‘People will die before they come to this land’

Ottawa clamps down on visas for elders trying to join immigrant families here

Charan Gill is executive director of the Surrey-based Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society.

A federal plan to sharply reduce the number of family reunification visas issued this year threatens to keep immigrants from being joined by aging parents and grandparents who may die overseas before they can come to Canada.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said Immigration Canada targets he has obtained under Access to Information show Ottawa intends to grant just 11,200 visas for parents and grandparents to join family in Canada in 2011 – a 40 per cent drop from 16,200 issued last year.

With more than 140,000 applicants seeking such family reunification visas, Kurland said it implies wait times will more than double to 13 years, longer than many of the overseas elders may live.

Charan Gill, executive director of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS), said many immigrant families in Surrey and across the Lower Mainland will be upset by the change.

“There’s no point in processing many of these applications any more,” he said. “People will die before they come to this land.”

Gill called it a serious reversal of Canada’s traditionally humanitarian policy of accommodating the reunification of families here.

“This policy is really anti-immigrant,” he said. “They’re segregating the families.”

Chinese applicants should not have as much difficulty – the targets show the number of elder visas earmarked for Beijing will more than double from 1,000 to 2,650 this year.

But for Indo-Canadians seeking to bring parents and grandparents home, it’s a different story.

New Delhi, the hub for all applications from India, gets 2,500 visas this year, down 45 per cent from 4,500 in 2010.

And the number of German visas is slashed from 80 to five, with similar steep reductions for Turkey and Romania.

Gill said the new direction doesn’t recognize the fact elders brought here to live with family often help with child care, saving expenses and enabling one spouse of a family to go back into the workforce.

Families will be hurt economically and culturally, he said, noting grandparents are key to helping instill heritage and cultural values in children.

Kurland believes the decision to clamp down on reunification visas is about money, specifically the potential cost to Canada of aging relatives who arrive here and soon become a financial burden on the medical system.

He proposes Ottawa consider a new option to address that problem.

Elder applicants could be assessed overseas and actuaries could estimate the amount of medical premiums required to cover 15 years worth of their anticipated medical costs in Canada.

Families could then choose to pay that as a lump sum – eliminating the health care cost to Canada from the equation – in order to have the parents come here without a wait, Kurland suggested.

In many cases, he said, members of the extended family from around the world could pool their finances to support the move.

While Gill fears the reduced allocation of elder visas is permanent, Kurland said it may be just a one-year reduction to enable government politicians to trumpet a subsequent “increase” back to normal levels in a possible 2012 election year.

Immigration Canada spokesperson Melanie Carkner denied higher health care costs are the reason for the lower 2011 visa targets.

“We’ve opted to put children and spouses first,” Carkner said, adding they, along with refugees, will have access to more visas this year.

She downplayed the importance of the targets, saying they can be adjusted throughout the year as necessary.