Parent and grandparent reunification program reopening postponed as Liberals look at new system

The Liberal government is postponing the next round of its widely criticized family reunification program while it looks into a new intake process, according to a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

'This will give all interested sponsors the same opportunity to submit,' says Immigration Canada

The federal government has faced legal action over its application process for people to sponsor parents and grandparents as immigrants. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is postponing the next round of its widely criticized family reunification program while it looks into developing a new intake process, according to a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The program allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to apply to bring grandparents and parents to Canada. Critics have called the selection process unfair since all of the online application spots were snapped up in just minutes earlier this year.

In its Monday statement, Immigration Canada said it's delaying the 2020 round as it works on a new intake system.

"This means that the opportunity to express interest in sponsoring a parent or grandparent will not take place on Jan. 1, 2020," reads the statement.

"Further information about the expected launch date and 2020 intake process will be available in the new year. This will give all interested sponsors the same opportunity to submit an interest-to-sponsor form and a fair chance to be invited to apply."

Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer and professor at the University of Ottawa, said it's upsetting news for families who were hoping to apply this time around.

"It's a significant announcement in the fact it will impact a lot of people who have a lot of hope this time of year," she said. 

"It is a significant thing that people who may have missed out on their opportunity last year are waiting for the opportunity this year. And to have that postponed must be disappointing for people who are separated from their families."

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the department wanted to give families a heads up that the application process won't be open in January as it has been in the last few years.

Mathieu Genest said the government is "looking at all options" as it reviews the intent-to-sponsor form.

In a follow-up statement to CBC News on Monday night, Immigration Canada said the move was made in "an effort to provide the best client service possible" and noted it "will begin the intake of new applications as early as possible in 2020."

Earlier this year, the government accepted 27,000 submissions for sponsoring parents or grandparents and confirmed that more than 100,000 people had attempted to access an online form to express interest.

The online form opened Jan. 28 at noon ET, and closed less than nine minutes later, a process that left tens of thousands of people frustrated and furious because they couldn't access the form or fill it out fast enough.

Conservative Immigration Critic Peter Kent said in a statement Monday night, "It's clear that the Liberal's clumsy and unfair process of family reunification demands a complete overhaul.  First the Liberals instituted a lottery system, leaving family reunification to the 'luck of the draw.'  Then, those following the rules were given minutes to submit their forms, and now they are left wondering when they can even apply to see their families again."

Look at numbers needed

Liew said any review should look at increasing the intake numbers.

"The system is not meeting the demand. That's the main problem," she said. "There's a greater interest and need to meet the expectations that we promote."

The Liberal government adopted the first-come, first-served online application system this year after scrapping a controversial lottery system for reuniting immigrant families. The lottery system was contentious, with critics claiming it essentially gambled with peoples' lives.

That previous lottery process itself replaced another first-in system. It was unpopular because it led to long lineups at the doors of the processing centre overnight and had people paying place-holders in the queue to deliver applications prepared by consultants or lawyers.

In May, CBC reported that the federal government made a secret settlement to quash two lawsuits that claimed the online application process was flawed and unfair.

To resolve the group litigation, the government awarded at least 70 coveted spots to applicants, allowing them to sponsor their parents' or grandparents' immigration to Canada.

With files from Ashley Burke and Kathleen Harris

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