The attached are the CCR's representations concerning the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, with respect to the transportation loans, pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 151, No. 39, on 30 September 2017
Settlement and integration
This paper gives a brief outline of the CCR’s main concerns relating to refugees and mental health. It focuses on refugees, but many aspects apply to other newcomers, particularly those who have suffered serious human rights abuses, such as survivors of trafficking, and those with precarious status, such as migrant workers.
In the three years since its introduction, Conditional Permanent Residence has increased the vulnerability of many sponsored newcomers, particularly victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, who are often women. Victims of abuse are doubly victimized and retraumatized by the condition: they suffer abuse from their partner and threat of deportation from the State. The measure has placed more power in the hands of abusive sponsors, and put sponsored partners at increased risk of abuse, increasing gender inequalities in cases where the sponsored person is a woman. Front-line workers and lawyers have reported that there are women in situations of abuse who – after consulting them about the condition and the exception – decide to stay in the abusive relationship for fear of having their application for the exception rejected. Others remain in violent relationships because they lack knowledge of their rights and are manipulated by sponsors. Even in cases where there is no abuse, the measure creates significant stress for those affected because of the threat of deportation in the case of a breakdown in the relationship.
In October 2012, the federal government introduced a two-year period of conditional permanent residence for sponsored spouses who have been in a relationship with their sponsor for less than two years, and who have no children together at the time the sponsorship application is made.
Under this rule, the sponsored person’s permanent residence is conditional on their remaining in a conjugal relationship and cohabitating with their sponsor for two years after they become a permanent resident. If they don’t fulfill these conditions, their permanent residence could be revoked, and they could be deported. After outcry from advocates for women and newcomers, an exception to the measure was added for victims of abuse and neglect. Eligible applicants must prove abuse in order to access the exception.
The Canadian Council for Refugees, along with many other organizations, expressed grave concerns about the measure from the outset, on the grounds that it would increase the risk of spousal abuse and that it unfairly associates newcomers with fraudulent behaviour.
Experiences with Conditional Permanent Residence
In order to assess the impact of Conditional Permanent Residence, the Canadian Council for Refugees reached out in 2015 to over 140 settlement organizations, legal clinics, and women’s shelters across the country. The following is a summary of feedback received.
Lack of information about the condition is a significant challenge, especially outside of major urban centres. Many front-line workers do not fully understand the implications of the condition for sponsored spouses, and many are unaware of or have wrong information about the exception for victims of abuse or neglect. In outreach calls done with 142 organizations across the country, only 62% were aware of the condition, and only 40% were aware of the exception for victims of abuse or neglect.
An important barrier flagged by front-line workers is the need for an advocate. A person who has experienced abuse has a much better chance of applying successfully for the exception and thus escaping an abusive relationship if they have an advocate to inform them about, and help them with the process. Many newcomer women are isolated and face language barriers, making it difficult for them to access help. In some cases well-intentioned advocates prove ineffective or misleading, due to lack of information on the measure, or faulty information on how to access the exception.
It is impossible to know how many women have been trapped in relationships because of lack of access to information about the exception, and lack of support.
Three years after the implementation of Conditional Permanent Residence for sponsored spouses, front-line workers at women- and newcomer-focused organizations report that the exception is not working as intended. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard concerns that the exception is inadequate to protect women from abuse, and our consultations with organizations show that this rule has indeed put victims at increased risk of abuse.
Organizations that attempted to access the exception for victims of abuse reported the following:
- CIC recommends its call centre as the first point of contact for those seeking an exception, but users report that this has not been effective. It is difficult and time-consuming to reach a representative; not all CIC representatives understand the rules of the condition, and misleading information is often provided.
- There is a lack of clarity and consistency from CIC on the investigation process for breach of condition.
- There appears to be insufficient training on gender violence for CIC Call Centre representatives as well as for officers conducting interviews to decide whether the exception will be granted: CCR has received reports that several have made comments showing a significant lack of understanding of gender violence.
- Compiling evidence and applying for the exception is onerous and time consuming, and proving emotional or psychological abuse is difficult.
- There are problems around disclosure: where an ex-partner has complained to CIC and instigated an investigation, the partner affected by the condition is not given access to information on the allegations against them.
- CIC does not always respond promptly to requests for an exception, causing significant stress and trauma. In some cases it appears that CBSA has launched an investigation against a sponsored spouse for not complying with the condition, after that spouse had already requested an exception from the condition due to abuse.
