Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a News Conference to Announce Proposed Changes to the Parent and Grandparent Program

Mississauga, Ontario
May 10, 2013

As delivered

Good morning everyone. Thank you for being here. I’m Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Thank you very much for joining us for an important announcement.

As you’ll recall, in September of 2011, I announced in this room phase one of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification. This was in response to our commitment to cut the wait times and the backlog for the sponsorship of parents and grandparents as permanent residents. Because, over several years, we ended up with a backlog of over 165,000 people, waiting in that program for over eight years for a decision.

I’ll discuss those backlogs more. Just, as a refresher, the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification phase one had four points. First of all, that we were to increase substantially the number of parents and grandparents admitted as permanent residents through the program, going up to 25,000 a year in 2012 and 2013. Meaning that, over those two years, we’ll be admitting 50,000 parents and grandparents – a huge increase in the actual admission of sponsored parents.

Secondly, we created the new super visa, a ten-year multiple entry visa with authorized periods of up to two years at a time. I’m pleased to tell you that we have issued over 15,000 super visas since the program opened, with an 86 percent approval rate. In fact, the approval rate is 99 percent, if you exclude those that are refused because the sponsoring Canadians do not meet the minimum necessary income.

Thirdly, we announced a two-year temporary pause on permanent resident applications and indicated that we would reopen the sponsorship program for new applications on a limited basis at the beginning of 2014.

Fourthly, we committed to consult with Canadians on how to redesign the parents and grandparents program, to ensure that it is fiscally sustainable and avoids future backlogs.

We did those consultations. I’m about to present you with the results. I’m happy to report to you today that, as a result of the first phase of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, through the two-year temporary pause and the increase in admissions, we have managed to cut in half the backlog and wait times. So that when we reopen the program for a limited number of new applications in January of next year, wait times will have gone from eight years to three and a half years.

Let’s discuss the intake of parents and grandparents. First of all, you can see here the growth of the backlog over the course from 2000 to 2011, over the course of the past decade. You can see the backlog grew year after year, and this is simply because we were getting far more applications than there were positions available for admission to Canada.

Had we not taken action through the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, we would have ended up by 2015 with a backlog of over a quarter of a million people waiting for 15 years for an answer on their application. Instead, as a result of our introduction of the Action Plan in the fall of 2011, we have already brought down the backlog to 125,000 persons and it is headed down to just over 43,000 persons in 2015, with about a one and a half year wait time.

That is enormous progress which we do not want to risk. Just let me remind you how important it is that we keep on track with this Action Plan because some people have opposed the use of limits on the number of new applications and, for example, have suggested that we should not have any limits on the number of new applications.

If we applied that policy, we’d be on track for a backlog of 272,000 people by 2015 in this program, waiting for 16 years. That’s not acceptable. That’s not good enough for new Canadians. Instead, as a result of these efforts, we're on track for a backlog of 43,000 in 2015 and one to two year wait times.

Now I want to remind everyone how backlogs are formed. Some people say to me, ‘Minister, why don’t you just add more public servants to process these applications more quickly?’ That misses the point, which is Canada chooses, of course, to limit the number of immigrants each year. As you’ll know from this week’s national household survey, the census, we actually have by far the highest levels of immigration in the developed world and the highest sustained levels in our history.

We also have the most generous family reunification programs. We’re one of the only countries I know of, for example, that even allows grandparents to be sponsored. We allow far more parents and family members to be sponsored than most other developed countries in relative terms, but there are limits. Governments over the course of the past few decades, on average, have chosen as a matter of policy to admit on average about 17,000 parents and grandparents per year.

The analogy that I use is like that of an airline. While we were admitting 17,000 parents and grandparents, we were actually receiving applications for about 40,000 people. Every year, we were overselling the parents grandparents airplane to Canada by two to one. An airline has only so many seats available on the plane, but if it sells twice as many tickets you end up with a long wait list.

If you do that, year after year, you end up with hundreds of thousands of people waiting. That’s the story of our overall immigration program. The overall numbers are very clear. We capped out at a backlog of a million people two years ago, because of the excess of applications over admissions. Had we not taken action through the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification and other efforts, the overall backlog would be on track to hit well over two million. Instead, we’re on track to get down to about 400,000.

Why should we limit the number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada? Well, let me state the obvious reason. Elderly people place a much greater burden on the public health care system, a public health care system that is already in crisis, where costs are growing much faster than the economy, much faster than the population, where emergency wards are overcrowded, where wait times are enormous.

We also know that people over the age of 65 consume over 40 percent of health resources in our system, which is why the vast majority of Canadians oppose the immigration of senior citizens, because they understand that, as much as we love our elderly family members, that there are limits to Canada’s generosity, particularly in our health care system.

A recent poll confirms longstanding public opinion research indicating that Canadians, by a margin of about two to one, believe that immigrants accepted to Canada should not be allowed to bring their extended family with them, including parents and grandparents and grown children. 63 percent, overall, say we should not have a program to sponsor extended family members.

