Backgrounder — Stakeholder Consultations on a Redesigned Parent and Grandparent Program


The purpose of this consultation is to seek your feedback on possible options for the redesign of Canada’s parent and grandparent program. We are asking for your input on options for better managing this category of immigrants to Canada.

We invite your comments on two key areas:

  1. How to manage the intake of applications; and
  2. What a modernized parent and grandparent immigration program could look like.

Some of the questions we will explore are:

  • How should application intake be managed?
  • Should we try to ease the economic impact of parents and grandparents?
  • Should we redefine the eligibility of family members who accompany parents and grandparents?
  • Should we emphasize a commitment to Canada on the part of sponsors?
  • Should we focus on special needs or exceptional cases?

What follows will give you a sense of some of the challenges and realities we face as we strive to best answer these questions.


Immigration and family reunification

Immigration has been a sustaining feature of Canada’s history and continues to play an important role in building our country. The current immigration system must manage multiple objectives, among them supporting the development of a strong and prosperous Canada and seeing that families are reunited. Approximately 26% of immigrants who come to Canada each year do so under the family class which allows for the sponsorship of spouses, partners and children as well as parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

The uniqueness of Canada’s parent and grandparent program

Canada’s program for admitting parents and grandparents as permanent residents is the most generous in the world. Most countries, for example, only allow grandparents to be sponsored under exceptional circumstances if at all, where Canada allows for the sponsorship of grandparents under the same rules that apply to parents. The United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand all have more restrictive criteria for the sponsorship of parents. These criteria vary by country, but include policies that limit entry to those who have the majority of their family already in the country of destination, who pay sizeable fees for entry or who are of a certain age and fully dependent on the sponsor. Canada’s program allows for sponsorship of parents and grandparents on the basis of the relationship alone, so long as the sponsor makes a 10-year financial support commitment and meets a minimum required income standard.

Sponsored parents and grandparents – The numbers

In 2010, parents and their dependent children and grandparents made up approximately 5.5% of the overall number of immigrants who came to Canada. Of those entering Canada through the parent and grandparent (PGP) category, approximately 52% were principal applicants, 28% were spouses of principal applicants, approximately 11% were dependent children aged 18 or older, and close to 6% were dependent children under the age of 18 at the time of application. Fifty-six percent were destined to Ontario, 20% to British Columbia, 11% to Alberta and 10% to Quebec. In 2010, the average age of principal applicants was 65.

While sponsored parents and grandparents come to Canada from all over the world, in 2010, 60% came from India, China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. See Appendix A for detailed information on Canada’s top 10 source countries for parents and grandparents.

Requirements for sponsoring parents and grandparents

Canadian citizens or permanent residents over the age of 18 may sponsor their parents and grandparents subject to a sponsorship undertaking of 10 years. By undertaking to support a sponsored parent or grandparent, the sponsor promises that they will provide for the basic needs of their family member such as food, clothing and shelter, and that the sponsored person will not draw on social assistance for the duration of the undertaking. They also accept the obligation to repay any social assistance payments made to or on behalf of their parent or grandparent during the 10-year undertaking period.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires a financial assessment to determine whether or not sponsors are financially capable of sponsoring their parents or grandparents. Sponsors must demonstrate that, for the 12-month period prior to sponsorship, they had a level of income that met the minimum necessary income (MNI) required to support their parents or grandparents in addition to their existing family members. These financial criteria requirements are based on Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) levels established annually by Statistics Canada. LICO is intended to convey the income level at which a family may be in strained circumstances because it has to spend a greater portion of its income on the basics (food, clothing and shelter) than does the average family of similar size. Quebec sets MNI requirements for sponsors residing in Quebec. The Quebec figures are slightly higher than those of LICO for other provinces and territories.

See Appendix B for MNI amounts for all Canadian provinces other than Quebec and Appendix C for MNI amounts for Quebec.

