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Canadian Immigration: Family Reunification for the Rich and the Lucky

No One Is Illegal – Toronto responds to the May 2013 changes to the Parent and Grandparent Program for Sponsorship

Last week, under the guise of “re-opening” family reunification, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney revealed significant changes to the Parent and Grandparent sponsorship program, once again making it harder for families to be reunited in Canada. With more exclusive conditions, only the wealthy or the lucky ones who make the first-come-first-served cut-off will be reunited with families, leaving behind the thousands who have been waiting for the past 10 years.

In 2011, Minister Kenney imposed a two-year freeze on immigration applications from parents and grandparents, shutting out the 165,000 people who had applied under the program many of whom had been waiting over eight years. Under the new restrictions, most of these families will remain shut out.

There is no compassion in the details. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, only 5,000 new applications will be accepted per year. This means the vast majority of immigrants will be unable to re-join their families.

Sponsors must prove minimum incomes that are 30% higher than before ($55,000 per household) and promise to be financially responsible for their loved ones for 20 years, rather than the current 10. Children, who used to be eligible for sponsorship as long as they were still in school, will now be excluded if over the age of 18, many of whom may still be dependent on their families’ support.

The “Super Visa” for parents and grandparents established after the fixture is now a permanent fixture. This is essentially a new temporary work program. The lucky holders of the Super Visa will be permitted to make multiple entries over a 10 year period, and remain in Canada for 2 years at a time but can’t stay permanently. Parents and grandparents who arrive here on this visa will be unable to get public healthcare and must access private insurance. Their sponsoring children must also meet a minimum income requirement. Add the costs of shuttling parents, grandparents and children back and forth between countries, and its clear this program is only meant for the wealthy.

Do not be fooled by the advertised “generosity” and “humanitarianism” of the Canadian immigration system. We have seen more than a 25% reduction to refugee acceptances, and the 73% drop in the number of permanent residents receiving Canadian citizenship since the conservatives came to power. There has been a dramatic shift from permanent residency to permanent temporariness. Hundreds of thousands of temporary migrant workers, many of whom are people of colour, fill the most precarious of jobs, pay millions into the social system, and yet they are unable to access essential health care, social assistance, employment insurance, and worker protection. Even if they get immigration status, they will be unlikely to bring over their families. Kenney is telling these people - those who grow our food, take care of our kids, clean our dishes, and form the basis of our economy - that they can work here but aren’t good enough to stay or be with their families.

Under this immigration system of increased temporariness, we will be seeing more and more immigrants - including children making the difficult decision to stay in Canada after the immigration system arbitrarily denies them more permits. Many of them will face detention, and deportation. It is not that our families are stealing Canadian resources; rather Canada is stealing immigration status and their humanity.

We demand an end to an immigration system that criminalizes refugees, imprisons immigrants, exploits migrant workers, punishes poor and people of colour, tears families apart, and prevents families from reuniting. Our communities are not fooled by the rhetoric of Jason Kenney, nor we will we be kept apart from our loved ones. We demand the immediate establishment of a non-discriminatory, non-punitive, full and comprehensive immigrant regularization system.

Freedom to move, freedom to stay, freedom to return.

Freedom to reunite! No One Is Illegal!