A return to form
There has been much commotion over recent months about the Parent and Grandparent Program (PGP), through which eligible Canadian citizens and permanent residents may sponsor their parent(s) or grandparent(s) for permanent resident status.
Family reunification often has a crucial role in immigrant settlement, as it allows the family unit to exist in the same place, thereby allowing workers to work and children to be cared for. Moreover, there are the less tangible benefits arising from being around loved ones. Consequently, the government of Canada reserves a portion of its annual intake for parents and grandparents of those who came before.
First, a short history of the PGP.
The program reopened in 2013 with new criteria after a hiatus that began in 2011. This hiatus allowed a multi-year backlog in applications to be dealt with, and for the then Conservative government to formulate criteria.
The program has proven to be one of the most competitive Canadian immigration programs. The 2014 intake, which had an application cap of 5,000 complete applications, filled in just three weeks. This period was shorter again in 2015, and by 2016 the intake was filled within three days. Individuals seeking to bring loved ones to Canada through the PGP were reportedly paying large sums to couriers in an effort to get their application to the top of the pile for a program that was inundated with more applications than available spots.
And so, the current Liberal government decided to do something. First, it announced that 10,000 new applications would be accepted for processing in 2017. Second, it set a target to bring in 20,000 new parents and grandparents through the PGP in 2017, with many of those being welcomed from the still-existing backlog. And finally, it revealed a new Expression of Interest – Invitation to Apply-based process for 2017.
These were all welcome steps taken by the government. However, the ‘Interest to Sponsor’ form, which became available for a few weeks over the winter, was not without hitches.
The form asked for basic contact and personal details, such as name, date and country of birth, and address — and that was it.
Of the 95,000 or so individuals who submitted a form, the government subsequently selected at random 10,000 sponsors. Of these, it is entirely possible — indeed likely — that many are ultimately not eligible to sponsor, for example by not being able to satisfy the minimum income requirement for the three previous years. This is because the initial form didn’t ask anything in relation to eligibility for the program. Consequently, some of the chosen may be in a position to submit an ultimately unsuccessful application, while many eligible potential sponsors may be unable to submit a complete application because they weren’t selected at all.
All of this has riled those affected, to the extent that an official petition was submitted to Parliament by a man named Brad Fach, from Cambridge, Ontario. This petition was then sponsored by Marwan Tabbara, Liberal Member of Parliament for Kitchener South – Hespeler. Tabbara, to his credit, was using his position as a backbench MP to petition against a policy initiated by his own party, for the betterment of his constituents and Canadian residents generally. For that, he should be commended.
However, the petition calls for the following steps to be taken by the Minister of Immigration, a position currently held by Ahmed Hussen:
1. Repeal the December 2016 change until a more comprehensive plan can be formulated and give people the opportunity to provide feedback about the coming changes;
2. Phase the changes in over the course of a few years, allowing the people who have prepared for 2017 to submit as per usual; and
3. Give previous lottery losers priority in the subsequent years if they do not make it in previous year lottery.
At this stage, point 1 appears dead in the water, because the department is already accepting the new applications. In addition, point 2 is opaque, as it is not clear what ‘as per usual’ refers to. Does it mean as per last year’s process? We can’t be sure.
An Interest to Sponsor form is not a bad idea in theory. In fact, it is a sound one, as it turns what was an informal lottery with a very short intake period into a more formal lottery with a given window of opportunity to submit a profile.
The problem this time around was that the form was a bad form in practice. By not evaluating for basic eligibility, it wastes many people’s time, not least IRCC staff who may have to go over the applications and find that many are ineligible.
So let’s get this right, and have a better form that is fit for purpose for the upcoming application cycle. Family reunification is too important an issue for it be otherwise.