Parents and grandparents – The outcomes

Parents and grandparents contribute to the lives of their families and to Canada in many ways – for example, by providing unpaid help to their families, including child care, which can help both parents enter the labour force, and by volunteering in their communities. At the same time, elderly parents and grandparents report the lowest income of all immigrant categories except refugees. Because so many have low incomes as individuals, they rely more on public pensions like Old Age Security (OAS) and the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), once eligible, than immigrants who enter Canada in other categories or those born in Canada.

Between 25% and 40% of seniors who arrive in Canada after the age of 60 have no independent source of income and are financially dependent on their sponsors. (Special Senate Committee on Aging Final Report, Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity, April 2009, page 29) Ten years after landing, the time at which most parents and grandparents become eligible for OAS and GIS, roughly 70% of their income will come from these programs while 10% will come from employment earnings. These lower employment rates, combined with shorter overall work periods, mean parents and grandparents make lower contributions to public coffers through taxation over their lifetime in Canada than those in other immigrant categories or those born in Canada.

Arrival later in life also means that many parents enter Canada at a time when their health-care costs are higher. In Canada, nearly 44% of all health-care dollars are consumed by individuals over 65, including those born in Canada and immigrants.

Planning for immigration admissions

Each year, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism tables in Parliament a plan on immigration levels for the following year. The plan provides a range for admissions in each category of permanent residents.

In planning for the total number of people to admit as permanent residents, CIC not only balances immigration objectives but also considers several other factors, including:

  • Government of Canada priorities and commitments;
  • Input solicited from consultations with provinces and territories and stakeholders;
  • Current and future economic conditions, as well as labour market needs; and
  • The capacity of the economy and communities to welcome newcomers.

The levels plan must support the Government of Canada’s commitment to an immigration system that continues to balance the three pillars of immigration – economic immigration, family reunification and Canada’s humanitarian tradition.


Demand to immigrate greatly exceeds capacity

There is substantial pressure to bring in more people in most, if not all, immigration categories. Clearly, this cannot be accommodated within current, or even modestly raised levels, meaning difficult choices have to be made. Out of the total number of admissions planned for each year, there are a limited number of places available for family class, and within the family class, spouses, partners and children receive first priority. CIC sets aside space in each levels plan that will allow for the processing of applications for nuclear family members within 12 months. Additional space as available is then allotted for parents and grandparents. When asked, Canadians have consistently supported the prioritization of other classes of immigrants, in particular spouses, partners and children, ahead of parents and grandparents.

For many years, the demand among immigrants to sponsor their parents has significantly exceeded the space available in Canada’s annual immigration plan for parents and grandparents, resulting in a growing backlog of applications. As of the end of September 2011, there were 168,000 people in the PGP category awaiting processing of their applications. Processing times have peaked at close to seven years and will only begin to drop as the backlog is reduced. Clearly, large inventories and long wait times are not sustainable.

What was heard during the 2011 consultations

In the summer of 2011, CIC held in-person and online consultations with stakeholders and the public to determine the right levels of immigration to Canada and the right mix between the three immigrant classes: economic, family and protected people. Canadians were asked how important it is to maintain the PGP program, what the most important element of the program is, whether parents and grandparents should be given the same application processing priority as spouses, partners and children, how Canada should handle the backlog of applications in this category and what the most important change should be to this program.

During the consultation period, many concerns were raised about the cost to taxpayers of bringing in older immigrants, in particular health-care costs, and the issue of the large number of elderly people already in Canada was mentioned.

As well:

  • Almost half of the respondents participating in the online survey told us they did not believe it was important to maintain the parents and grandparents category.
  • Respondents indicated that the most important element of the program was that it allowed for family reunification.
  • Sixty percent of the respondents said they did not believe parents and grandparents should be given the same application processing priority as spouses, partners and children.
  • When asked how Canada should handle the current backlog of applications, most respondents (1,482) favoured increasing the number of parents allowed into Canada each year, with only slightly fewer (1,272) suggesting that the number of people allowed to sponsor their parents and grandparents should be limited.

If one change were made to the PGP program, most respondents believe it should be requiring sponsors to be better financially established before they are eligible to sponsor.


Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification – Phase I

In November 2011, Minister Kenney announced Phase I of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification. The four points in this plan have three ultimate goals: to reduce the backlog, to speed up processing times, and to make it easier for parents and grandparents to visit Canada.

First, the plan increases the number of parents and grandparents to be admitted to Canada by 60%, from a target of just over 15,000 in 2011 to 25,000 in 2012. This will be the highest number of parents and grandparents admitted to Canada in nearly two decades.

Second, as of December 1, 2011, parents and grandparents can apply for a new 10-year multiple-entry Parent and Grandparent Super Visa. Under this visa, they will be able to stay for up to two years at a time without the need to renew their temporary resident status.

Third, these consultations, about how to redesign the parent and grandparent program in the future so that it is sustainable over the long term, will support future directions for a newly redesigned parent and grandparent program.

And finally, to prevent the backlog from continuing to grow, as of November 2011, a temporary pause of up to 24 months has been placed on the acceptance of new sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents. This temporary pause will enable the backlog to be reduced so that wait times are shorter and more reasonable and a new program can be put in place unencumbered by the existing inventory.

Already the action plan is reducing the backlog and will continue to do so, but a redesigned program will be key to a sustainable way forward.

What the redesigned program must do

For the PGP program to be sustainable, it must be redesigned to avoid future backlogs. That means we need to find a way to better balance the number of applications we receive and the number of parents and grandparents we can admit in a given year. A redesigned program must also be sensitive to the Government of Canada’s fiscal constraints, bearing in mind our generous public health-care system and other social benefits. We will need to ensure that we admit parents and grandparents whose families can afford to support them and that we admit the number of parents and grandparents that Canada can support.

It will also be important that the new program is transparent, that people are able to easily understand eligibility requirements and that they will know how long it is going to take to process their application.

Managing the number of people who can apply – A necessary step

Unless the demand for spaces in the PGP category is managed when the current pause on application intake is lifted, the backlog has the potential to quickly grow again to an unmanageable size. To avoid this, future intake of sponsorship applications will need to be limited to a set number. This means that each year, Canada will only accept the number of applications that corresponds roughly with the number of spaces available for parents and grandparents in the levels plan. Limiting intake in this way is the only mechanism for managing the program responsibly, allowing for prompt processing on an ongoing basis and ensuring that backlogs do not build again in the future.

How should application intake be managed?

Limiting intake means that decisions will have to be made on how these limits should be applied. Should applications be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis with applications being returned to sponsors once the limit has been reached, or should an approach (such as a lottery) be employed once applications have been collected for a year, giving all applicants an equal chance of being chosen but only processing those selected while returning those not selected?

A modernized parent and grandparent immigration program

Although we need to manage intake of applications through either a cap or a lottery, a redesign of the PGP program is also needed, one that is sensitive to fiscal constraints, bearing in mind Canada’s public health-care system and other social benefits.

Criteria will be explored that limit the intake of parents and grandparents and tightens the system, so that people deemed eligible to apply to come to Canada through a modernized PGP program are the parents and grandparents who best match our priorities and who support the continued development of a strong and prosperous Canada.

In addition to managing intake, a newly designed program could reshape the program in a number of ways by:

  • Easing the economic impact of parents and grandparents;
  • Redefining the eligibility of family members who accompany parents and grandparents;
  • Emphasizing a commitment to Canada; and
  • Focusing on special needs or exceptional cases.


Should we try to ease the economic impact of parents and grandparents?

Lifetime sponsorship

In order to uphold Canada’s commitment to family reunification while reducing the draw on provincial social programs, the current 10-year undertaking period could be extended to the lifetime of the sponsored parent or grandparent. A lifetime sponsorship would ensure that responsibility for ongoing financial support remained with the sponsoring permanent resident or Canadian citizen. At the same time, an extended sponsorship period could act as an ongoing deterrent to provincial social assistance uptake and would allow for the collection from the sponsor of any social assistance amounts beyond the current 10-year time frame.

