Family Changes Backgrounder

Proposed changes

The government has proposed to change the immigration regulations in two important ways:

1.   Definition of dependent children

  • The maximum age will be reduced to 18 years (from 21 years)
  • The existing exception for full-time students will be eliminated

If the proposal is accepted, ALL applicants for permanent residence will be affected (refugees, economic immigrants, live-in caregivers, Family Class immigrants, etc). Children over 18 years will no longer be considered part of the family.

2.   Rules for sponsoring parents and grandparents

  • The sponsorship period will be increased from 10 years to 20 years.
  • Sponsors will need to have a higher income over a longer period before they can sponsor.

The proposed changes were published in the Canada Gazette on May 18:

Definition of dependent children:

Rules for sponsoring parents and grandparents:

The proposed implementation date is January 1, 2014.


The explanation given in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement for the proposed changes to the definition of dependent children focuses exclusively on economic issues:

“The primary objective of the proposed amendments is to enhance economic integration of immigrant dependent children to increase Canada’s economic potential. This would be achieved by reducing the maximum age of dependent children to admit those dependent children who are more likely to successfully integrate into the labour market and contribute to the Canadian economy.”

Refugees and family class immigrants are not selected for their economic potential, so this is not an appropriate reason for changing the family definition in these classes.

Even when evaluated on economic terms, the government’s own background documentation provides very weak justification for the change. Their statistics show that, 15 years after arriving in Canada, dependants who arrived aged 19-21 years are earning within a few hundred dollars of what the 15-18 year-old cohort is earning. Both cohorts have average earnings above the Canadian average.

The following table in the government documents was the basis for claiming dependant 19-21 year olds perform too poorly economically to be allowed to immigrate to Canada.


Average Employment Earnings ($2009) by Years since Landing (YSL) - 1988 Landing Cohort







Dependants (10 to 14)






Dependants (15 to 18)






Dependants (19 to 21)






Dependants (22 years of age or older)






Skilled worker (principal applicants)






Canadian Average (All Ages)







See government background documents

The analysis also fails to take into consideration how the presence of young adult children may be supporting their family in their early years in Canada, by contributing another income or taking care of younger siblings, and thus increasing the overall economic potential of the family. What is the financial toll of the psychological and emotional disruption of being forced to leave behind a family member, perhaps in dangerous circumstances?

Principal concerns

With respect to definition of dependent children:

  • Young unmarried adult children under the age of 22 years are usually still part of the family, economically, socially and psychologically, and continue to need their parents’ support.
  • In many societies it is difficult and even dangerous for single young women to live alone.
  • Refugees are forced to flee because of persecution, which often puts their young adult children at risk too. Leaving them behind may put their lives at risk.
  • Refugees often spend years in flight before they reach safety and during this time their children’s lives are disrupted, whether the children are waiting in the home country or have also been forced to flee. It would be very difficult for the family to have to leave the young adult children behind when the parents are finally given a new home in Canada.
  • When refugees flee, older siblings are often forced to play the role of surrogate parents to their younger siblings. Leaving the older siblings behind when the family is finally reunited in Canada would represent yet another brutal separation for a family that has already experienced separation.
  • Live-in caregivers and people accepted on humanitarian grounds must wait years before they can sponsor their children. It is unfair to exclude children who have recently passed the age of 18 simply because of the length of the immigration process.
  • Newcomers can’t settle well when they are worried about close family members left abroad. This is particularly the case if the family members are in a refugee-like situation and at risk.

CCR submission on proposed regulatory change regarding dependent children:

 With respect to sponsorship of parents and grandparents:

  • The increased financial requirements will mean that only the wealthy can sponsor their parents. Family reunification should not be a privilege reserved to the wealthy.
  • The changes will disproportionately affect racialized communities and women, as they are economically disadvantaged in Canada, and therefore will be less likely to meet the higher income thresholds.
  • The focus on economic contributions ignores the many other contributions newcomers make to our societies. Keeping families together is an important social benefit for the country.
  • Parents and grandparents often support the members of the family who are earning a salary, for example by providing childcare. For lower income immigrants, bringing a parent may mean that the immigrant can work fulltime because someone is available to care for young children.
  • Immigrants who are contributing to Canada may leave if they can’t bring their parents here.
  • Twenty year sponsorships increase the risk of serious hardships for families, in the case of illness or accident. Immigrants are paying the same taxes as Canadians: it is not fair that they should be deprived for decades of the services paid for by those taxes.

CCR submission on regulatory changes regarding parents and grandparents:

June 2013