Increased Family Class Immigration Targets Follow Other Government Initiatives

When Canada’s Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen stood before the gathered press in Toronto last week to reveal and explain the government’s new multi-year immigration plan, he was keen to point out that the majority of the nearly one million permanent residents to be admitted to Canada over the next three years would be economic migrants. The next largest broad category, however, will be newcomers who arrive under the Family Class programs.

It has been two years now since the governing Liberal Party won office in Ottawa from the Conservatives, and nearly a year since Hussen took over as head of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) from his predecessor, John McCallum. The strategy to grow the intake of Family Class immigrants may be seen as the latest in a succession of developments put in place over the last two years to make the process of sponsoring a loved one, or being sponsored, simpler than before.

All in all, the outlook for Family Class applicants looks positive. Under this broad Canadian immigration category, citizens and permanent residents of Canada may sponsor their foreign spouse, common-law partner, dependent child(ren), parent(s), or grandparent(s). Over the next three years, Canada intends to welcome around 265,500 such persons as new permanent residents, to unite them with their family members in Canada.

In a news release last week, IRCC stated that this increased target intake ‘will create the space needed to reduce backlogs and decrease processing times for families sponsoring spouses, children, parents, and grandparents.’

This projection ties in with the government’s goal to reduce processing times, with a particular effort for spouses and common-law partners being sponsored while residing in Canada. In December, 2016, and to much media attention, then-Minister of Immigration McCallum announced that processing times for Inland sponsorship would be halved, from 24 months to 12 months. As of today, this target is being met in the majority of cases.

Not only can sponsored spouses and common-law partners enjoy quicker processing, but the government has ensured that they have the opportunity to work while awaiting a decision on the application. An open work permit pilot program, first introduced by the Conservative government in 2014, was subsequently extended by the Liberals in both 2015 and 2016.

The extension of this popular pilot program has meant that many sponsored persons residing in Canada can sustain themselves and their families economically while their application for permanent residence works its way through the system. Work permit holders can remain engaged with the Canadian labour market, rather than having to wait, a factor that may also benefit their career prospects over the long term.

Another move that makes settlement in Canada easier for some sponsored newcomers took place last April, when the government removed what was known as conditional permanent residence.

Under this government policy, brought in by the Conservatives in 2012, sponsored spouses and common-law partners had to live with their sponsors for at least two years upon admission to Canada as a permanent resident if, at the time they applied, the relationship had begun less than two years previously and the couple had no children in common. The provision had been introduced as a means to deter people from seeking to immigrate to Canada through non-genuine relationships.

However, by 2017 the Liberals had resolved that while cases of marriage or relationship fraud exist, the majority of relationships are genuine and most sponsorship applications are made in good faith. An additional concern that led to the removal of the provision was that vulnerable sponsored spouses or partners may have stayed in abusive relationships because they are afraid of losing their permanent resident status, even though an exception to the condition existed for those types of situations.

For Canadian immigration purposes, between August, 2014 and October, 2017 an individual applying for permanent residence could include dependent children under 19 years of age on their application. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, the Liberal manifesto stated that increasing the age definition of dependency for immigration to under 22 years of age would be a priority. This change finally came into effect on October 24, 2017.

While not strictly concerned only with the Family Class programs, this important change nonetheless affects all Canadian immigration categories, including the Family Class. Canadian citizens and permanent residents with eligible dependents abroad, who may not necessarily have been eligible before the change, may now be able to sponsor those family members for immigration to Canada.

The Parent and Grandparent Program (PGP) is part of the Family Class category. Through the PGP, Canadian citizens and permanent residents may sponsor foreign parents and grandparents to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents.

The final PGP application intake cycle under the Conservatives took place in early 2015 and allowed for 5,000 applications to be accepted for processing. At that time, the program operated on a first-come, first-served basis, a process that the Liberals continued into 2016. However, the new government doubled the intake to 10,000 applications. Then for 2017 a new application process was revealed, whereby potential sponsors first declared their interest in the program before the government selected at random those who could go on to submit an application. Later in the year, the government issued more invitations to apply for the PGP, in line with the target intake for the year.

Under the government’s new multi-year immigration plan, there is to be a gradual, steady increase in the number of admissions under the PGP so that by 2020, around 21,000 new permanent residents will be admitted through the program. This will allow IRCC to whittle down the backlog of submitted applications awaiting processing, while also providing scope for new applications to be submitted in future application cycles.

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