Canada is losing manifold economic and social benefits and going against its own values when it denies visitor visas and study permits to family members of new Canadians. Denials are rooted in belief that visitors with family ties in Canada are more likely to overstay their visas, but while no data exists to back up this claim, why should that even be a concern?
In the last century, Canada has earned a great reputation for accepting a large number of immigrants and valuing multiculturalism. Immigrants are a great boost for the economy. In fact, Canada’s current plans to accept 411,000 immigrants in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023 were touted by former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Marco Mendicino as a way to help the Canadian economy recover from COVID-19.
Such framing emphasizes how immigrants benefit our economy not just by filling labour force shortages and paying taxes, but also by significantly increasing employment creation.
Despite this warm welcome, new Canadians often face hurdles when their family members wish to come to visit. When applying for a visa, relatives of new Canadians frequently receive the following response: “I am not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay as a temporary resident, as stipulated in paragraph 179(b) of the IRPR [Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations], based on your family ties in Canada and in your country of residence.”
The first three thoughts that come to mind when I encounter a sentence like this are: Do people with family ties stay and those without them return? Is this a favourable decision for the Canadian economy or even the IRCC’s plan? Do officers denying visas consider the repercussions of such a decision?
New Canadians: welcome but not included?
For this article, I spoke with 11 new Canadians whose family members had gotten multiple denials because of their ties to Canada. These dismissals have affected each of them in various ways.
Many said they felt guilty, believing that rather than being of assistance, they were obstructing their families’ dreams. This is especially true for those whose siblings had education or job opportunities but were turned down because of their familial ties.
Some of the people I spoke to said their family members, particularly their parents, felt Canada could reject their submission multiple times. This resulted in either familial issues or a sour relationship.
No one I spoke to wanted their names or photos to be made public for fear that expressing their unhappiness might result in troubles in Canada or further denials of their relatives’ applications in the future. It is hard to imagine they are feeling included in the Canadian society.
“Family ties in Canada”: an excuse with no backing in data
Due to the lack of official statistics regarding the number people who had family ties in Canada and didn’t return to their countries of origin compared with people who didn’t have family ties and didn’t return, I put the question to immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens.
“Logically it would be a reason not to go back,” Meurrens said of people with family ties, but quickly added he had clients of both types and couldn’t tell which category was more likely to stay.
“I have clients who did not go back because they had family here and clients who didn’t have family.”
Andrew Griffith, the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and Mikal Skuterud, Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Waterloo, point to Immigration Canada’s concern to keep the system’s integrity.
According to Griffith, the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, the “Canadian government tends to be very conscious of maintaining public confidence in the immigration system. Whenever we have the appearance or actual perception that people are taking advantage of the system, which is a very generous system, the government is concerned.”
Skuterud added that Immigration Canada understands the importance of public trust in the immigration system. There are numerous alternatives available, including family class, refugee, workers and students. In any case, people have to follow the correct procedure.
However, one must ask whether these programs are effective. Based on anecdotal evidence, the various visa programs don’t function as promised. I am aware of several refugees who have been working on family reunification since 2017. So far, to no avail. They haven’t seen their kids in at least four years.
My experiences as a refugee in Canada may prevent me from supporting the IRCC’s immigration plan. However, they allow me to reflect on the above questions and on how such a policy approach undermines Canada’s economic and social interests, especially given the lack of official statistics on overstayers with and without family ties in Canada.
Remittances: money that could stay in the country
Immigrants spend a significant amount of money and time on their family members in their countries of origin. For Canada, this has various negative economic consequences. One is the financial outflows in the form of remittances, as immigrants send a portion of their earnings back to families in their home country. This is typically sent to immediate family members such as parents, children, and siblings.
Another way that Canada misses out is that immigrants return to see their remaining family members more frequently, sometimes once a year. Not only does this mean that their holiday money is spent abroad but also that they often have to quit their jobs and stop earning an income in order to travel.
If the immigration system had less stringent rules for immediate family members, these funds would have been spent in Canada. Furthermore, new Canadians would be safer, as many of them travel to dangerous countries.
Missing out on savings in the settlement sector
Canada sets aside a large sum of money each year for the settlement of newcomers. In the fiscal year 2021-2022, IRCC has around $1.7 billion to spend on settlement services across Canada. In Ontario alone there are nearly 1,260 newcomer services provider organizations.
Settlement services aren’t required for most newcomers who have family members in Canada. Relatives who are already familiar with the system can help new immigrants in finding a home, a family doctor and a job, all needed to build a new life in Canada. This safety net translates to significant savings for the Canadian immigration system.
Griffith and Skuterud also believe that having family ties is vital in the job market, as newcomers will be assisted in finding work and integrating.
The value of social ties and emotional safety
I often hear from the new Canadians I know that they want a large family with more than two children if the circumstances allow for it.
As someone who has cared for two children whose parents aren’t in Canada, I can attest to the fact that Canada is one of the most challenging countries in which to raise a child if you don’t have a stable source of income.
Canada is one of the most exhausting countries socially and emotionally if you don’t have your own big circle, and the same goes for work and everything else. I’m not going to list the dozens of barriers; instead, I’d like to point out that having family members in Canada helps alleviate some of the burdens that immigrants face.
People I spoke to believe that Canada considers parents who come to live with their adult children in Canada as merely a financial burden on the system. In fact, the opposite is true. Parents and grandparents make a significant contribution to the Canadian system in the form of social and emotional support that is converted into financial benefits.
In many countries that Canadian immigrants come from, family members, particularly grandparents, aid in the upbringing of children. The perspective that their children will have a large circle of relatives to turn to in times of hardship, and that they will grow up in a community encourages single individuals to start families and immigrant families to have more children.
Furthermore, having family members nearby not only means not having to send remittances abroad, but also that the cost of daycare is reduced, if not eliminated entirely. This contributes to lowering the cost of government child-care subsidies for low-income families.
Above all, having immediate family members nearby provides both partners with peace of mind and contributes to their mental and emotional well-being. Because Canadian health care is publicly funded, this can also be viewed as an economic gain.
The Canadian immigration system is without a doubt one of the best in the world. Canada is also one of few countries to have formally adopted multiculturalism, which should imply more kindness and inclusion.
Why then should we not address our problems before they become unmanageable? Why not become more flexible with temporary visa offers for visitors with family ties in Canada, rather than exclude a segment of our society and miss out economically?
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