Immigration Reform, Done Badly

April 21, 2005: Immigration Reform, Done Badly

Immigration reform, done badly

Martin Collacott
National Post, Page A16
Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Monday, Immigration Minister Joe Volpe announced that Canada will triple its intake of parents and grandparents of immigrants.

Unfortunately, the government unveiled no plans to address the serious
problems associated with bringing in large numbers of aging immigrants. The move underlines once again the government's readiness to sacrifice the interests of Canadians in the hope of picking up a few extra votes in a handful of ethnically diverse urban ridings.

Simply put, allowing large numbers of elderly immigrants into Canada is extremely costly. Without having contributed to the health care system through taxes, they draw full benefit from it; as they age, health costs increase dramatically. Likewise, the use of welfare by parents and grandparents tends to increase the longer they are in this country, and reaches levels close to four times that of the general population.

And that's not all. After being sponsored for entry by family members in Canada, such parents can themselves bring in extended family members, none of whom requires employment qualifications or English/French ability. Through such “chain migration,” a sponsor's parents typically bring unmarried children as dependents. The latter can then marry spouses from their countries of origin, who also become eligible to bring in their own parents and their parents' other offspring. All told, a single-skilled independent immigrant sponsoring his own parents or grandparents can bring about the entry of dozens of distant relatives under the family class category.

Let's be clear: Many family class immigrants do well here. But on average, their earnings are far lower, and they contribute far less in taxes, than those who come as independents and have to meet our usual qualification standards.

Family class entrants are, moreover, the only category of newcomers whose use of welfare increases rather than decreases over time. The large influx of family class immigrants is one of the main reasons why the economic performance of immigrants who have arrived here in the past 20 years has fallen so far below that of those who arrived earlier, as well as beneath Canadian-born citizens.

Ottawa could have addressed this issue by adopting rules similar to those introduced by Australia a few years ago. Since the main justification for bringing in parents is to keep a family together, Canberra employs a “balance of family” test, under which at least half of the parents' children have to be in Australia already (or at least more of them in Australia than in any other country). Australia also requires sponsors to post substantial bonds to offset anticipated medical expenses.

The result is that, while Canada allowed more than 21,000 sponsored parents and grandparents in 2001, Australia admitted only several hundred. On a per capita basis, this was only about 4% of Canada's intake. Ottawa has long known about these issues. But instead of being up-front about the need for policy changes, the government simply decided to slow down the processing of family-class applications without letting sponsors know.

It also emerged that wait times in some countries are much lengthier than in others. For example, parents sponsored through our visa office in Beijing ould expect to wait more than 10 years on average, while those who applied n New Delhi and Colombo faced only 3.6 and 2.6 years respectively.

And now that the government is finally making an open shift in its policy, its going in the wrong direction. The responsible and fair thing for Ottawa to havedone would have been to honour the applications of those already in the system and process them within a reasonable period — while at the same time announcing new rules for sponsorship of parents that would better serve the interests of Canadians. Instead, the government capitulated to immigrant-friendly pressure groups.

Unfortunately, this will likely reinforce the already common idea that
immigration policies are designed to curry favour with newcomers at the expense of Canadians in general. At a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is sweeping across other Western countries, fuelled by the fact that many newcomers rely so heavily on the public purse, Mr. Volpe's announcement seems very unwise indeed.

Martin Collacott is a former Canadian ambassador.
C National Post 2005