Liberals loosen rules that exclude immigrants on medical grounds

The Liberal government is loosening the rules than deem some prospective immigrants inadmissible on medical grounds — but is not yet eliminating a policy that many have called discriminatory.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said policy is out of line with Canadian values

Immigration Minister Minister Ahmed Hussen on Monday announced changes to the medical inadmissibility rules for immigrants. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is loosening the rules than deem some prospective immigrants inadmissible on medical grounds — but is not yet eliminating a policy that many have called discriminatory.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the medical inadmissibility policy, which has been in place for more than 40 years, is "way out of date" and not in line with Canadian values or government policies of inclusion.

Under the revised policy, newcomers won't be denied permanent residency if they or any of their children have developmental delays, special education requirements, or a hearing or visual impairment. The anticipated health-care cost threshold — the sum a prospective immigrant can't exceed in annual health care costs in order to be admissible — will increase to about $20,000 a year, about three times the previous threshold.

Admissibility determinations are based currently on whether an immigrant's anticipated costs are expected to exceed the average Canadian per-capita cost of health or social services over a five-year period, or whether the immigrant could add to an existing waiting list and delay health care for Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Hussen said he estimates the new rules will allow entry to about 75 per cent of the approximately 1,000 people previously rejected on medical grounds for "excessive demand." More consultation and study will be undertaken, he said, with the goal of eventually eliminating the medical inadmissibility policy entirely.

The immigration minister said he could not say if the provinces and territories would be compensated for potential extra costs, but said the impact will be studied.

No full repeal

"We're not going for full repeal, precisely because we want to continue the consultations. We heard it very loud and clear from the citizenship and immigration committee that this policy is ripe for change," he said.

When the committee studied the issue last fall, Hussen said the government was committed to ditching the policy — but the government would have to proceed with caution because any change could affect provincial health-care and social service budgets. The Liberal-dominated committee recommended ending the policy.

Asked if the government is perpetuating a discriminatory policy, Hussen said the changes will bring it "closer in line" to Canadian values, while bringing on board the provinces and territories, which pay for publicly-funded health and social services.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said any move short of the policy's complete termination ignores the benefits these newcomers would bring to Canadian society and paints them as a net drain on the system.

She said the changes still amount to discrimination despite the "vague assurances" from the minister that the policy eventually will be fully rescinded.

'It rings hollow'

"Frankly, that is him attempting to talk out of both sides of his mouth," she said. "It rings hollow and it is meaningless." 

A coalition of disability, HIV/AIDS and immigrant rights groups condemned the changes, calling them "minor tweaks" to a deeply flawed regime.

The government has failed to bring its policies in line with Canada's domestic and international human rights obligations on inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Many high-profile cases have been reported in the media, including that of a professor at Toronto's York University whose application for permanent residency was turned down because his son has Down syndrome.

According to the rules on medical inadmissibility, a willingness or ability to pay is not a factor for publicly funded services like those of a physician or hospital, since Canada has no cost-recovery regime in place.

However, it is a consideration in assessing an applicant who has the financial means to defray costs of medication or services that are not publicly funded, such as HIV antiretroviral therapy.