New figures show Canada has granted more than 11,000 "super visas" for overseas parents and grandparents since the federal government unveiled the program one year ago, according to numbers obtained by CBC News from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The numbers suggest the program is proving popular with immigrant families, despite concerns by some about the costs associated with the visa.
The Parents and Grandparents Super Visa allows foreign citizens with families resident in Canada to make multiple entries to Canada over a 10-year period. It must be renewed every two years.
More than 15,000 people have applied for the new visa since the program was unveiled last year.
As of the end of October, the department has processed more than 13,000 applications, of which 87 per cent, or about 11,500, have been accepted. The numbers also show a very low number of applicants withdrawing before their applications have been processed.
Super visas, by the numbers
Through to end of October:
- Total applications received: 15,581
- Total applications with final decision: 13,216
- Total applications pending final decision: 2,284
- Withdrawals: 81
- Approval rate (% of final decisions): 87%
- Refusal rate (% of final decisions): 13%
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Some long-time advocates for family reunification call the new measure a success.
Felix Zhang, creator of the website Sponsor our Parents, said many parents don't actually want to immigrate to Canada, they just want to be able to visit loved ones on a regular basis.
"Overall, the super visa is a good thing, it gives an alternative for reuniting with overseas parents in Canada rather than just waiting for the prolonged immigration process," Zhang said. "Also, it shows Citizenship and Immigration Canada becomes more flexible than ever before. Different programs for different needs."
Last year, the government announced it would freeze permanent residency applications from parents and grandparents for two years.
Zhang said in the meantime, some people are using the super visa as a stopgap.
"The super visa could be a bridge from now until the permanent resident is accepted. So if the permanent resident process could take three to four years, then the super visa could be a bridge," Zhang said.
Requires medical insurance
But others warn the super visa has proven too expensive for many families because it requires the applicant to buy medical insurance and requires their families in Canada to have a certain income level.
Fred de Villa, chairman of the Winnipeg Filipino Breakfast Council, said many in the Filipino community can't afford the super visa.
"It's very expensive, because you have to buy insurance [coverage] for $100,000. They can't afford it." De Villa estimates that coverage would cost about $1,300 a year for the average person.
De Villa adds the new visa isn't a solution to the backlog of permanent residency applications, which are taking up to eight years to process.
He said the previous Liberal governments simply allocated more resources and he urged the Conservative government to do the same thing now.
"The previous government, what they did was they sent people from Canada to help process the paper and then everything is good," de Villa said. "Now why create another problem? You can't solve a problem by creating another problem."
Still, one expert said the super visa is filling a specialized need that will help reduce the demand for parental immigration.
"After a while, that's going to modulate down," said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. "Because my sense is that so many people, probably a third of them, applied for permanent resident status only to be able to access Canada for visit purposes, for visitation."
Kurland added that many parents living in top-source countries like China and India tend to want to return home for at least part of the year to avoid Canadian winters, and to reconnect with strong social and family networks back home.