Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) resumed receiving sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents (PGP) of Canadian citizens and permanent residents on Monday morning.
The case processing centre in Mississauga, Ontario opened its window for receiving the applications at 8 a.m. (EST). Only 5,000 new and complete applications will be accepted this year.
By capping the applications number at the same level as in the previous two years, the new Liberal government would seem to be going back on a crucial poll promise to double the number.
Unveiling his party’s promises on the immigration file during the federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the “Liberals will reform our immigration system, and make family reunification a core priority of our government.”
Trudeau then went on to say that his government will immediately increase the number of applications under PGP to 10,000 each year and double the budget for processing family class applications to reduce the waiting time.
This pledge resonated with immigrant families who were not pleased by the previous government’s efforts to limit permanent residency offers to elderly family members or by unduly long processing times extending to 47 months.
The IRCC website currently says the department is working on applications received on or before November 4, 2011.
Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Party’s immigration critic, said it was totally irresponsible of Trudeau to promise more than his government is able to deliver.
“This is just a further example of the mismanagement of the immigration file and another item to add to the list of broken promises,” Rempel, MP for Calgary Nose Hill, told New Canadian Media in an emailed response.
“While we were in government, Canada welcomed more than 70,000 parents and grandparents from 2012-2014. This number represents the highest level of parent and grandparent admissions in nearly two decades. Thanks to the Conservative government’s Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, the backlog was reduced by nearly 54 per cent,” Rempel said.
“Keeping a realistic goal of 5,000 applications a year was part of our Conservative government’s initiative to be prudent managers of government.”
Late this evening, Immigration Minister John McCallum offered this defence: “We are committed to reuniting families and we intend to meet the commitment to double the intake of PGP sponsorship applications from 5,000 to 10,000 per year. To achieve this I will be consulting with cabinet colleagues early in the new year.”
The brief annual opening of the application window in the New Year is a recent phenomenon. It began in 2014 after the previous government had frozen the process for two years in November 2011. The stated purpose was to first clear a backlog of nearly 165,000 applications before taking in new ones.
Generally, a citizen or permanent resident is allowed to sponsor parents and grandparents to become permanent residents under the Family Class immigration stream. Family reunification is one of the three pillars of IRCC’s immigration program, the other two being economic classes and protected persons (refugees).
The moratorium on PGP applications was expected to reduce the backlog to about 50,000. In the meantime, the quota for actual admissions into the country under the program was increased by 60 per cent to 25,000 a year to help clear the backlog.
Before lifting the freeze, the Harper government had also introduced major changes to Family Class immigration in May 2013. They were designed to align entry under this category with economic outcomes.
The overarching narrative spoke of reducing the burden imposed on tax payers by the entry of parents, grandparents and dependent children 18 years and above.
Announcing the new criteria for sponsoring parents and grandparents, Jason Kenney, the then Citizenship and Immigration Minister, said they were aimed at ensuring elderly immigrants didn’t end up on welfare or in social housing.
Kenney also said that older immigrants are a burden on the health-care system and other social safety nets. A set of grandparents could cost the system as much as $400,000, he said.
The new set of rules included the minimum necessary income level of sponsors going up by 30 per cent, proof of income threshold for a minimum of three years (in place of one year), only Canada Revenue Agency notices of assessment to be accepted as proof of income, sponsorship commitment period doubled to 20 years, and the maximum age of dependents was set at 18 instead of 21.
Predictably, the changes were not received well by immigration civic actors and newcomer groups adversely affected by them.
The NDP, the then official opposition party, slammed the changes. It said they will make it harder and more expensive for families to reunite. “The Conservatives think family reunification should be a luxury only for those who can afford it,” its deputy immigration critic Sadia Groguhé said in a statement at the time.
Family Class sponsorship is not the only program through which parents and grandparents can enter Canada. Qualified applicants can also apply for temporary admission to Canada. They can also apply for extended, multiple-entry super visas.
The super visa was introduced in 2011 as an interim measure to circumvent the long wait times under the PGP program. A 10-year super visa allows entry periods lasting up to two years, but without any welfare benefits from the state, including health care. This visa program was made permanent in 2013.
Publisher’s Note: An earlier version of this report did not include the government’s response.