Last week, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced an increase to the number of applications the Canadian government would accept from parents and grandparents of Canadians who want to immigrate to Canada.

The increase from 5,000 to 10,000 applications per year fulfills a Liberal campaign promise.

However, with over 14,000 applications arriving within the first four days of the program in 2016, raising the cap will still leave a lot of disappointed Canadians.

Is there a better way to select parents and grandparents for immigration?

Under immigration law, individuals who wish to sponsor their parents and grandparents to Canada must meet three criteria.

First, the Canadian sponsor must meet a financial test. ‎

Second, the parent or grandparent must pass background or medical checks.

Third, and most importantly, the courier delivering the application must get the application to the immigration office in time.

It is the last criterion that is especially troublesome. Qualified parents and grandparents are now essentially being chosen for immigration by couriers. 

While the government has not provided details on how many applications were received in each of the first four days, the trend in the last few years has seen the cap being met earlier each year. In 2015, the government announced that the 5,000 application cap was met by mid-January.

In 2014, the government announced the application cap was met in February.

Likely, demand for this program will increase such that the cap will be filled on the first day of 2017. If this occurs, instead of having "immigration by courier," we may have "immigration by lottery" in which the government would pick from 10,000 applications submitted on day one.

If we get to an "immigration by lottery" system, Canadians sponsoring their parents and grandparents will have to send in their applications each year and hope they are one of the 10,000 lucky "winners."

What this means is that some Canadians will never "win."

Individuals who do not make the cut-off one year have no guarantee that they will make the cut-off next year. As with lotteries, there is never a guaranteed "win."

Some Canadians will never see their parents or grandparents immigrate here.

Because of the cap, we should look for a better way to select parents and grandparents for immigration than a national lottery.

One thing that could be done is to increase the financial test for sponsors to reduce the number of eligible sponsors. However, this would turn the parent and grandparent class into the "rich parent and grandparent immigration class." Immigration by bank account is not the answer.

Another thing that could be done is add additional economic criteria for parents and grandparents to meet.

Canada could, as it does with economic immigrants, set minimum language requirements or prioritize applicants who have more work experience or higher education.

If Canada can only take in a limited number of parents and grandparents, should we take in the ones who will make the biggest economic impact?

The problem with this solution is that setting economic criteria would erode the entire reason for this program – to reunite parents with children and grandparents with grandchildren without regard to economic impact.

Setting minimum language requirements would advantage native English and French speakers over people from Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe. 

Setting minimum work experience requirements would disadvantage homemakers and, perhaps, retired persons.

Most importantly, setting economic criteria will not guarantee parents and grandparents, who are generally older than most immigrants, will join the workforce.

Reforming express entry system a partial solution

One partial solution may lie in the reforming the express entry system to award points for parents and grandparents who may be eligible to immigrate as economic, rather than family class immigrants.

Under express entry, immigrants who score the most points on a number of characteristics are invited to apply to immigrate.

Currently, no points are awarded for having a relative in Canada.

While the government has committed to give additional points under express entry to applicants who have siblings in Canada, the government should also award points to parents and grandparents with children and grandchildren in Canada.

This will recognize that people with relatives in Canada may be better able to settle here than those with no connection to Canada.

While increasing express entry points for parents and grandparents will not solve the problem in its entirety, these types of changes could provide additional opportunities for younger and otherwise economically qualified parents and grandparents. 

If nothing is done, "immigration by lottery" will be the way of the future.


Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.