Politics

Overseas parental sponsorships frozen, fax suggests

A fax sent to a Liberal MP's office suggests the Immigration department has frozen overseas parental sponsorship applications under the family reunification visa program, the Liberals say.

Government source says message sent in error

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says a government fax reveals the department of immigration has frozen applications for overseas parental sponsorships under the family reunification program. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Bob Rae demanded answers about Canada's family reunification visa policy in question period Thursday, after a government fax was sent to a Liberal MP's office suggesting a freeze on parental sponsorships.  

The fax, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News, was sent to Markham MP John McCallum from the Mississauga case processing centre of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and appears to be in response to an application by an immigrant to sponsor a parent to come to Canada.

The fax states: "As we are not currently processing any parental sponsorships at this time (new or returned cases), this case will be finalized once we get the go-ahead from management to start working on parental sponsorships again."

Late Thursday, a senior government source told CBC News that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is still processing family reunification visa applications. The source said the fax was sent in error and that the processing of family reunification visas has not been frozen.

According to immigration legal expert Lorne Waldman, the fax that McCallum's office received is a clear result of the department's decision to drastically reduce the number of parental reunification visas this year, a story CBC News broke in February.

Documents obtained by CBC News showed that the government had decided to issue about 11,000 family reunification visas for parents and grandparents overseas in 2011, down from more than 16,000 last year — a drop of more than 30 per cent. The documents also showed that the target for federal skilled-worker visas would drop by 20 per cent this year from 2010.

"So this is the inevitable consequence of a reduction of the quota if the inventory is just too high," Waldman said.   "They've simply decided that, because the quota has gone down significantly for this year and because inventory is growing, we are not accepting any more applications right now to send overseas."

Waldman added he recalls a similar freeze happening once before, under a previous Liberal government. That freeze lasted over a year, he said.

No lowering of targets: Tories

In February, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney denied the department has lowered its internal targets for family reunification visas for 2011.

Today, his parliamentary secretary, Rick Dykstra, stuck to that point in question period.

"We've actually increased numbers for family reunification this year," he told the House of Commons. "We've increased it for the past number of years... When it comes to family reunification, it is this government, this party, that is on the right track." 

Rae said that instead of telling Canadians the numbers are going up, they should level with those who are trying to bring loved ones over.

"If the government, Mr. Speaker, is not processing sponsorships for parents coming in from other countries, why don't they have the human decency to tell Canadians and to tell applicants that that's exactly what they're doing instead of this subterfuge they're putting forward?"

Currently, the backlog of approximately 140,000 family reunification visas means people could wait up to 14 years if they were to apply today to bring a parent over.

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