burden in bringing elderly immigrants to Canada, but this is slight, given the few additional elderly immigrants that have been admitted under Canada’s immigration program,” Chaudhary points out. “Further, why should native-born Canadians’ parents be a burden and not immigrant parents, given that both pay taxes to support Canada’s health care system?”

Contribution of sponsors

Mississauga-based software engineer Vivek Bibra who sponsored his parents says, “Yes, my parents do take advantage of OHIP [Ontario Health Insurance Program] and they don’t work here. But both my wife and I are productive, tax-paying immigrants.”

He also points out that since the couple came here as skilled immigrants, they did not take any social assistance for 30 years of their lives before arriving in Canada. “One of the things that was attractive to us when applying for our immigration was that we could sponsor our parents.”

Felix Zhang, a founder of Sponsor Our Parents, a grassroots advocacy group, has a similar view. “It raises a big question why we are all Canadians and yet we are treated unequally. This is unacceptable.” He also wonders whether economic migrants, who are sought after because they bring needed workforce skills, will continue to choose Canada if they can’t bring their parents here.

The Chinese-born immigrant sponsored his parents to Canada in 2007. His application is still at the in-Canada prescreening stage. “My parents would like to live with their only grandchild,” says Zhang. “And my parents are not getting any younger.”

Chaudhary — a Canadian born to immigrant parents from Kenya — feels privileged in this aspect. “I have had the benefit of my parents’ assistance with regard to my two small sons, which, as a busy professional is invaluable; it allows me to focus more on my work. Further, I have seen my parents’ joy triggered by my kids’ presence; such joy can’t be replicated through long-distance phone calls.”

Bibra, whose parents have lived with him since 2006 says it was a great relief when his parents accepted his request to come to Canada, despite having to leave behind their familiar social life and a successful interior design business. “They made a great sacrifice. [Today] we are able to be at work in peace because we know my parents will take care of our children after they come back from school.”

There are thousands of Zhangs and Bibras out there  waiting helplessly for their parents to arrive and reap the familial benefits of their elders’ presence.

But it looks like what many immigrants want and what many of them can expect is at a standstill. “We can’t satisfy 100 per cent of our immigrant stakeholders,” said CIC Minister Jason Kenney in a recent phone interview to the Toronto Star. “We have to make choices to balance our objectives.”

So for now, many sponsors who’ve applied for their parents’ and grandparents’ immigration will have to be contented with the fact that we are able to reach our dear ones in our home countries almost instantly — thanks to modern technology — unlike our predecessors from even just a few decades ago who in most cases left their families behind for good.

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