BY WILLIAM MACINTOSH
IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Alexander appeared in Brampton, Ontario, Wednesday to announce the government’s changes to sponsorship rules and policy for parents and grandparents. Despite his efforts to sugarcoat the announcement, he couldn’t disguise the fact that the changes will severely limit future reunification of parents and grandparents for many families in Canada.
Alexander’s predecessor, Jason Kenney, announced the new policy originally on May 10. Proposed rule changes were published a week later. The final version of the changes made by cabinet order on December 12 will not be formally published until January 1, 2014, the day they come into effect.
The new rules and policy make four significant changes to sponsorship of parents and grandparents. First, sponsors previously signed an undertaking to be responsible for the parents and grandparents for 10 years after they are granted permanent residence. New undertakings will last 20 years. If the parents or grandparents receive any social assistance within those 20 years, the sponsor may be compelled to pay back the social assistance payments.
Secondly, sponsors are required to meet certain income requirements to be eligible to sponsor parents and grandparents. The minimum necessary income for sponsoring parents and grandparents is increasing by 30 percent. For example, at present a sponsor with a spouse and two children intending to sponsor two parents has to show an annual income of $55,378. Starting in 2014, the same sponsor will have to show an annual income of $71,991.
Thirdly, sponsors will be required to provide proof of income from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for three years, instead of one year. A sponsor noted above wanting to file an application in January, 2014, will have to show proof of the greater income for the taxation years from 2011 to 2013. The sponsor may not get satisfactory proof from the CRA for 2013 income for several months, so the sponsor may have to show proof of the higher income for 2010 as well if they file an application on January 2.
THAT’S important if the sponsor’s application is to be approved, because of the fourth change. The minister confirmed that under his power to issue instructions that the number of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents accepted for processing in 2014 will be limited to 5,000 (covering 9,000 applicants); effectively on a first-come, first-served basis.
There will be a mad scramble to file applications in early January as sponsors stake their claim to the limited number of sponsorships. The government isn’t helping the situation. The minister advised that new application forms and guides will not be posted on the Citizenship and Immigration website until December 31.
When asked about that, the minister said there wouldn’t be any surprises with the new forms. He urged those intending to apply to get ready and gather the necessary information. He said it doesn’t take a lot of time to get it together, noting he had sponsored a spouse himself. One of the CRA forms usually requested is an Option C printout of a notice of assessment. While you can call the CRA to request the form, it may take a week or two to receive it.
The minister’s announcement amounted to a shell game. On the one hand, the minister notes the changes will reduce the backlog and waiting time for outstanding applicants. On the other hand, he hides the fact that fewer potential sponsors will be eligible. In prior statements the government made it clear it wants to reduce parental sponsorship as parents and grandparents are considered to be an economic burden, as they make demands on social and health services that outweigh any benefit their presence may contribute to the economy. That may be a legitimate political policy decision. Unfortunately current politics dictate that political leaders obfuscate policy decisions to offend the fewest number of voters.
There was good news for some from the minister. A further change proposed in May would restrict eligible children who can be included in any application, either through family sponsorship or economic class applications, to children under age 19 (it would still include children over 18 who are dependent due to mental or physical conditions). The minster advised that a final decision on that change, which was to start January 1, has been put off until early next year. Public input on that proposal may be making the government think twice about it.
William Macintosh is an immigration and citizenship lawyer who began practising in 1984. You can reach him for advice at 778-714-8787.