Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the second in our series and looks at the frustrations caused by painfully long wait times. Read part one here.

by Marieton Pacheco in Vancouver 

Elmira Padlan-Bautista is no stranger to Canada’s family reunification program. She and her husband have been going through the process of sponsoring both their parents since 2005. But after 10 years, Elmira’s parents are now with them in Canada, while her husband Jerold’s parents are still waiting in the Philippines. 

It’s a heartbreaking situation considering they tried to sponsor Jerold’s parents first. 

The couple’s application to sponsor the Bautistas in 2005 was initially refused due to lack of income, but after submitting additional documents in 2006, they were given approval to complete the requirements for both sets of parents in 2008. 

This included separate instructions to do medical tests in Manila and that’s where the problems started. 

“There was always something in their medical tests,” says Elmira. “There was a spot in [Jerold’s] dad’s lungs the first time; he was asked to undergo medication and come back after three months. When he was cleared, they found another issue with his mom this time.” 

Jerold’s mom has gone back for medical tests about 10 times already due to heart problems and complications from diabetes. It doesn’t help that she’s 73 years old. And with each exam costing around Php 3,000-5,000 (about $100-$150), it’s been quite an expensive and frustrating exercise. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s been too long that I think they’ve lost interest in coming here."[/quote]

“It’s been too long that I think they’ve lost interest in coming here, napagod na sa pabalik-balik kaya nawalan ng gana (it’s tiring to keep on going back [for medical reasons] and frustrating),” shares Elmira. 

Despite this, they received a letter from Canada's immigration department in 2013 asking them to pay for the parents’ Right of Landing Fee. They did, and Jerold's parents were asked to submit their passports to the Canadian embassy in Manila. 

But without medical clearance, their visas remain pending. It’s been so long that the parents’ have asked the embassy to just return their passports, which have been held for about a year. 

Lessons learned 

Elmira says she remembered all these lessons when she applied for her own parents’ sponsorship in 2008. After receiving approval to sponsor them in early 2011, she asked Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), which is now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), to send all correspondence through her.

Both her parents were also visiting Canada when the letter for their medical examination arrived. She checked with CIC and was able to have both her parents’ medical exam done here. With no hitches in their documents and medical tests, her parents were approved for permanent residency in December 2012. 

It was still a four-year wait, but Elmira is grateful, especially when compared with her in-laws’ case and those of some of her other friends in the community. 

“I don’t mind going through all the requirements and application ’cause it’s really worth it that they’re here,” she says. “They’ve been very helpful in babysitting the three kids. I didn’t have a bad experience with my parents’ sponsorship like we did with my husband’s parents. They’re frustrated, and we’re still frustrated...” 

More efficient, fair processing needed 

At the beginning of this month the IRCC began accepting parent and grandparent sponsorship applications for 2016. Many immigrants are again trying their luck to bring their families here. 

Current wait times to sponsor parents and grandparents (PGP) under the Family Class vary from four to six years depending on where your visa office is located. The IRCC’s website says its offices are currently working on PGP sponsorship applications received before November 2011. 

Immigration consultant Arlene Tungohan says the key is really to improve processing times for these applications. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s not a first-in, first-out system anymore. What’s happening is last-in, first out."[/quote]

Doubling quotas as promised by the new Liberal government from 5,000 to 10,000 may be a good thing, she explains, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless they speed up processing times for those who’ve been waiting for years. 

Tungohan adds she still has live-in caregivers’ applications for family sponsorship from five to six years ago. 

Their family members in the Philippines have undergone medical exams two to three times already, but their applications remain in processing. Then there are those who submitted applications in 2015 and have been given their PR already. 

“We don’t know why the process is that way,” Tungohan says. “It’s not a first-in, first-out system anymore. What’s happening is last-in, first out ... I guess they want to show it’s faster now with the changes, but it’s a little bit unfair. Many caregivers are suffering because of it.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You hardly hear of parents going on welfare especially in the Filipino community.”[/quote]

Tungohan says family reunification has always been a priority under Canada’s immigration system, so whether it’s sponsoring parents or grandparents, or caregivers trying to bring the rest of their family members to Canada, wait times should be reasonable. 

Welfare not a ‘Filipino thing’ 

The immigration consultant also discredits criticisms on parents and grandparents being a burden to Canada’s health-care system. 

Many, if not all, of those approved to live here still want to work and contribute to the Canadian economy, she says, adding that collecting welfare is hardly a Filipino thing to do. 

“You hardly hear of parents going on welfare especially in the Filipino community,” she explains. “We take pride in being able to support our parents, in showing them that ‘hey, we are successful.’” 

But as long as processing times are not improved, families like the Bautistas will have to wait some more for a chance to support their parents here in Canada, or else they will continue hearing about the realities of their parents’ aging from thousands of miles away. 


Journalist Ranjit Bhaskar mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Policy
Friday, 05 June 2015 13:28

Pinoy Cash Flow Gets a Canadian Boost

Filipinos in Canada are expressing concern about Ottawa’s intention to support lower costs for remittance services.

Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, told a Filipino gathering at the St. Mary’s church in Vancouver that Canada is working on measures to ensure safe, reliable and low-cost services to transfer money to family and friends outside of the country, helping to improve economic conditions abroad.

These transfers, known as remittances, represent a major source of income for millions of people around the world, and support a sustainable path out of poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable, he said.

To help reduce the costs of remittances services, Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2015 will invest $6 million over five years to introduce measures that will help enhance access to low-cost remittance services for Canadians, the minister said.

The Philippines is one of the top destinations for remittances from Canada.

"We will be comparing all the fees that are charged by companies and banks that are doing remittances to make sure that you know where to get the best price in terms of the cost of sending remittances back to the Philippines," Fast said.