Canada’s public income security system provides benefits to all seniors who meet the 10-year residency test – OAS, and GIS (an additional benefit targeted to people with low incomes). Currently, no parent or grandparent who has lived in Canada less than 10 years is eligible for either of these benefits. However, after 10 years, they become eligible regardless of the existence of an undertaking. Almost all seniors receive benefits from these programs although immigrant seniors, and parents and grandparents in particular, draw a higher proportion of income from GIS than do those born in Canada, largely due to their lower income levels.

Therefore, regardless of whether the sponsorship is extended from 10 years to a lifetime, immigrant seniors will remain eligible for these programs. A lifetime sponsorship will only have the effect of extending the period to the lifetime of the PGP for which provinces can collect on sponsor default. Although PGPs can still claim social assistance under an undertaking, extending the sponsorship would allow the provinces to recuperate amounts claimed by PGPs in social assistance from sponsors during the PGPs’ lifetime.


Parents and grandparents or their sponsors could be charged a fee for the purpose of offsetting some of the anticipated costs to provincial and federal programs similar to the fee of approximately $40,000 per person charged by Australia to some sponsored parents. A policy of this nature would ensure in part that parents and grandparents do not place an unnecessary burden on the public purse. However, it would also mean that sponsors who could not afford a fee would be unable to sponsor their parents and grandparents. Similarly, it could financially strain sponsoring families or increase their risk of poverty.

Changes to Minimum Necessary Income

To ensure that sponsors are well settled and have the financial ability to support their parents or grandparents, three options related to the MNI threshold for sponsors could be explored. They are:

  • The MNI threshold could be increased. This would require sponsors to demonstrate a level of income above the current LICO figures and could result in sponsors who are better able to support their newly extended families.
  • A similar but different approach might be to increase the length of time for which a sponsor must meet the MNI threshold. Research indicates that a number of potential sponsors of parents and grandparents who are able to meet the MNI for one year, as currently required, fall below this level of income in subsequent years and would not be able to meet an MNI requirement for three or five years. This suggests that these sponsors may not have the ability to support their parents and grandparents over time. Research also indicates, however, that as the number of years since landing increases, so do immigrant incomes. Increasing the length of time for which a stable minimum income would be needed could result in sponsors who are better able to financially support their parents or grandparents over time.
  • A combination of higher levels of income and a longer period of demonstrated stability could also be implemented. Such an approach would limit the sponsorship of parents and grandparents to people able to demonstrate a higher minimum income over a longer period of time.

Should we redefine eligibility of family members who accompany parents and grandparents?

Focus on parents rather than siblings of sponsors

Dependent children of parents and grandparents, those who are siblings of the in-Canada sponsors, currently make up approximately 17% of admissions in this category. The movement is largely constituted of adult children with two-thirds being 18 or older. Limiting sponsorship to principal applicants and their spouses would mean that parents could choose to immigrate to Canada at such time as they no longer have to provide for children in their home country. This could also mean difficult decisions would have to be made by sponsored parents with younger children as under a policy like this, those children would also not be sponsorable in the future. However, limiting sponsorship to only parents and grandparents would allow more Canadians and permanent residents to reunite with their parents and grandparents within the set levels for this category.

Balance of Family Test

Canada could adopt an approach similar to Australia’s Balance of Family test which would impose a requirement on parents and grandparents to have at least half, or the majority, of their children living permanently in Canada before they could be sponsored. This would reunite families where the majority of children are already in Canada, but bar access to families where the majority of children do not reside in Canada. A Balance of Family test does not take into consideration the nature or quality of the relationship between parents and their sponsors as it only counts children and where they reside. It is also a program that could be subject to fraud if parents and grandparents do not accurately represent their family structure.

Should we emphasize a commitment to Canada on the part of sponsors?

Citizenship as a requirement to sponsor

The sponsorship of parents and grandparents could be limited to those who have demonstrated a commitment to Canada by obtaining Canadian citizenship. In order to obtain citizenship, a person must be 18 years or over, have lived in Canada for a total of three out of four years preceding the application for citizenship, have knowledge of Canada, not be subject to any criminal prohibitions, and have adequate knowledge of one of Canada’s two official languages. A requirement of this nature could encourage a commitment to Canada but would do little to impact the overall PGP program as it currently exists because many sponsors of parents and grandparents are already Canadian citizens and this measure would only result in delaying the submission of some applications rather than limiting intake itself.