What’s interesting is that this number is even higher amongst new Canadians. Amongst first and second generation Canadians, 66 percent disagree with extended family reunification, including parents and grandparents. Quite frankly, if I was just making the decision based on public opinion, based on the opinion of immigrants, we would not have any sponsorship of parents and grandparents, which is the case effectively in many other countries with very limited programs.

But I understand that family reunification is an important part of our tradition of immigration and that we want to permit a responsible degree of family reunification, an amount that we can afford. But what can we afford? We estimate that an average individual between the ages of 65 and 84 consumes some $200,000 in resources in our publicly-ensured health system. That’s one person. Two people, that is to say a sponsored mom and dad coming from abroad at 65 years of age, will consume $400,000 in lifetime healthcare resources, which constitutes about 44 percent of provincial healthcare spending.

Only a very small fraction of sponsored seniors are actually in the workforce. On average, their incomes are extremely low, I think in the range of $13,000 of reported income for sponsored parents and grandparents. Here’s a chart on wait times. You all know about the problem of healthcare wait times. If we bring in more elderly people, that means there will be longer wait times for everyone, including Canadians, including new Canadians to receive health services.

Another challenge we’ve been facing is that a growing number of sponsored seniors end up going on welfare. As you know, for the first ten years of the residency of the sponsored parent, the family in Canada has undertaken to cover any income support costs. If the sponsored parent goes on welfare, then their children have to essentially pay for that. They have to reimburse the government for it. But what we find is, as soon as that ten year sponsorship undertaking period is over, we see a huge increase in the number of sponsored seniors going on welfare.

In fact, over a quarter of the sponsored seniors are receiving welfare benefits after the ten year undertaking, which is a great concern. Families say to me they want to bring their parents to Canada, not to be a burden on Canadian taxpayers, but apparently a large and growing number actually do end up being a burden. This is not reasonable.

I also have to tell you that, recently, I’ve been receiving a growing number of expressions of concern from municipal public housing authorities who tell me that they are seeing a growing number of sponsored senior citizens qualifying for and moving into subsidized social housing.

I simply do not understand why someone would apply to bring their parents to Canada from the other side of the world only then to put them into social housing. If this was about family reunification, what is going on? It seems to me that sort of thing constitutes an abuse of Canada’s generosity. That’s why we need to have reasonable limits on this kind of program, in line with the limited resources of Canadian taxpayers.

That’s background and context for the announcement I am going to make, which follows from the consultations we held through the latter half of 2011 and throughout 2012. Following extensive consultations, including online consultations, we had focus groups and polling. We had roundtable meetings with stakeholders. We had Parliamentarians consulting Canadians as a result of which we have established the following four points in our Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification Phase Two.

First of all, I can announce that we plan to continue with the high level of admissions of parents and grandparents as permanent residents. As I’ve said, we’ve been admitting in 2012 and 2013, 25,000 a year. I anticipate we will continue at about that level. We make that decision on an annual basis, but I anticipate you’ll continue to see historic high levels of admissions as we clear the backlog.

Secondly, I’m announcing that we are making the super visa a permanent feature of our immigration system. Again providing a wonderful and flexible long-term option for visits by parents and grandparents. I think this has been extremely popular, because so many parents don’t actually want to move to Canada 12 months of the year. Many people don’t want to come here during the winter, but they do want to be with their children when their grandkids are born or for extended visits around weddings, maybe a few months a year.

This gives them that flexibility, but it also protects Canadian taxpayers because it ensures that they do not become entitled to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of benefits in our public healthcare system.

Thirdly, we are introducing new qualifying criteria for the permanent residency sponsorship program for parents and grandparents. I will outline those in a moment.

Fourthly, we are announcing that, in 2014, on January 1, we will reopen the parents and grandparents sponsorship program for new applications. We will, as I’ve always indicated, take a limited number. We will only be receiving 5,000 applications in 2014, so that we can continue to reduce the backlog.

I want to stress, however, that the 5,000 applications actually represents more people because typically we get about two people in each application. Effectively, this means that 10,000 persons will be eligible to apply for the permanent residency sponsorship in 2014.

Again this shows you, in terms of the high levels of admissions, the number of parents and grandparents who have been admitted since 1998. You can see that the average was about 17,000 and that’s consistent under governments of different stripes. But since we instituted the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, we’ve seen that huge spike in the number being admitted to Canada.

We expect it to stay at around that level of 25,000 a year. Let me outline for you the new qualifying criteria for sponsorship. First of all, the current criterion is that the family must have a minimum necessary income that’s established at the low income cut-off, which means above the poverty line effectively. The low income cut-off is one measure of relative poverty.

As you’ve seen, with a quarter of sponsored parents going on welfare after the period of their undertaking, this indicates to us that, in fact, many families are not able to take care of their sponsored parents, as does the growing number of sponsored seniors going into public housing. And the very low level of income and employment among sponsored seniors all indicate that many families who have been sponsoring simply do not really have the financial resources to ensure that their parents do not become a burden on taxpayers.

That is why, as part of our reforms, we are announcing that in the future, as of 2014, to qualify to sponsor your parents or grandparents, the minimum necessary income will be assessed at 30 percent above the low income cut-off. That is a very technical thing, but let me show you what it means in practice. If you look at the third bar, four persons, that would mean that, if a husband and wife in Canada want to sponsor let’s say the wife’s parents from abroad, that would mean four persons in the household.