In addition to unacceptably trapping people in abusive relationships, Conditional Permanent Residence leads to a significant waste of resources. Organizations and lawyers supporting victims of violence or neglect spend significant time helping sponsored spouses to apply for the exception, including collecting evidence of abuse and preparing detailed submissions. Government officials also spend time informing sponsored spouses about the provision, monitoring compliance and evaluating complex requests for exceptions. Given that there is no evidence that Conditional Permanent Residence is addressing a real problem, this is a shameful waste of resources.
The CCR maintains that:
- Making permanent residence conditional on staying in a relationship for two years traps people into staying in abusive relationships for fear of losing their status.
- Punishing the sponsored partner for relationship breakdown is unfair, and puts all the power into the hands of sponsors, who may be abusive.
- The exception is not effective: abused partners are often unable to take advantage of it because of barriers to information on the exemption (e.g. language, isolation), and the burden of proving their own abuse.
- The measure is unnecessary, since there are already legal provisions to address misrepresentations in immigration proceedings (e.g. marriages of convenience).
The CCR is pleased to note that repealing Conditional Permanent Residence is part of the Liberal Plan for Immigration.
CCR calls on the government to follow through on its commitment and repeal Conditional Permanent Residence immediately, to remove this unnecessary measure that is harmful to the many who are affected by it, disproportionately women.
Jane came to Canada sponsored by her spouse James, a Canadian citizen she had met and married in her native Norway. To her surprise, she found she was to live with her in-laws as well as James and was expected to work (unpaid) in the family’s cleaning business. James became verbally and sexually abusive as well as controlling: she was not allowed to leave the house without him. James would tell her that if she left him she would be deported from Canada. After he started shoving her, she left the home and went to a shelter.
A shelter worker who had recently attended a presentation on Conditional Permanent Residence helped Jane call the CIC Call Centre to request an exception from the two-year condition. They asked for an interpreter but were told they had to call back with their own. When they did that, CIC took basic information and informed them they would hear from the CIC local office. Several months passed before CIC sent a letter explaining that she needed to submit proof of her relationship and the abuse within 60 days. Since James was so controlling, she had little documented evidence of their relationship (such as a joint bank account, joint lease agreement, etc.) and was worried the lack of evidence would result in her losing her status. She submitted what she had and explained why she didn’t have much evidence. After several months, Jane received a second letter asking for the same documents she had previously explained she could not provide. Some time after responding to that letter, she was asked to attend an interview with a CIC officer. Jane was sobbing through the interview trying to explain to the officer why her circumstances met the definition of abuse and neglect, and weren’t simply “marital problems”, as the officer suggested. While her exemption was eventually granted by way of a letter, the eight month long process was emotionally draining and humiliating for Jane.
Jemma is a citizen of Burma who was sponsored from within Canada. She was seven months pregnant with her sponsor’s child when she received her permanent residence. The landing interview was the first time Jemma or her husband Jared learned of the conditional permanent resident requirement. While the relationship had been a little bit rocky before, Jared’s disposition at that point began to shift drastically. He would tell Jemma that he felt trapped by being a father and that he was now stuck with her for two years. He controlled all the finances in the household, constantly telling Jemma she was “useless” because she was unable to contribute financially. One day her husband beat her so badly with a kitchen utensil that she had to be taken to the emergency room. Jemma’s neighbour called the police and her husband was later criminally charged. He then called Citizenship and Immigration Canada and informed them that it was actually Jemma who was abusive and she only married him to stay in Canada. CIC wrote Jemma a letter stating that she may be found inadmissible to Canada, and provided a summary of the allegation, without naming the person making the allegation. Jemma was assisted by a lawyer to respond to the letter and also request an exemption from the condition. She is still awaiting a decision several months later and feels in limbo – unable to move forward with her life in Canada and scared of losing her status.
 “Strengthening The Protection Of Women In Our Immigration System” , Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, February 2015, http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6837061&…
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is holding online consultations until May 25th to review and redesign the sponsorship system for parents and grandparents. Along with the online questionnaire it was announced that “Minister Jason Kenney will host a series of multi-city in-person meetings with stakeholders”. These meetings are invite-only.
These consultations are part of the government’s Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, announced in November 2011, which consists of three principal changes:
- To reduce the applications backlog, the government is increasing by over 60 percent the number of sponsored parents and grandparents admitted to Canada in 2012, from nearly 15,500 in 2010 to 25,000 in 2012. At the same time a two-year ban on new applications for sponsored parents and grandparents was put in place, in November 2011.
