Introduction
New qualifying criteria for sponsorship
Restrictions
Super-visa programme



Introduction

On May 10 2013 Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that the Parent and Grandparent Programme for Permanent Residence based on family sponsorship will reopen on January 2 2014 and new applications for sponsorship will be accepted. The government has set out several important changes to the programme through the proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, pre-published in the Canada Gazette. These changes are set out in greater detail below.

On November 5 2011 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) launched Phase I of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, putting a two-year temporary pause on the Parent and Grandparent Programme for Permanent Residence to address the issue of a growing backlog and excessive waiting times. The reopening of the programme represents Phase II.

The programme allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are 18 years of age and older to sponsor their parents and grandparents for permanent residence. During the previous decade, the number of applications on the waiting list ballooned to 160,000, with an eight-year processing time. When the programme reopens, the government expects the backlog to be reduced by 50%, with a three-and-a-half-year waiting period. This is subsequently expected to decrease to 43,000 applications, with an 18-month waiting period, by 2015.

New qualifying criteria for sponsorship

Minimum necessary income for sponsors increased
The minimum necessary income required for sponsorship was previously equal to the low-income cut-off, established annually by Statistics Canada. The low-income cut-off is an income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income to necessities (eg, food, shelter and clothing) than the average family. The minimum necessary income is calculated based on the number of people that the applicant for sponsorship currently supports (those currently in Canada) and would be supporting if the application were granted (ie, sponsored parents, grandparents and their accompanying family members).

When the programme reopens on January 2 2014, the minimum necessary income required for sponsorship will constitute the low-income cut-off plus 30%. For example, under the previous criteria a husband and wife sponsoring the wife's parents would have required a minimum necessary income of C$42,000. The new threshold is C$55,000.

This increase is intended to ensure that sponsors have the financial resources necessary to support their sponsored family members. During his press conference on May 10, Kenney noted that growing numbers of sponsored seniors were accessing social assistance benefits immediately after the sponsorship period ended, including 25% accessing welfare and increasing numbers accessing social housing.

Period for maintaining minimum necessary income increased
Under the new regulations, applicants for sponsorship must meet the minimum necessary income for three consecutive tax years before submitting an application. This change is intended to ensure that sponsors are financially stable and have sufficient resources to provide for the basic needs of their sponsored family members.

Evidence of minimum necessary income
When the programme reopens, only Canada Revenue Agency documents (ie, notices of assessment) may be used to demonstrate minimum necessary income. This restriction is intended to expedite application processing times, facilitate the assessment of applicants' financial stability and better protect against fraudulent applications. It is also intended to act as a tool to verify that sponsors are contributing to the public services that their sponsored family members are likely to use.

Sponsorship undertaking period increased
Sponsors are now required to support their sponsored family members for 20 years. If a sponsored family member and/or accompanying family member receives social assistance benefits during that 20-year period, the sponsor (or co-signer, if applicable) is required to repay that amount to the government. This includes healthcare costs not covered by provincial healthcare (ie, eyecare, dental care, mobility aids). The stated purpose of the increase is to reduce the number of sponsored family members accessing social assistance and alleviate the corresponding burden on taxpayers.

Accompanying dependants
Under the new regulations, accompanying family members of sponsored immigrants who are 19 years of age or older will no longer qualify as 'dependent children' (for further details please see "CIC announces proposed changes to 'dependent children' definition"). Therefore, subject to one exception discussed below, a 19-year-old who is not a sponsored family member may immigrate to Canada only as an independently sponsored immigrant, not as the dependent child of a sponsored parent or grandparent.

The definition of 'dependent child' currently includes children younger than 22 years of age. According to CIC, this change in the definition of 'dependent child' was based on the fact that younger immigrants are better able to integrate both socially and economically into Canadian society.

The existing exception for overage children who have been financially dependent on their sponsored parents since the age of 22, pursuing full-time post-secondary studies, will be eliminated. However, the exception for overage children who are financially reliant on the sponsored family members because of a mental or physical disability will remain in place.

This change will apply to all immigration programmes, not just the Parent and Grandparent Programme for Permanent Residence. However, the effective date of this change will be January 1 2014, which immediately precedes the date that the programme begins accepting new applications for parents and grandparents.

Restrictions

CIC has committed to admitting 25,000 eligible sponsored family members (from applications submitted before the temporary pause in November 2011) for each of 2014 and 2015. However, new applications accepted under the programme will be capped at 5,000 in 2014; this will allow CIC to continue working through the remaining application backlog.

Applications received before the temporary pause in November 2011 will be assessed based on the regulations that were in force at that time. Applications received from January 2 2014 onwards will be subject to the new regulations.

Super-visa programme

Kenney also announced that the super-visa, introduced concurrently with the temporary pause on the programme, will become a permanent immigration vehicle. The super-visa is a 10-year multiple-entry visa that allows the parent or grandparent visa holder to remain in Canada for up to two years at a time. Over 15,000 super-visas have been issued since the programme's launch.

For further information on this topic please contact Catherine Longo or Simon Reis at Blaney McMurtry LLP by telephone (+1 416 593 1221), fax (+1 416 593 5437) or email (clongo@blaney.com or sreis@blaney.com).

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