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.
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.
“It’s been too long that I think they’ve lost interest in coming here.”
“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.
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.
“It’s not a first-in, first-out system anymore. What’s happening is last-in, first out.”
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.”
“You hardly hear of parents going on welfare especially in the Filipino community.”
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.