Politics

Winners of immigration lottery invited to formally apply to sponsor parents, grandparents

Immigrants hoping to bring their parents or grandparents to live permanently in Canada will soon learn if they were lucky enough to win a coveted spot through a controversial lottery process for family reunification.

Government begins to notify 10,000 randomly selected sponsors for coveted spots

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is beginning to notify people who were randomly selected through a lottery to formally apply to sponsor their parents or grandparents to come to Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Immigrants hoping to bring their parents or grandparents to live permanently in Canada will soon learn if they were lucky enough to win a coveted spot through a controversial lottery process for family reunification.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is beginning to notify prospective sponsors who filled out online forms last fall to express their interest in resettling a relative. The notification process will unfold over the next 10 days.

After weeding out duplicate and incomplete forms, IRCC officials randomly selected the 10,000 sponsors — who will now be invited to apply formally.

Tens of thousands of immigrants desperate to sponsor their relatives have been disappointed each year by the program.

The government returned to a lottery system after last year's first-come, first-served online system was plagued by problems. The lottery system itself replaced a first-in process which saw applicants sprint to get physical documents to processing centres.

Lottery system the most fair, says minister

That system also left people frustrated because it offered an advantage to those who lived closer to the processing centres — or could afford to pay someone to help them get to the front of the queue.

In a statement to CBC, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino called the parent and grandparent sponsorship program a "progressive, compassionate program that is wholly unique to Canada."

"Reuniting families is a central part of our immigration policy, which is why our government has done more than any other in Canadian history to keep families together," he said. "When families succeed, Canada succeeds."

Mendicino said that, given the hardship caused by the global pandemic, the government loosened income requirements and allowed for more flexible timelines.

Mendicino has said in the past that while the government is open to ways to improve the process, the lottery system is the most equitable way to administer it.

In 2019, the online first-come process left many in distress because they couldn't access the form or fill it out quickly enough. The online portal closed after less than 11 minutes.

Some said the race to file applications worked against those who couldn't fill them out quickly, such as those with disabilities or literacy issues, or those living in places with slow internet connections.

The federal government ended up making a secret settlement to quash two lawsuits that claimed the process was flawed and unfair. To resolve the group litigation, the government awarded applicants at least 70 spots, allowing them to sponsor their parents' or grandparents' immigration to Canada.

Alternatives to lottery proposed

But many say going back to a system that leaves family reunification to the luck of the draw is not the solution.

Some have suggested the government consider the length of time the applicant has been in Canada, their financial means and compassionate circumstances when it prioritizes family reunification applications.

Others have suggested a weighted model that would give an individual applicant a greater chance of success with each subsequent year they apply.

Some argue that if the government charged a fee to file the online expression-of-interest form, that would weed out the people who would not be in a position to sponsor their relative that year.

The parent and grandparent sponsorship program launch was delayed last year due to the pandemic.

Mendicino has announced that this year's parent and grandparent sponsorship program will have 30,000 spots.

A electronic petition to Mendicino, which is now open for signatures on the House of Commons website, says the fact that the government previously scrapped the lottery system was an acknowledgement that the process is "deeply flawed."

Presented by NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, the petition calls on the government to explain the decision to return to the lottery, release documents on consultations that led to the change and carry out a study with the goal of creating a better, more fair application process.

"Recognize the positive benefits for family reunification and create a compassionate system without arbitrary caps," the e-petition reads.

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