Opening doors

  • November 8, 2011

As anyone who has tried to sponsor a parent or grandparent into Canada can attest, our family reunification program is broken. So the immigration minister deserves credit for renovating it.

It’s unfortunate, however, that recent reforms announced by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to reduce a backlog of reunifications could adversely affect other desperate immigrants and refugees. The reforms will make it easier for the parents and grandparents of new Canadians to come here, but asylum seekers, economic migrants and people seeking humanitarian exemptions into Canada will soon be competing for fewer spaces.

Canada receives about 40,000 family reunification applications a year for about 15,000 spaces. There is a backlog of 165,000 applicants. The processing wait time is now seven years and projected to hit 10 years without reform. Something had to give.

Under reforms announced Nov. 4, there is now a two-year moratorium on reunification applications. As a stop-gap measure, parents and grandparents can request a “super visa,” a 10-year pass to allow multiple visits of up to two years at time, provided visa holders purchase private medical insurance and their families guarantee to support them.

Kenney hopes to trim the backlog of applicants to 50,000 in two years, in part by increasing the annual quota for parents and grandparents to 25,000.

Canada needs immigrants, particularly skilled workers and professionals, to help replace an aging workforce. So it is smart policy to have an immigration plan that can compete with the lure of other nations. A sensible prong of that strategy is a pledge to prospective immigrants that resettlement needn’t mean permanent separation from parents and grandparents.

But more than an economic practicality, family reunification is a Christian and compassionate objective. Pope Benedict XVI has called families the “domestic church.” He has spoken often in defence of the family institution and its vital role in the moral and spiritual life of society. So reuniting new Canadians with parents and allowing their Canadian-born children to know the love and support of grandparents is commendable. 

It’s disconcerting, however, that family reunification comes at the expense of other, often marginalized, groups. Despite increasing reunifications, Canada will maintain a total immigration quota of about 250,000 annually. The status quo will be kept by denying entry to 3,000 fewer asylum seekers, 1,300 people requesting residence on humanitarian grounds and 5,000 economic migrants.

In the grand scheme, those numbers may seem small. But they include many distressed members of society who previously would have found an open door into Canada.

Fixing holes in the family reunification program is good policy. Fixing them at the expense of other desperate people is not.

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