- The 10-year, multiple-entry “Parent and Grandparent Supervisa” was introduced. The supervisa is only accessible for those who can afford to buy one year’s worth of Canadian medical insurance (even if they only plan to visit Canada for weeks or months).
- Following consultations, the Parent and Grandparent Program will be redesigned in order to “avoid future large backlogs and be sensitive to fiscal constraints”.
The online consultations are open to stakeholders and the public and are being carried out via a questionnaire. Respondents are asked to indicate whether or not they agree with the different proposals that are clearly directed towards decreasing numbers of applicants and accepted parents and grandparents. Options given include restrictions on applications and eligibility and increased financial requirements. The proposals present a certain bias: the starting point is an assumption that parents and grandparents are a burden on Canadian society and that their numbers should be decreased. The only venue for expression of alternate opinions or proposals is in the comments box below each section.
The CCR encourages people to respond to the questionnaire, and to use the comments boxes to give opinions beyond the simplistic poll of the discouraging proposals being made to shrink the Parent and Grandparent Program. We have prepared a backgrounder for you to take into account when responding.
Context: Family Reunification as a Canadian Value
Family reunification is one of the primary guiding principles of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), and welcoming parents and grandparents of permanent residents and citizens is a positive reflection of Canadian values. As a country that acknowledges and prioritizes family values, family reunification should be an integral part of our immigration program. We recognize that all families are valuable, regardless of their background and we understand the importance of extended family.
CIC is proposing to make Canada’s system more restrictive, which would be a step backwards in our family-friendly immigration program. Parents and grandparents contribute to Canadian society in significant ways, and depicting them as a burden is misleading and unfair. Family reunification should be a priority for Canada, and the Parent and Grandparent Program (PGP) plays an important role in reuniting families.
In recent years Canada has been increasing the percentage of economic immigrants and decreasing Family Class and refugee/humanitarian admissions. The proportion of overall immigration taken up by economic immigration has increased significantly in recent years – from 55% in 2005 to 66% in 2010. Over the same period, Family Class has shrunk from 28% to 21.5% and Refugees from 14% to 9%. Over a longer period, Family Class has decreased even more dramatically, from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993, to 21.5% in 2010. This downward trend is worrisome, and there needs to be real discussion and consultation with Canadians about what they want Canada’s immigration program to look like.
The CCR believes that Canada should rebalance immigration levels in order to establish greater equality between the three pillars, reprioritizing and dedicating more resources to the processing of family reunification and humanitarian considerations.
CCR resources on family reunification and rebalancing immigration levels
To see the CCR’s 2011 recent resolution on the importance of re-prioritizing family reunification in the Canadian immigration program, visit:
To see CCR priorities in immigration levels planning, submitted to CIC for last years consultations, visit: http://ccrweb.ca/en/levels-2011
Managing the number of people who can apply
CIC is proposing that the number of applications accepted under the PGP needs to be managed (i.e. limited) because there is a backlog. Possible solutions can be to limit applicants or to allocate more resources to processing. CIC is taking the approach that to address the backlog the number of applicants must be reduced. The CCR supports reprioritizing family reunification and thus putting more resources toward processing these applications.
A Modernized Parent and Grandparent Immigration Program: Should we try to ease the economic impact of parents and grandparents?
It is acknowledged in the CIC backgrounder, as well as in considerable research conducted over the years, that parents and grandparents contribute to the Canadian economy and society in many ways. Many parents who come to Canada enter the workforce, while grandparents often allow their children and grandchildren to increase their workforce participation by taking active roles in child-rearing and housekeeping. Money earned in Canada is more often spent in Canada, rather than being sent to family members abroad. Family reunification also has positive impacts on the mental health, well-being, and integration outcomes of new Canadians. While the costs of elderly grandparents to the health care and social support systems have been quantified and are thus judged to be a burden, these costs haven’t been measured against all the positive outcomes of their presence in Canada. It is misleading to characterize these integral family members as a burden, when they bring positive economic and social benefits and so many Canadians want to be reunited and are willing to sponsor them.
