Canadians trying to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada from other countries are unhappy with the federal government's decision to cut back on family reunification visas.
Numbers obtained from the Citizenship and Immigration Department through the Access to Information Act indicate the government will issue about 11,000 family reunification visas for parents and grandparents overseas next year.
That's down from the more than 16,000 issued last year.
The hardest-hit category will be parents and grandparents seeking to join their children in Canada.
"They won't be able to see their parents while they're alive," Asmat Khan told CBC News. "They won't be able to make it alive."
Khan, who immgrated to Canada in 1994, has been trying to bring his parents to Canada from Pakistan since 2004. He paid more than $3,000 to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) that year, trying to speed their case.
He's still waiting for a decision.
Richard Kurland, the Vancouver-based immigration lawyer who filed the access-to-information request, said the slashed rate and the 140,000 applicants already in the queue mean a parent could wait 13 years for a visa to Canada if he or she were to apply today.
Khan told CBC News that his young daughters used to ask when their grandparents would arrive in Canada.
"I tell them, 'next summer, next summer,'" he said. "They don't ask me anymore."
Felix Zhang, head of the Toronto group Sponsor our Parents, represents more than a thousand Canadians who are trying to bring parents or grandparents to Canada.
He wonders whether economic migrants, who are sought after because they bring needed workforce skills, will continue to choose Canada if they can't bring their parents here.
"Once you are telling us it will take more than 10 to 15 years, we have to think about that," Zhang told CBC News.
The policy is "highly illegal," said Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor who is also trying to bring his parents to Canada.
"It's discriminatory and illegal when an uncle's application is processed daily on a priority basis by [Citizenship and Immigration Canada], but a father's application takes more than 200 days," Attaran said Monday at an Ottawa press conference.
"Orphans, children and older relatives, uncles and aunts, are processed almost daily," he said. "Spouses take 35 days. Parents take 1,230 days."
Attaran applied to sponsor his own parents, who now live in California, in 2009. He said CIC has not completed the first stage of the immigration process.
He launched a lawsuit against the government last summer; the lawsuit is now with the human rights commission.
"There are 147,000 applications for reunification with parents and grandparents in the queue right now," he said. "More lawsuits are coming. This system has to be fixed."
The Conservatives hit back at Attaran in the House of Commons Monday. In a member's statement before question period, Tory MP Paul Calandra said Attaran "isn't trying to speed up the process for everyone's parents, just his own."
NDP MP Olivia Chow, who joined Attaran at his press conference, called the government's position "downright cruel.
"In the five, eight, 10 years these Canadians are waiting, most likely, these parents cannot travel to Canada," she said. Embassy officials in their originating countries often fear they might not return if allowed to visit Canada, she added.
'There have to be choices made'
Speaking in Etobicoke on Sunday, Kenney suggested it's necessary to reduce family reunification visas so "priority" applicants — and their spouses and children — can be processed first.
"There have to be choices made," he said.
"I know that the most popular thing they could do politically would be to say that this year, we're going to go from 14,000 to 100,000 parents and grandparents.
"But it wouldn't be responsible because that means fewer economic immigrants coming and paying taxes, or fewer refugees to save from refugee camps."
But Kenney added he will continue to monitor how many visas are granted to parents and grandparents this year, adding the targets aren't written in stone.
Kenney also defended the government's position in question period Monday, saying that in 2010, Canada "welcomed 281,000 permanent residents to Canada, 106,000 more than the Liberals did shortly after they came to office and cut immigration levels."