Quebec relaxes immigration rules for Haitians
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | 10:20 PM ET
The Quebec government is changing immigration rules to allow more people to bring in family members from Haiti, in the wake of that country's devastating earthquake in January.
A new program will allow Quebecers to sponsor their own children over the age of 21 as well as brothers, sisters, those siblings' spouses and their children, said Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James.
Previously, Quebecers had only been allowed to sponsor parents, grandparents and children under the age of 21.
Quebec says it will accept a maximum of 3,000 new immigrants under the special measures. However, the province will not take in more immigrants overall than it had planned for the year, the minister said Wednesday .
"We wanted to be responsible," she said. "From the moment we open it to more than that, we won't be able to integrate them [into society] and we don't help anyone by doing that. Quebec alone isn't able to help all of Haiti."
Sponsor eligibility changes
Sponsors have to have permanent resident status or Canadian citizenship and all applications will still have to be approved by Canadian immigration officials.
But until now, an individual or a couple wanting to sponsor a family member had to demonstrate the financial means to support a new immigrant for five years. Now, if additional funds are necessary, the province will allow anyone to act as a co-sponsor.
"Anyone who's residing in Quebec can now say 'You know what? I think you're great. I know this is a situation that's very difficult and this is my way to be able to contribute. I will co-sign,'" James said.
The relaxed criteria for sponsorship and the new co-signer option will be in effect from Feb. 17 to Dec. 31, 2010.
James said immigrants won't be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis. Instead, immigration officials will check the applicant's level of distress and capacity to integrate into Quebec society.
The province will also help students from Haiti who are attending colleges and universities in Quebec by exempting them from paying tuition fees for the winter session.
Many in Montreal's large Haitian community welcome the news but worry about how long it will take to get their relatives to Canada.
"If it takes six months, eight months, it will be too long, " said Marjorie Villefrance, program director of the community organization La Maison D'Haiti.
Quebec's immigration minister acknowledged that even before the earthquake, 1,500 Haitians were waiting to have their immigration applications processed. James said Canada would not take any shortcuts in ensuring all applicants met the necessary health and security criteria.
"There's a part of the immigration process that we do want to protect. …Verifications have to be made and you understand that at this moment, it's difficult to do this."
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