More Angst about the Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program - Is It Time to Expand the Concept of 'Family'?

January 2020

Well, January 1st came and went without the re-opening of the parent and grandparent sponsorship program. First, on December 16th, the government announced that details of the 2020 program would be ‘available soon’. Then, on December 30th, the government sent out a second announcement that opening of the program would be ‘postponed’. Further information will be available by April 1, 2020.

I was not surprised that the program’s reopening was delayed. In May 2019, the Canadian government quietly settled a lawsuit over the 2019 version of the program, and allowed 70 sponsorship applications to proceed despite the sponsors not having been able to submit the online application form. To avoid litigation again this year, the government must do the hard job of coming up with a program that is fair to all applicants, in a situation where there are many more applicants than allotted spaces.

As much as I enjoyed the opportunity to be interviewed about the issue for CBC, the delay is causing much stress for families affected.

It could also cost us skilled workers. Last October, a leading child psychiatrist threatened to leave the UK to go to Australia if his mother was not permitted to remain in Britain. He was her only child, and she was widowed with no one to care for her in India. Similar concerns were expressed regarding the immigration program in New Zealand, where an increase in financial requirements meant many immigrants would no longer be able to get visas for their parents.

In the Canadian immigration system, skilled immigrants can only include their spouses or common-law partners and dependent children under the age of 22 in their applications for permanent residency. For the purposes of skilled worker immigration, their ‘families’ do not include their parents, grandparents, or siblings, even though we normally consider these individuals as immediate family members. For example, the Canada Labour Code provides bereavement leave for the following ‘immediate family’ members: The employee's spouse or common-law partner; the employee's father and mother and the spouse or common-law partner of the father or mother; the employee's child(ren) and the child(ren) of the employee's spouse or common-law partner; the employee's grandchild(ren); the employee's brothers and sisters; the grandfather and grandmother of the employee; the father and mother of the spouse or common-law partner of the employee and the spouse or common-law partner of the father or mother; and any relative of the employee who resides permanently with the employee or with whom the employee permanently resides.

Maybe it’s time that we expanded our definition of ‘family’ for immigration purposes. The amount of settlement funds required is based on family size. If applicants want to include their parents, then they would be required to meet the settlement funds needed for a family size that includes those parents. Also, all members of the family must pass an immigration medical examination. If any family member cannot pass the examination, then the entire family is excluded. This should allay concerns about undue strain on our heath care system. When designing the program, the government can also restrict who can be included as a family member as it sees fit. Perhaps only siblings under a certain age, or who unmarried, could be included (similar to the definition of a dependent child). Perhaps parents could only be included when the applicant has a child who will need care in Canada. This would reduce the strain on our childcare system, especially as we’ve yet to develop a national childcare system in Canada.

100,000 people tried to apply for 20,000 spots in this program last year. Allowing people to immigrate with their families would reduce the stress on this program and allow Canada to attract skilled workers. It will also prevent ‘reverse migration’, which happens when skilled workers leave Canada to return to their countries of origin in order to care for their parents.