Proposed changes to Canada’s Family Reunification Program to exclude many

Untitled 2
'Family Separation'- An art mural by Migrant Youth BC

‘Family Separation’- An art mural by Migrant Youth BC

by Jesson Reyes

In December 2013, the newly appointed Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, announced that the handful of proposed changes within the Family Reunification Program will be effective as of January 2, 2014. Together with this announcement is the assurance to the applicants of its main motives:  to decrease processing time (currently averaging 4 years) and to clear backlogs in the application pool.

Most of the changes constitute an additional burden to what is already a challenging process to begin with: Citizenship Canada has been quoted as saying they are doing everything to reunite ‘families’ as quickly as possible. But the CIC defines a family as per the nuclear family model — family members that can come with you when you immigrate to Canada are your spouse, dependent child and the child of a dependent. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles are not allowed to be sponsored unless they are streamed into a particular program.

Also, an applicant who does not declare their “dependents” when they  initially apply for the permanent resident form, will not be able to “add a dependent” in the future. This may not appear to be an issue for most applicants but it certainly affects those who may come from a particular situation where reasons for not claiming their children may come from the fear of persecution from either family members or their government.

The CIC’s definition of the family actually contradicts Statistics Canada’s, which in 2002 broadened its definition of family to include couples of any sexual orientation, with or without children, married or cohabiting, lone parents of any marital status, and grandparents raising grandchildren.

In addition, the age of who would be considered as a “dependent” will be changed from 22 to 19. It is important to remember that this particular change was considered to “better the economic integration” of dependents coming in to the country.

In 2012, Canada’s Economic Action Plan was released where the Government cited its immigration priority goals: to fuel economic prosperity, transition to a fast and flexible economic immigration system, and select immigrants that have the skills and experience required to meet Canada’s economic needs.

Research has demonstrated that older immigrants (age 19+) have a more challenging time fully integrating into the Canadian labour market, and so the policy is meant to promote immigration only of those deemed economically useful. The policy does not give consideration to family unity.

But one of the major barriers that those above the age of 19 face in finding jobs remains with the employers’ inability to recognize their working experience and/or their professional credentials. The Ontario Human Rights Commission even considers this requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ to be a violation of human rights. But the prevalence of such requirements leads to deskilling or deprofessionalization of well-qualified immigrants.

Clearly, Canada or at least its current government has demonstrated with its immigration policies that it is not willing to acknowledge and engage in the issues of transnational families.  This is reflected in its reluctance to sign the United Nations Convention to Protect Migrant Workers and their Families.  Canada has contributed to separating families through strict laws regarding migrant workers, since the 1920s with the Chinese railroad workers up until the introduction of the live in caregiver program in 1993.

All that matters is what is economically expedient, not family values! Statistics indicate that family class decreased from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993 to 21.5% in 2010.

Grassroots community organizations such as Migrante Canada , Filipino Migrant Workers Movement , Justicia 4 Migrant Workers , No One Is Illegal , and Migrant Workers Alliance for Change are all at the forefront of migrant struggles in Canada.

These groups are fighting both the injustices on foreign soil and against the systemic displacement of people through what countries like the Philippines call their ‘Labour Export Policy.’ Imperialist interventions and systematic underdevelopment provoke people to look for work abroad. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the struggles of migrants start way before they land on Canadian soil.