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Newcomers over age 50 costly: memo

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Older immigrants cost governments about $3 billion a year in health care, while none of those immigrants over age 50 has reported earning more than $15,000 a year, figures obtained by Postmedia News suggest.
The figures are in a memo written three months before the government froze the parent and grandparent immigration stream and introduced a 10-year, multiple-entry super-visa that requires visiting relatives to show proof of a year's worth of health insurance.
The memo was obtained through an access to information request.
The freeze was billed as a stopgap measure while Ottawa deals with a huge backlog in applications. But the memo suggests the government - which favours economic immigrants - wasn't just trying to be fair as it got rid of the backlog, but that it also has grave concerns about the cost of accepting elderly immigrants given their low earning potential.
The memo was prepared for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in "response to a request for information regarding the cost of health care to senior immigrants and the contribution that parents and grandparents make to house-hold income."
It suggests Canada might be moving toward a two-tier health care system for newcomers.
The memo says that, in 2010, some 5,655 parents and grand-parents over the age of 65 arrived in Canada, and cost about $10,742 each a year on average for health care.
Based on data collected between 1980 and 2010, Citizenship and Immigration estimates there were about 275,000 immigrant parents and grand-parents over 65 living in Canada in 2010 at a cost of nearly $3 billion a year for health care.
The total cost for a newcomer senior who lives to age 85 was cited at about $160,000.
According to data collected by Citizenship and Immigration between 1980 and 2000, none of the parents and grand-parents who arrived in Canada aged 50 or older have reported annual employment earnings that exceed $15,000.
A Commons committee has called already for the controversial supervisa to be made permanent. Last month, the government announced it was cutting certain health benefits to refugees, which touched off a wave of protest among physicians.
In an interview Thursday, Kenney rejected the notion that Canada was moving toward a two-tiered health care system for immigrants, but indicated a premium aimed at defraying health care costs is something the government is considering as it consults with immigrant groups in a bid to reform the parent and grandparent stream, which is on hold for two years.
"One idea has been to require families to put down some kind of a health care bond for sponsoring parents or grandparents. They would pay up front for a portion of the health care costs that their parents would use in Canada," he said.
"Family sponsorship is a privilege, not a right. We are com-mitted to family reunification within our system, but it has to be linked to our scarce public resources. It's not fair for us to raise taxes on Canadians to pay for future health care costs for folks who've never lived in the country or paid taxes in it."
Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he thinks $150,000 up front would be reasonable and that many immigrants he's spoken with are more than willing to pay a premium.
He envisions a "hybrid" sys-tem that includes a "money" stream for those willing to pay and a "freebie" stream in which provinces - which are responsible for the delivery of health care - tell the federal government how many parents and grandparents they're willing to absorb on the public dime.
Critics see it all as the erosion of family reunification, a key tenet of Canada's immigration system, which they say is increasingly favouring the rich.
"The level of coverage we are requiring people to buy for their family member who visits and the fact that it all has to be paid for in advance to qualify for the supervisa means effectively there's a huge swath of people in Canada who will no longer be able to even have their parents at their child's bar mitzvah or wed-ding," Queen's University law professor Sharry Aiken said.
"I'm very concerned about this shift because what it's saying is family reunification is for those who can afford to pay."
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims added her office gets daily calls from people who have been denied a supervisa, many of them from China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
She said she believes any move toward a two-tiered health care system for immigrants would be "so un-Canadian" and that parent and grandparent reunification has spinoff benefits the government must not overlook. Parents and grandparents, she said, often assist with child care, which allows both parents to work. For newcomers from one-child policy countries such as China who come through the economic streams favoured by the Conservatives, she said, the freedom to bring parents and grandparents over is a key reason they chose Canada."
Postmedia News has obtained updated figures on the parent and grandparent supervisa that show an approval rate of about 83 per cent.

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