The Harper government is making it tougher for people to settle foreign parents or grandparents in Canada – hiking sponsorship qualifications to make it less likely newcomers will become a financial burden for taxpayers.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced more stringent requirements for Canadians or permanent residents wanting to bring their elders here under the family reunification program – new rules that will make sponsors financially responsible for these arrivals.
Changes include doubling the amount of time for which sponsors must cover any provincial social benefits incurred by their relatives. Ottawa said it is hiking the minimum necessary annual income for sponsors by 30 per cent, requiring sponsors to demonstrate they meet the new income threshold for three consecutive years instead of 12 months and extending the sponsorship responsibility period to 20 years from 10 years.
Mr. Kenney defended the changes as fiscally responsible, saying Canada has one of the most generous family reunification programs on offer.
"Why should we limit the number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada? Well, let me state the obvious reason. Elderly people place a much greater burden on the public health care system, a public health care system that is already in crisis, where costs are growing much faster than the economy, much faster than the population, where emergency wards are overcrowded, where wait times are enormous."
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration produced charts and figures that it said demonstrate that after the 10-year responsibility period ends, the amount of welfare usage by sponsored immigrant parents jumps significantly.
The No. 1 source for parents and grandparents coming to Canada under this program is the Punjab region of India, according to Mr. Kenney's office. The government is also moving to restrict dependent children that can accompany parents or grandparents to Canada as part of this family reunification, saying now the cutoff age will be 18 years old.
The reunification program is being overhauled in part to fix a massive backlog that had grown to 160,000 applications with a decade-long wait for approval.
Mr. Kenney said the government is on track to halve the backlog by 2014. He also said Citizenship and Immigration would take 5,000 more applications for the program in 2014. Ottawa stopped taking applications two years ago to help tackle the backlog.
Mr. Kenney also announced Ottawa will make permanent a popular alternative to the family reunification settlement program.
The recently introduced "super visa" program grants foreign parents and grandparents a multiple-entry visa good for 10 years. Citizenship and Immigration is now issuing about 1,000 super visas a month. They allow holders to remain in Canada for up to two years at a time.
The NDP accused the government of making the reunification program too expensive.
"Over 20 per cent of Canadians were born abroad. For these Canadians, Conservatives are making family reunification a more distant dream than ever," NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said. She said the changes mean "it would cost you more to even apply to reunite with your parents or grandparents – and two decades of full financial responsibility for their care if they come. And that's only if you happen to be one of the lucky 5,000 whose applications will be accepted next year."