Lower Fees Doesn't Mean Better Service

Some kababayans however said that the government may not be totally aware of what it takes to send and receive money in the Philippines, according to Balitang America.

Salve Didcott has been in Canada for 26 years and sends money to her family in the Philippines monthly. She said there's more to sending remittances than just the fees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.[/quote]

"Some are actually charging more, less exchange; and the other is the charge is less, but the exchange is high. There are too many (factors), as I've said the location, the price, the exchange rate as well," she said.

Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.

Canada's Filipino Community Growing

World Bank estimates show Canada's remittance industry is growing with about $24 billion sent in remittances in 2012. The Philippines is in the top three receiving countries of remittances from Canada with $2 billion sent that year.

Meanwhile, another report said more than 40,000 Filipinos became permanent residents of Canada in 2014, making the Philippines the top source country for Canadian immigration last year. 

The Philippines had previously been the top source country in 2012, with China having been the top source country in 2013. Canada also issued nearly 47,000 visitor visas to Filipinos in 2014, a 56 percent increase since 2006. The number of new permanent residents from the Philippines is up from 14,004 in 2004, a near three-fold increase in just one decade.

Many of the Filipino newcomers originally came to Canada under the Live-In Caregiver Program, now simply the Caregiver Program after modifications made last November. The government of Canada’s immigration plan for 2015 states that it aims to convert between 26,000 and 30,000 caregivers to permanent resident status this year. In just a few short decades, Canada’s Filipino community has grown to become one of the country’s largest immigrant demographics. 

The more than 700,000 people of Filipino descent in Canada make up one of the country’s larger diaspora communities, and this number is increasing constantly. Filipino workers in Canada are important to both the Canadian and Philippine economies. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.[/quote]

While workers in Canada help to fill important labour shortages, families and friends in the Philippines benefit from remittances sent from Canada. About half of Canada’s Filipino population lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with Vancouver hosting the second-largest Filipino population in Canada and Winnipeg also home to a large number of Filipinos. 

“Oftentimes, individuals will first come to Canada as temporary workers, leaving spouses and children behind. But many Filipinos have also worked hard to bring their immediate families to Canada. Once permanent residence is achieved, they are then able to reunite with their families in Canada,” said Attorney David Cohen.

Canada’s generous family sponsorship rules allow permanent residents to sponsor not only children and spouses, but parents and grandparents as well. These include the popular Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program as well as the new Super Visa Program, which offers long-term visitor visas to qualified applicants. The introduction of these family reunification programs has contributed to the upsurge in new arrivals from the Philippines.

Quick Facts

  • According to World Bank estimates, remittance flows to developing countries reached close to US$440 billion in 2014.
  • Canada ranks among the 10 largest outbound markets in the world, with remittance flows totalling an estimated US$23.1 billion transferred in 2014. It is also one of the top remittance-sending countries on a per capita basis.
  • At the Brisbane Summit in November 2014, the G-20 re-committed to reducing the global average cost of sending remittances to 5 percent of the amount sent.
  • The Philippines is a priority emerging market under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan and is a country of focus for the Government of Canada’s international development efforts.
  • During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.
  • In 2014, Canada welcomed more than 40,000 permanent residents from the Philippines, making it Canada's top source country for permanent residents last year.

Published in Partnership with The Filipino Post.

Published in The Philippines
Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:24

Trash Talk Stops as Aquino Comes to Canada

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino set to make a state visit to Canada next month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Manila has dropped its demand on the Canadian government to take back the trash that was illegally shipped there two years ago.

Philippine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the inter-agency government committee, including the DENR, agreed to dispose of the trash in landfills here “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” with Canada.

“It has been resolved. The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has strongly recommended it be settled diplomatically,” Paje said in an interview, published in Manila.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.[/quote]

“We still hold that the best thing to be done is that they (Canada) take it back, but what will be the effect? It will affect our diplomatic relations,” he went on.

The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.

The shipment was passed off as scrap materials for recycling, but customs inspectors discovered it consisted of household waste including adult diapers.

The DENR originally asked the Canadian government to take back the trash, as provided under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.[/quote]

The Philippines and Canada are among the 180 signatories to the treaty that seeks to prevent developed nations from dumping trash in developing nations.

Paje claimed the trash consisted of “recyclable plastics.” “Therefore if there is nothing hazardous, it can be treated here,” he said.

The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.

According to Paje, they are still waiting for clearance from the Manila Regional Trial Court, after government prosecutors last February asked that the trash be disposed of in local landfills while the case continued.

No Need to Hurt Diplomatic Relations

The Canadian Embassy in Manila has been on receiving end of mass actions and public petitions to take back the trash since the illegal shipment was discovered.

The embassy has refused to take back the garbage, saying the issue was a “private commercial matter” between a Canadian exporter and its Philippine importer-partner.

“The issue is as friendly countries, would you insist on hurting diplomatic relations if there is another way?,” Paje said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter.” - Ramon Paje, Philippine Environment Secretary[/quote]

“They promised they will prevent a repeat. Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter,” he said. 

President Aquino will undertake a state visit to Canada on May 7 to 9, followed by a one-day working visit to the United States.

Malacañang said he would witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance and infrastructure development. SFM

Canada is the Philippines’ 21st largest trading partner, its sixth top source market for tourism, and is home to almost 700,000 Filipinos.

In 2014, Canada announced that the Philippines had been designated a Country of Focus for development assistance, and a Priority Emerging Market for Canadian overseas trade and investment.

The two leaders are expected to witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance, and infrastructure development, which will highlight the vibrancy of people-to-people relations.

The visit is the first state visit of a Philippine president to Canada since the visit of former President Fidel Ramos in 1997.


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in The Philippines

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