Politics

Lottery system to allow immigrants to sponsor parents, grandparents opens Oct. 13

The federal government is returning to a controversial lottery system to distribute coveted sponsorships to reunite immigrant families.

Critics say family reunification should not be left to fate or a 'luck of the draw'

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino says that the program to sponsor parents and grandparents to come to Canada will open to expressions of interest on Oct. 13. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The federal government is returning to a controversial lottery system to distribute coveted sponsorships to reunite immigrant families.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino today announced details of the new parent and grandparent sponsorship program. The program will open Oct. 13 for a three-week window when people can fill out online forms to express interest in bringing their relatives to Canada. The program had been suspended due to the global pandemic.

After the three-week period ends, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will randomly select potential sponsors and invite them to submit applications.

Those selected will have 60 days to submit their applications. Normally there are 20,000 spots available, but due to the suspension caused by COVID-19, there will be 10,000 available spots this year and 30,000 in 2021.

"We think this is the fairest way in which to administer the intake and to invite expressions of interest," Mendicino told CBC News.

"We know that last year there was a high demand and there were some individuals who were disadvantaged by the intake process, so we wanted to create a level playing field as much as possible."

First-come, first-served system failed

The Liberal government moved to a first-come, first-served online application system last year after scrapping the controversial lottery system.

But that approach left tens of thousands of people frustrated and furious because they couldn't access the form or fill it out quickly enough.

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

The lottery system has also been contentious, with critics claiming it essentially gambled with peoples' lives.

The lottery process in 2018 replaced another first-in system which was also unpopular because it led to a mad rush every January — with people lining up overnight at the doors of processing centres or paying placeholders to stand in line and deliver applications prepared by consultants or lawyers.

'Super visa' another option

Some people have pushed for a weighted system — one that would boost an individual's chances in the lottery according to the number of years they express interest in sponsorship.

Mendicino said the government will continue to look for ways to improve the application system. "I'm not closing the door to reassessing the intake process after this year," he said.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents also can apply to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada for up to two years at a time with a 'super visa', which allows multiple entries for up to 10 years.

Under that program, applicants must show proof of private medical insurance and financial support. During the pandemic, applicants have been expected to meet COVID-19 travel restrictions and follow public health guidelines.

Conservative MP and immigration critic Raquel Dancho suggested the Liberals were blaming the pandemic for the delayed launch of a program that has failed people for the past two years.

"Justin Trudeau has failed to ensure a fair and compassionate immigration process for those hoping to call Canada home. Frankly, it's unacceptable and those that depend on the immigration system deserve better," she said.

NDP MP and immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it's "unbelievable" that, after months of delay, the government chose to return to what she called a "failed" lottery system.

"This is definitely not building back better. It's going backwards and it's a disgrace," she said.

Kwan has pushed the government to lift the cap on the number of sponsorships and set processing standards so that families can reunite with their loved ones in a reasonable, predictable way.

Reuniting families should not be 'luck of the draw': Kwan

She said it's wrong that the parent and grandparent sponsorship program is the only immigration stream based on a lottery.

"Reuniting with loved ones should not be subject to the luck of the draw," she said.

Vishnu Kaginkar arrived in Canada as a permanent resident in 2009 and began working to find a job, buy a home and settle into the new culture with a plan to sponsor his parents from India.

He said he has been trying without luck since 2015 — while a friend who landed in Canada in 2016 was able to sponsor his parents the following year.

"I am not jealous of him but it's frustrating to see his parents are here within a year and I have been waiting for the last five years," he said in an email exchange with CBC.

"I was expecting at least they would give priority to the people who have been here ... contributing to the economy and society. The new system they introduced today has left me nervous and hopeless because it's the lottery system again."

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