By TOM GODFREY
Federal immigration officials are bracing for an onslaught of applications as a popular program to sponsor parents and grandparents to Canada is reopened to accept only 5,000 applicants on a first-come first-served basis.
The Parent and Grandparent category (PGP), which is a part of family class sponsorship, was put on hold by Citizenship and Immigration Canada in 2011 so workers could process a backlog of 165,000 cases, some with wait times as long as eight years.
The program was re-opened on January 2 with some changes and tougher guidelines. Sponsors are now required to show income levels that are 30 per cent higher than the previous norm and must agree to look after the financial needs of their loved ones for 20 years, instead of the previously required 10 years.
Sponsors will also have to submit proof of income for three years instead of one and they will no longer be able to sponsor adult siblings.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Canada is on track to welcome more than 50,000 parents and grandparents in 2012-2013.
“Our government is making improvements to the immigration system so that families can be reunited more quickly,” Alexander said in a statement sent to Share. “Our government understands the importance of spending time with family and loved ones.”
But some immigration experts, like Toronto lawyer Sergio Karas, believe the Conservatives were pressured to reopen the program by members of the powerful Indian and Chinese communities.
“This is a purely political program,” Karas told Share. “The government is throwing a bone to some communities in order to appease them.”
He said the Conservatives have long been criticized for being “tough” on immigration and want to chip away at Liberal support.
“The Conservatives would love to attract immigrant voters in key ridings in urban areas,” Karas said. “The Tories would love to take a bite out of that Liberal support.”
He believes the program should be axed because parents and grandparents are older, less employable and less likely to pay taxes and can place a greater strain on provincial health care services.
B.C. immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the move will likely speed up processing times for those being sponsored.
“The good news is that processing times will likely be under 12 months,” Kurland said. “The bad news is that demand for immigration to Canada by parents vastly outstrips the supply of immigrant visas.”
Immigration officials said measures are in place to prevent a mad rush or frenzy by some to sponsor their loved ones before the cap is reached.
Parent and grandparent sponsors can only submit their applications by mail or courier and applications will be considered in the order in which they are received, according to the department’s website.
The new application forms were only made public last month and applications received after the cap of 5,000 complete applications have been filled will be returned to the sponsors, who will be notified by letter that their application was received after the cap was filled.
Applications can be filed to sponsor parents and grandparents from most countries providing the sponsor meets the requirements.
Immigration officials said if they did not stop the program two years ago the backlog would have grown to 250,000 cases, with a waiting time of up to 15 years.
Of the 45,000 family class immigrants admitted to Canada in the first six months of 2013, some 22,530 were spouses and partners, as well as 1,410 children, 20,700 parents, grandparents and their dependents, according to department statistics.
The Parent and Grandparent Super Visa remains the most popular option for parents and grandparents who want to spend longer periods of time with their families in Canada, the website said. To date, some 28,000 Super Visas have been issued with an approval rate of almost 85 per cent.
Applications to sponsor a parent or grandparent can me made online at www.cic.gc.ca.