This guest article was authored by Arlind Selimi, Canadian Immigration Lawyer, HowTo Immigration Law.
Family reunification plays a significant role in attracting, retaining and integrating immigrants into Canadian society. Canada’s Parents and Grandparents Program (“PGP”) is an example of a program that gives families the chance to reunite in Canada. Generally, the PGP opens once a year and allows certain Canadian citizens and permanent residents (“PR”) to sponsor their parents and/or grandparents for permanent residence in Canada.
How the PGP Works
For the last few years, the first step of the PGP has been for eligible candidates to submit an “Interest to Sponsor” form. Then, in a lottery-style format, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) carries out a draw and issues invitations to selected candidates. The invitations are emailed to selected candidates and posted on the IRCC website. Selected candidates must then submit their sponsorship application packages by the deadline listed on their invitation to apply letter.
An eligible candidate is someone who is at least 18 years old and a Canadian citizen or PR living in Canada, whose income exceeds the Minimum Necessary Income (“MNI”) requirement set by IRCC for each of the past 3 taxation years before the date their application is submitted. The MNI is assessed based on the Canada Revenue Agency Notice of Assessments.
Additionally, eligible candidates residing in a province or territory outside of Quebec must promise to financially support the family member(s) being sponsored by way of an undertaking. The undertaking commits candidates to provide financial support for 20 years, starting when the sponsored family member(s) become PRs and are responsible for repaying any provincial social assistance (money from the government) sponsored family member(s) receive during that time. Eligible candidates residing in Quebec must meet Quebec’s immigration sponsorship requirements.
Lastly, eligible candidates and sponsored family member(s) must agree to certain responsibilities between them during the undertaking period. This forms what IRCC labels – the sponsorship agreement. The sponsorship agreement outlines a candidate’s commitment to providing for the basic needs of the sponsored family member(s) and commitment that the sponsored family member(s) will make every effort to support themselves and their family members. Once the agreement takes effect, it does not change even if circumstances change such as separation or divorce, family rifts, unemployment, change in finances, or death of the main applicant.
Flaws in the System
Up until 2020, IRCC used a first-come-first-serve selection system, where eligible candidates who submitted their interest to sponsor forms first were invited to apply until IRCC’s quotas were met. However, this led to an uneven playing field between eligible candidates who were tech-savvy and those who were not, since tech-savvy eligible candidates would submit their interest to sponsor forms in the first few seconds of the portal opening and be invited to apply. The current PGP lottery system intends to create a randomized, fair, and transparent selection process that gives everyone in the pool an identical chance of being invited to apply. However, in its function, several flaws can still be identified that warrant addressing.
One design flaw of the current system is that assuming all other eligibility criteria are met, it favours families with more children residing in Canada who are Canadian Citizens or PRs. Families with one child may only submit one interest to sponsor form, whereas families with more than one child in Canada can submit more than one interest to sponsor forms. The more children in a family, the more interest to sponsor forms being submitted and enhancing their chances of being chosen. As such, this design flaw can disadvantage Canadian citizens or PRs who come from one child per home regimes like China.
Another flaw with the current system is that the randomized selection process can lead to “unfair” results. For instance, an eligible candidate who submitted an interest to sponsor form for the first time may be selected over another candidate who has attempted for years to reunite with his or her family members and previously submitted an interest to sponsor form but was not selected. Selecting candidates without considering who has been attempting and waiting longer to sponsor their parent(s) or grandparent(s) creates the opposite of the PGP’s intended effect.
The Processing Hurdle
Like many other programs, selected candidates also face the hurdle of uncertain processing times. As per IRCC, current processing times for PGP applications can range from 20 to 24 months. While Canada has made some progress over the years to reduce processing times, more is still required. To date, it appears that processing times for the PGP will likely continue to hover around the 21-month mark. These timelines are too long for parents and grandparents who are aging and wish to live out the rest of their years surrounded by their immediate families. The Canadian government has been urged to consider these factors and be more diligent in processing these types of applications. PGP candidates are contributing members of the Canadian economy and deserve the right to have their families with them.
Between September 23 to October 4, 2021, IRCC issued 34, 500 invitations to meet its 30,000 quota. However, the last time interest to sponsor forms were accepted was from October 13 to November 3, 2020. As a result, Canadian citizens or PRs wanting to sponsor their parents or grandparents in 2021 and waiting for new interest to sponsor forms to be accepted, were left disappointed. The Canadian government invited candidates from the 2020 pool of potential sponsors. At present, it’s unclear whether this trend will continue in 2022. Those not invited to apply were recommended to apply for a Super Visa, which allows a parent or grandparent to visit them in Canada for up to 2 years at a time, without the need to renew their immigration status. A Super Visa allows multiple entries for up to 10 years. Under the new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, IRCC aims to welcome 25,000 immigrants under the PGP in 2022, and this is set to rise to 28,500 immigrants in 2023, and 32,000 immigrants in 2024.
Bearing in mind that not all responses can address all flaws in a broken system, it is useful to discuss ways in which the PGP could be more efficient, fair, and transparent. One proposed suggestion is for IRCC to split the pool of potential sponsors into two tiers. One pool could be made up of candidates who have previously submitted more than one interest to sponsor form but have never been selected, and the other pool made up of those submitting an interest to sponsor form for the first time. IRCC could then increase the number of invitations to be issued to candidates from the first pool and conduct a randomized selection process until the PGP quotas are met. While IRCC should be applauded for its attempt to create a fairer and transparent system, further modifications to the PGP are needed.