Would you pay someone to sleep in the street?

The insanity that has become the Parent and Grandparent sponsorship program

February 2016

For the third consecutive year, the first business day of 2016 meant Canadians could once again submit sponsorship applications for their parents and grandparents.

In 2014, when the program reopened after being shut down for two years, the application forms only became available on December 31st, 2013. This meant that people had to scramble to download the forms, complete their applications, and courier it. It took a few weeks for the allotted 5,000 applications to be received before the program was closed again.

In 2015, because the forms were now readily accessible, the 5,000 applications were received within days.

We knew 2016 was going to be rough. The Liberal government had promised to increase the cap to 10,000 applications, but as of the end of December, their website still said that only 5,000 would be accepted at that time.

Since the regular public is not allowed to enter the building where the applications must be sent to in Mississauga, Ontario, a courier must be used for the delivery. With an expected very short window of opportunity, entrepreneurial courier companies in the Toronto area realized that they could capitalize on this situation – they offered to be at the front of the line, and charge hundreds of dollars per application for the service.

The result? Couriers lined up at the Mississauga office in the wee hours of the morning of January 4th. Like fans waiting for concert tickets to go on sale, they camped out with their bags of applications, waiting for the office to open. Some of the couriers had thousands of application cases each.

Once the office opened, immigration officials began accepting applications and billing credit cards for the application fees. By monitoring their online credit card statements, sponsors could determine if their application had made the cut.

According to postings on online forums, it is estimated that all 5000 applications were received within 1.5 business days. 14,000 were received within three days, which was when the government announced that the program was officially closed. The government has since announced that it will retain a further 5,000 applications for when Parliament officially authorizes the change to the cap on applications. All other applications will be returned to the sponsors.

This is insanity. People’s futures shouldn’t depend on knowing what local courier company to hire.

But what are the alternatives? When there was no cap on applications, the immigration department would keep on accepting them, even though Parliament only authorized the processing of a certain number every year. People were waiting 6, 7, and even 8 years to be processed. In the interim, many parents and grandparents were developing age-related medical conditions that made them inadmissible to Canada.

I’ve repeatedly heard the suggestion that a lottery might actually be fairer process. I think that this is how the government will end up going, as there is a precedent with the International Experience Canada program. This program, also known as the ‘working holiday visa’,, allows young people to finance their travels in Canada by allowing them to work during their stay. This program also has a cap, and officials were finding that the quota was being reached within minutes of the online application system being opened to accept application. A wonky internet connection would lose you your chance at a visa. Instead, this year, the government moved to a lottery system. Eligible applicants will be selected on a random basis over the course of the year.

A similar system could easily be set up for parent and grandparent sponsorships. Having the system be online would be another plus – couriers wouldn’t have to shiver on the sidewalk outside the office in early January. Applicants who were selected could then submit a paper application as is done now.

There will always be more people who want to come to Canada than the Canadian immigration system will be able to accommodate. A lottery system would come with its own inequities, but at least from a practical perspective, it’s a better solution than the one we have now. Unless there are changes, next year’s couriers will be sleeping on the sidewalk overnight in order to secure a spot at the front of the line.