Should we focus on special needs or exceptional cases?

The parent and grandparent program could be redesigned to limit entry to those who meet exceptional criteria and who require compassionate consideration, not unlike the approach currently taken in the United Kingdom. Such examples could include parents or grandparents who are fully dependent on their sponsor, those who are widowed or who have no caregivers in their country of origin, or those who have other exceptional needs. While this would drastically alter the existing program and make Canada inaccessible to the parents and grandparents most likely to enter the work force, provide support to the family of their sponsors or contribute positively to society, it would still allow the parents and grandparents who are most in need to join their families in Canada. Assessment of eligibility for a program of this nature could also be problematic and subject to fraud.


We have just outlined some of the options that could be pursued to redesign CIC’s PGP program to ensure it is viable in the future. Our goal is to build Phase II of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification so that when it comes into effect, future applicants are processed quickly and the program can operate on an efficient and sustainable basis.

To build a better PGP program, we need your input on which, if any, of the options outlined in this document are most appropriate given the challenges at hand. Perhaps there is one, or a combination of a few, options that could work best for Canada and for those families who wish to reunite in Canada on a permanent basis with their parents and grandparents.

Appendix A: Top Ten Source Countries

Top 10 Source Countries – Landings – 2005-2010
SOURCE COUNTRY 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
India 6,950 8,570 5,665 5,940 5,760 4,775
People’s Republic of China 1,230 2,460 2,385 2,205 2,670 2,380
Philippines 725 1,695 960 770 1,015 1,015
Sri Lanka 320 670 600 570 555 820
Romania 25 100 130 495 265 410
Iran 250 570 635 595 985 300
Ukraine 30 110 100 145 240 285
Socialist Republic of Vietnam 295 890 410 185 285 285
Israel 75 60 150 200 115 200
Haiti 55 75 45 65 115 640*

* The spike is a result of the Haiti Special Measures Program after the 2010 earthquake.

Appendix B: Minimum Necessary Income for All Provinces Except Quebec

Low Income Cut-Off (LICO)

Effective until December 31, 2011

Size of Family Unit Minimum Necessary Income
1 person (the sponsor) C$22,229
2 persons C$27,674
3 persons C$34,022
4 persons C$41,307
5 persons C$46,850
6 persons C$52,838
7 persons C$58,827
More than 7 persons, for each additional person, add C$5,989

Appendix C: Minimum Necessary Income for Quebec

Quebec Income Scale, 2011

Effective from January 1 to December 31, 2011

The government of Quebec is responsible for determining the financial capability of sponsors living in Quebec. Sponsors (guarantors) are presumed to be able to satisfy their undertaking if in the last 12 months, they have had gross income from Canadian sources equal to the SUM of the amount shown in Table 1 and the amount in Table 2 below. These amounts are indexed each year.

Table 1. Basic Income Required of Sponsor to Meet Basic Needs of His Own Family
Total Number of Family Members Basic Annual Income Required
1 C$20,975
2 C$28,315
3 C$34,958
4 C$40,205
5 C$44,747
The gross annual income is increased by C$4,542 for each additional dependant.

Table 2. Additional Income Required of Sponsor to Meet Basic Needs of Sponsored Person and His or Her Family Members

Persons 18 and over Persons under 18 Gross Annual Income
Required of Sponsor
0 1 C$7,261
0 2 C$11,507
The gross annual income required is increased by C$3,837 for each additional person under 18.
1 0 C$15,343
1 1 C$20,614
1 2 C$23,276
The gross annual income required is increased by C$2,660 for each additional person under 18.
2 0 C$22,499
2 1 C$25,204
2 2 C$27,207
The gross annual income required is increased by C$1,997 for each additional person under 18 and by C$7,153 for each additional person 18 or over.

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