Currently the minimum necessary income to sponsor for two people in Canada to sponsor two people from abroad creating a household of four people would be $42,000 currently. With the increase in the minimum necessary income, that will go up to $55,000. This is a relatively modest increase. It ensures that the program continues to be accessible to people, to middle class families, but it helps to ensure that people do not become a burden on Canadian taxpayers, which is what people say they want to avoid in any event.

We think this is a modest, prudent, responsible approach and I would point out that, in our public consultations, raising the necessary minimum income was, I think, the top preferred option to help us limit the number of applications and keep the backlogs under control.

Secondly, we will be requiring that people submit their notices of tax assessment from the Canadian Revenue Agency as proof of income and that they do so over three years, because we’re aware of many cases where suddenly people end up with a lot of money in a bank account one year, just the year that they apply for sponsorship and then they suddenly go back to being poor again.

We want to make sure that people actually do have a sustainable level of income to take care of their sponsored parents. Also, we want to see the CRA documentation. Let me blunt. We want to see that people are paying their taxes to help us as taxpayers fund the cost of mom and dad’s healthcare. This is one way that we can deal with some of the abuse of our generosity in the program. There will be a three year rolling assessment of whether they meet the minimum necessary income as verified by CRA documentation.

Next point, in terms of the criteria, is that we will be moving to a 20 year sponsorship undertaking from a 10 year undertaking. Remember, I showed you that chart where after ten years suddenly there’s a huge spike in people going on welfare? Well, that’s just not right. That’s an abuse of Canada’s generosity. If Canadians knew that a quarter of sponsored seniors were going on welfare, they wouldn’t be very pleased.

As a representative of the government, I have to defend the interests of all Canadians, including new Canadians, which is what we propose to do by doubling the sponsorship undertaking period.

Finally, we will be changing the definition of the age of a dependent. For those of you who are new to this program in sponsoring your parents or grandparents, you can also sponsor their dependent children, your siblings, from abroad.

We’ve had a very peculiar definition of what those dependent children are. It has included children sometimes in their mid-30’s, if they are still “enrolled” in a post-secondary program. I’m sorry. We just don’t accept the idea that, if you’re in your late 20’s and your 30’s, just because you happen to be still in university, my goodness, talk about being on the 15-year program. You’re not a child anymore. You’re an adult. Take responsibility for yourself.

That’s what our new policy says, that we will limit the age of dependent child to what is a dependent child, someone 18 years of age or under. In virtually all Canadian federal and provincial law, the age of majority is 18 or 19. We’re applying that now in the definition in our immigration law, so that you can only sponsor your dependent siblings effectively if they’re 18 or under.

Let me just say, if you’re in your 20’s and you want to immigrate to Canada, great. We welcome you, if you’re qualified. Please apply for a study permit or a work permit. Come as a tourist. Apply for permanent residency. Apply for immigration as an independent economic immigrant. You’re more than welcome, but come as an independent immigrant. Don’t pretend to be a dependent child in your late 20’s or 30’s.

I guess I’ve done all of the detailed announcements. I’ll just wrap up, by saying that I think one of the most contentious aspects of this will be the limit of 5,000 applications, representing about 10,000 people that we will accept in 2014. Why are we doing that? Why don’t we just open up the program for an unlimited number of new applications?

Very simply because, on average in this program – until we started putting a limit on applications – we were receiving applications for about 40,000 people a year. We estimate that, if on January 1, 2014, we open the program for an unlimited number of new applications, that we would get well over 100,000 applications for persons to immigrate in that program, which would take the backlog back up to over a quarter of a million.

Let me be absolutely blunt about this. We, as Canadians, have a choice. We can choose… we have several choices. We can choose to have a program for extended family reunification or not. As a government, we choose to have such a program. We choose to have such a program in a way that corresponds to our fiscal limits as a country, to the limits in our healthcare system ,which is why we do not admit an unlimited number of senior citizens. If we’re going to have that program, then our next choice is: do we want to manage it properly or not? Do we want ten, growing to fifteen, growing to twenty year wait times?

By the way, in the United States, if you apply for the sponsorship of your parents the processing time is 25 years. We could go to the American system, if you like, and wait for 25 years for your sponsored parents to be admitted to the country.

Or we could take some responsible decisions to have a fast program that’s properly managed, so that sponsored parents and grandparents can be admitted in a year or two after their application. We choose to be generous, to reflect the practical limits of our generosity, but also to have a program that is efficient and timely so that people who make those applications can expect a decision in a reasonable amount of time.

Some people are going to tell you that this is unfair. I would just ask them: what is their option? What’s their proposal? Is it just an unlimited number of applications that means ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five year wait times eventually? Or is the alternative: huge increases, doubling or tripling the number of parents and grandparents admitted to Canada each year, in which case: where are they going to find a place for all of those people in our healthcare system?

These are difficult choices that we have to make. Governments are elected to make difficult decisions. We’re doing this, I think, in a very balanced way, reflected by the flexibility that’s now available to people in the super visa and our ongoing commitment to family reunification.

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