Family reunification continues to be a top priority for the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. This priority is codified in section 3(d) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which states that one of the primary objectives of the Act is to see that “families are reunited in Canada.” The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) continues to have high demand for sponsorship.

At this time of year, many prospective sponsors anxiously await news about the quota and intake system for the next round of PGP sponsorships. On December 16, 2019, the IRCC Newsroom released a notice indicating that “more information on plans for the intake process for the program in 2020 will be available soon.” This notice does not provide any new information or clues as to how the intake process will work for 2020.

Will the next intake system be a lottery, first come, first served or something entirely new? Will it be electronic or paper-based? Is there going to be a quota? Is getting a coveted sponsorship opportunity going to look a lot like trying to purchase tickets for a popular concert?

There has been a persistently high demand for the PGP with a limited number of available applications. Most recently, in 2019, the process was a first-served online expression of interest. On January 28, 2019, the program opened and was available to the first 27,000 sponsors to get a confirmation number. Within minutes, all of the spots were claimed, leaving over 75,000 people disappointed and frustrated. Concerns were raised over inaccessibility due to physical typing ability, language barriers and access to fast and reliable internet service. Court action ensued and was quietly settled a few months later.

Why is the PGP so popular? Canadian Immigration policy and legislation has a long tradition of supporting family reunification which permits both recent immigrants and long established Canadians to be reunited with their close family members from abroad. The sponsorship system was viewed positively because it is believed that having a relative present in Canada would ease a newcomer’s settlement. There are social and cultural arguments to parent and grandparent sponsorship as intergenerational living and familial responsibility is a part of many cultures and immigrant communities. As well, in the competitive global marketplace for skilled economic immigration, it is argued that a parental sponsorship program would entice would-be immigrants to choose Canada since it offers a program to also include close family such as parents and grandparents.

The parental sponsorship program became so popular that by 2011, there was a backlog of nearly 160,000 applications and long processing times reaching up to 8 years. This led the government to issue a freeze of all new application for a 2 year period. When the program re-opened in 2014, the intake was managed by the case processing centre in Mississauga, Ontario that accepted mailed or hand-delivered applications on a first-come, first-served basis. This process favoured sponsors who were close to Mississauga or who could afford to hire representatives to hand deliver or courier the application.

In 2017 and 2018, the intake system changed to an electronic lottery where prospective sponsors were randomly selected after submitting brief biographic information. The lottery did not adequately screen for eligible sponsors and lacked transparency. It allowed ineligible sponsors to take up spots of those who would have otherwise been eligible to sponsor their parents or grandparents.

What is the best way to manage expectations and intake of this popular immigration program? The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has recommended that IRCC adopt a weighted lottery system for parental sponsorships that favours sponsors who have submitted expressions of interest in previous years. This would increase the probability of selection for those who have submitted expressions of interest in previous years but not selected in the lottery. The CBA also recommends requiring up-front proof of eligibility of sponsors in order to avoid the scenario where ineligible sponsors are selected only to reject them later for failing to meet the income requirements for sponsorship. Ensuring that only eligible sponsors can express interest to sponsor will manage intake and expectations as well as avoid appeals to the Immigration Appeals Division later on. Whether this recommendation translates into policy and practice is yet to be seen, but more information should be communicated in the coming weeks.

IRCC consistently communicates that it is committed to family reunification and provides other avenues for families to be together in Canada. Temporary programs such as Super Visa, allow parents to remain in Canada for up to two years on a 10 year multiple entry visa. The approval rates for Super Visas are high and in 2017, 17,248 super visas for parents and grandparents were approved. This temporary solution may not be ideal for everybody, but do allow for reunification of families for a period of time.

Innovative programs may be created to divert the applications from the family class to other streams, such as creating an economic stream for parents and grandparents who are able to contribute to the Canadian economy or allow qualified parents/grandparents to work in Canada on temporary work permits.

With lessons learned from previous iterations of intake and experience from the last few years, expectations can be better managed and a fairer method of accepting applications for sponsorship can be achieved. In this way, the immigration system can still see to it that “families are reunited in Canada”.