January 20, 2016

Sponsoring Parents: Is There a Better Way?

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

The rush of parental sponsorship applications on the first business day of 2016 was like a Black Friday Sale. Should it be first-in first-out, where each subsequent year the competition to get to the head of the line will only intensify? With demand far outpacing supply and with no change in sight, is there a better way?

In my interview with the Toronto Star we explored many options. The one we hear about most is the lottery system, a system that will still leave many families disappointed. In fact, the only meaningful solution to families would be no limit on intake. With this however, the backlog and processing times would grow to the point where the program has little value to anyone. So the real questions in my mind are:

1.What do we want this program to be – is it strictly for family reunification or other goals?
2.How do we manage expectations?
3. What are other countries doing?

A good starting point in sourcing answers is to look at what other countries are doing.  Here is a quick look at a few:


From what I understand, although the overall cap numbers in Australia are lower than in Canada, there are a number of qualifiers and different categories to better reflect the myriad of qualities parental applicants bring along with them when immigrating. Some examples in Australia include:

Working Age Parent: a person outside Australia who is not old enough to be granted an Australian age pension and who meets the “balance of family test”. Simply put, this means that at least half of their children live in Australia.

Aged Parent: Pension-eligible parent who meets the balance of family test and this category has more restrictive caps.

Carer Relatives: Relatives who can provide long term care to a family member in Australia that cannot reasonably be met by existing community or family supports in Australia.

Aged Dependent Relatives: This category is for single relatives, over 60 for women and 65 for men, of sponsors who cannot support themselves in their home country and are substantially dependent on their Australian family.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Parent Category is a two-tier scheme where people can submit an expression of interest (EOI) under either tier. Tier One takes priority with higher income and financial requirements than tier two. Tier Two EOIs and applications are processed only after tier one. 11,000 places have been allocated between July 2014 and June 2016 under the New Zealand Government Residence Programme and processing times are clearly communicated at the outset as Tier One processing times are up to twelve months and Tier Two estimated at up to seven years. By processing them through EOI the applications can be filed at any time as opposed to a one time filing each year as we see in Canada.


It appears sponsorship of a parent in Britain is very restrictive and a parent will only be permitted to be sponsored from within or outside the country if they can demonstrate that because of age, illness or disability, they require long-term care without use of health or social services as we understand them in Canada and care cannot be provided outside Britain.

United States

In the U.S., only citizens, and not permanent residents, over the age of 21 can sponsor a parent including step-parents provided (in many categories) the sponsor’s financial dependency existed on that parent until the age of 21. There are no limits on sponsorships but other family class categories are prioritized.


Clearly, this is a very quick summary of other jurisdictions and in depth study is required but is nonetheless instructive. In Canada, we should explore better defining the parameters of the program and manage sponsors and applicants’ expectations.  What are the numbers?  Is it true most applicants are elderly? I have worked on parental sponsorships where parents were still in their late forties and even more in their fifties. In Britain, the program has become very restrictive. In Australia, the program is small but provides various categories as in New Zealand, where parents apply through EOI. In the United States, the program appears wide-open but with the very important qualifier that only citizens can apply to sponsor.

In turn, Canada could consider varied application periods throughout the year when sponsors can apply in order to avoid the January rush and look at different categories including fused economic components, humanitarian relief, balance of family test and other qualifiers so expectations and needs are better managed. So although there are no simple solutions and we cannot accommodate everyone, there may well be options outside of a “one size” fits all approach at “one time” of the year to better reflect what parents can offer Canada.

For more information on Family Class Sponsorship, please click here.