Is capping family-class immigration the answer?
Mario D. Bellissimo
As published in Embassy, Canada’s foreign policy newsweekly.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he is considering even further cuts to the number of family-class immigrants who come to Canada. He floated the idea at an immigration committee meeting last week. To his credit he has squarely put this issue before Canadians. The minister is targeting the sub-class of parents and grandparents in particular for an official cap and perhaps other measures. The reality though is the numbers say this has already happened.
In 2010 new permanent residents to Canada consisted of only 21.5 per cent from the family class as opposed to 66.6 per cent from economic categories. This compares to 28 per cent and 55.4 per cent respectively in 2007 and continues a down-trending of family-class numbers over the past several years. So it would appear the message that family-class migration to Canada is limited has been received loud and clear globally.
Reducing the numbers of family-class admissions was seen as a way to alleviate some pressure on our already burdened system and prioritize economic classes. NDP immigration critic Don Davies has been quoted as saying that capping is not the only policy tool available to the minister. Rather, he would urge Canada to accept another 100,000 immigrants each year.
Parents and grandparents immigrating to Canada are elderly, will not assume employment in Canada and present with excessive medical costs. True? Canada long did away with the inclusion of siblings in the family class, for example, because selection was based primarily on relation rather than on potential economic benefit.
More emphasis on economic categories has benefited Canada and this could not have been accomplished through family-class migration. True?
The answers are not clear.
Those who advocate for an expanded rather than limited family class argue the financial, social and emotional support that family members give is vital to the sponsor’s ability to integrate successfully into Canadian society. Elderly relatives or children who need to be cared for would benefit by this care coming from a relative instead of a social or private service, and this would result in less of a burden on our stretched social resources and services.
In addition, the sponsor’s time and anxiety would be freed and they could focus on their employment and social integration, which benefits the Canadian economy, culture and society as a whole. True?
Time to rethink
Despite, and in part because of, the divide, this may be the ideal time to rethink our family reunification objectives under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. They in many ways have become an afterthought.
Several themes on the same bill (C-436, C-272 and C-394), termed the “Once in a Lifetime Bill” have been introduced in different parliaments to try to reconcile the backlog problem with the Immigration Act’s family reunification objectives.
The idea behind the “Once in a Lifetime Bill” was to allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor once in their lifetime a family member who did not fit into the strict definition of the family class. Despite this bill being voted on several times, it was never passed. The primary concern highlighted in parliamentary debates was that this could result in several million sponsorship applications leading to more of a backlog in our clogged system.
What about a cap and queue?
Parliamentarians searched for solutions mainly targeted at resolving this backlog issue. One proposed solution was that if the overall number of accepted immigrants was unchanged, the proportion of family-class immigrants to economic immigrants, for example, could be weighted heavier to include more family-class immigrants. This was not accepted.
We should revisit the issue, with one main caveat.
One of Canada’s main goals, like all countries, is to increase our global competitiveness surrounding immigration, and a steady increase in immigrants who will contribute to our overall social as well as economic wellbeing is crucial to that objective.
Caps may help, but revisiting our core presumptions could prove more fruitful. How? Our lens must change.
We must first closely and carefully study social as well as economic fusion and functionality across all categories.
Second, the family class need not only be thought of as a non-economic category and economic migration as a category that does not impact our nation building.
Third, increasing the overall immigration numbers, the impact of resettlement, inclusion of siblings in the family-class category with economic conditions, caps and queues, and reweighting of immigration categories should all be explored.
Ultimately, the time is right to proactively build economically and culturally rather than react to current circumstances relying heavily upon tired myopic compartmentalizations of immigrant applicants and categories.