Currently, sponsors of parents and grandparents under the PGP are required to take financial responsibility for their sponsored family member(s) for ten years. CIC proposes that this could be changed to a lifetime sponsorship. If someone has been in Canada for ten years, they have become a permanent resident, if not a citizen. Lifetime sponsorship would mean Canada would be denying care to some of its residents and citizens based on their age or origins. Requiring lifetime sponsorship will lead to two classes of Canadians: those for whom the Canadian government is willing to pay for services in exchange for their participation in society and paying of taxes, and those for whom the government outsources those costs to their younger family members.
This proposal also begs the question of what will happen if the sponsor dies before their parent or grandparent; will the surviving relative be deported, even if they are a permanent resident or a citizen? And if after 20 years the sponsor hits on hard financial times – will the relative be deported? It is not clear that this proposal is either fair or practical.
CIC suggests that fees such as the $40,000 per person charged by Australia to some sponsored parents could be implemented in Canada. If this came about, it would mean that only the very wealthy would have access to the PGP. Family reunification is a cornerstone of Canada’s immigration policy and a stated objective of IRPA. It should be implemented equitably and not only for the wealthy. This proposal goes completely against Canadian values of fairness and equality, and would introduce an element of discrimination based on income to our immigration program.
Changes to Minimum Necessary Income
CIC proposes that either the Minimum Necessary Income (MNI) threshold for sponsors of parents and grandparents be increased, or that the length of time the sponsor must meet the MNI should be increased, or both. Increasing the MNI of sponsors would further restrict the number of people able to sponsor their family members, privileging the wealthy at the expense of middle-income people who meet the current MNI requirements. Increasing the length of time the sponsor must meet the minimum MNI would pose problems for people who, after ten years, face unforeseen financial difficulties, again bringing up the question of what would happen to the sponsored person in such situations, who by that time might already be a citizen or a permanent resident. This proposal would make family reunification more difficult, and make access to it more exclusive.
Should we redefine the eligibility of family members who accompany parents and grandparents?
Redefining eligibility by imposing stricter criteria is proposed by CIC in order to limit numbers of applications in this category. However, if the Family Class of immigration were expanded to rebalance the levels of immigration across the different categories, such limiting of applications would be unnecessary.
Focus on parents rather than siblings of sponsors
Being reunited with siblings is just as important to many new Canadians as being reunited with parents and grandparents. Sponsored siblings will be able to contribute to Canadian society in many positive ways, as well as improving the settlement outcomes of their sponsoring family members. If CIC were to re-prioritize family reunification, siblings wouldn’t be excluded from sponsorship.
Balance of Family Test
CIC is proposing that at least half of the children of any parent or grandparent applying to be sponsored must reside in Canada for them to be eligible for sponsorship under the PGP. This approach seems arbitrary and would have a negative impact on many Canadians trying to reunite with their family members. For example, if parents living in their home country have eight children, three of whom are in Canada, three in the U.S., and two in the home country, they would not be eligible for sponsorship to Canada. Is it fair to prohibit Canadian residents and citizens from sponsoring their parents and grandparents simply because some of their siblings chose to live in countries other than Canada?
Should we emphasize a commitment to Canada on the part of sponsors?
Citizenship as a requirement to sponsor
It is surprising that CIC is proposing that citizenship should be a requirement to sponsor family members, since 85% of newcomers to Canada become citizens anyway, so such a measure would only affect a small group of people. However, it could affect this small group negatively. Some examples of the 15% of newcomers who don’t become citizens as soon as they are eligible are:
- those who haven’t applied for citizenship because their country of origin does not allow dual citizenship
- refugees who, due to trauma, have difficulty achieving the language proficiency levels required for citizenship
For many in the minority group of permanent residents who don’t seek citizenship, it is not a lack of commitment to Canada that prevents them from applying.
This proposal would mean that citizenship would become a tool for exclusion from sponsorship. Is it right that the small group of people who remain permanent residents would be barred from reunification with their family members?
Focus on Special Needs and Exceptional Cases
In this proposal CIC suggests that entry could be limited to those who meet exceptional criteria and who require compassionate consideration. This proposal is shocking because the criteria would make almost everyone ineligible, and would essentially eliminate the PGP, but for certain humanitarian and compassionate cases. This approach would make the cases where families are reunited into an exception, rather than a rule, and thus goes against the commitments and objectives defined in IRPA.
The Canadian Council for Refugees was taken aback by Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s surprise announcement on Tuesday April 12 that the devolution agreements that allowed the provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia to manage their own immigration settlement programs would be terminated.