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CIMM Committee Report

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Government Response to the Eighth Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, entitled Family Reunification

Introduction

The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) for its eighth report, entitled Family Reunification, which was tabled in the House of Commons on March 9, 2017.

Helping families to reunite in Canada remains one of the key pillars of Canada’s immigration program. The Committee’s study and the resulting Report provide the Government with an opportunity to think critically about the ways in which Canada does and can further reunite families, faster. The Government welcomes the opportunity to have had these important issues examined from the broad and rich perspectives of stakeholders and parliamentarians who participated in the study.

Family reunification in the immigration context

As part of the objective to support family reunification, Canadian immigration legislation allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their relatives, including spouses, partners, dependent children, parents and grandparents, to become permanent residents as Family Class immigrants. Sponsors undertake to provide financial support and meet the essential needs of the relatives they sponsor. In addition to the permanent residents that are welcomed to Canada under the Family Class, family members also immigrate to Canada as dependents of principal applicants under other immigration programs, including in the economic and refugee streams. For example, in 2016, of the 214,912 permanent residents that Canada welcomed in the economic and refugee classes, 122,095 were spouses and children.

Family reunification is a core immigration priority for the Government of Canada. It supports the integration of immigrants into Canada and contributes to Canada’s social, cultural and economic development.

In 2017, Canada will welcome 84,000 persons selected on the basis of their family relationship to a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. This represents over a quarter of planned immigration to Canada for 2017 and an increase of 5% over 2016 family class levels and 24% over 2015 family class levels. These sustained increases in admissions are aimed at reducing inventories and processing times and reuniting more families.

The Department has been steadily working to reduce the processing times for spouses, partners and children. Through Budget 2016, the Government invested $25 million to allow the Department to direct and focus resources to significantly reduce the backlog and processing times for these priority categories of applications.

The Government announced, on December 7, 2016, a new processing time objective of 12 months for most spousal sponsorship applications. In addition, it committed to finalize the majority (80%) of existing applications within 12 months. At the same time, the Government introduced processing improvements aimed at simplifying the application process and improving the client experience.

For the Parent and Grandparent Program, one of the Government’s first actions was to double the number of applications that will be accepted for processing annually, to 10,000 while maintaining high admissions levels. In 2017, the Government plans to welcome 20,000 parents and grandparents.

Given high demand for the Parent and Grandparent Program, the Government also introduced a new intake management system in 2017 to increase fairness and transparency. Previously, applicants had to rush to submit their application by courier and mail before the application limit was reached. Under the newly introduced random selection process, persons wishing to sponsor their parents or grandparents now have an equal opportunity of being invited to apply to sponsor.

In addition to the above improvements, the Department has raised the age of dependants from under 19 to under 22, allowing more family members to immigrate to Canada, both under the Family Class and across immigration classes. This change is scheduled to come into force in October 2017. The Department has also eliminated the condition for sponsored spouses and partners to live with their sponsor for two years following their arrival in Canada in order to maintain their permanent resident status. This is an important measure aimed at reducing the vulnerability of spouses in the immigration program.

The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced that effective June 6, 2017 the Department is awarding additional Express Entry points to candidates with siblings in Canada, in recognition of the positive impact that family in Canada can have on social and labour market integration. Programs managed through the Express Entry system attract high-skilled foreign workers and former international students who want to live in Canada permanently and whose in-demand skills are needed by employers across the country to help build businesses and grow the economy.

Moving forward, the Department will continue to look for ways to improve processing times for all sponsorship applications, by examining current practices to find efficiencies and by easing the administrative burden for both clients and immigration officers.  When newcomers and their families stay together, it fosters their social and economic integration into Canada, thereby contributing to Canada’s prosperity.

The Committee’s report is timely given the Government’s continued focus on family reunification. The Committee’s recommendations are addressed below by theme, reflecting the nine themes identified by the Committee. The Government agrees with most of the Committee’s recommendations and is taking action in many areas identified by the Committee, including client service, processing times and research. Some of the Committee’s recommendations, while aligned with the Government’s direction, require a longer timeline to implement than that which was recommended by the Committee (e.g. a single window portal within 12 months), while others are not supported as they could have impacts for Canada’s international obligations and program integrity considerations (e.g. adoptions and moratoria).

Theme 1: Immigration planning

1.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue the recent trend of increasing the level of family class immigration and that the family class category continue to increase as overall immigration levels rise.

2.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider designing the economic and family class programs together, recognizing that the characteristics of the two streams are interdependent.

The Committee’s recommendations relating to levels underscore the central place that family reunification programs have in immigration planning. 

Each year, the Government sets how many permanent residents Canada intends to admit through its various immigration categories for the following year, including the number of sponsored family members that will be admitted in the Family Class. This is done through the immigration levels plan, tabled annually in Parliament. The overall total and the allocation of admissions space requires a balancing of economic, family, refugee and humanitarian classes, along with the costs of delivering the overall immigration program, including a suite of extensive settlement services available to all permanent residents. Ultimately, the levels plan is a public expression of the Government’s immigration priorities and determines the allocation of resources (such as for processing applications).

Family class admission levels were increased in 2016 and again for 2017, recognizing the importance which the Government attaches to ensuring families are reunited in Canada. In 2017, Canada expects to welcome 84,000 permanent residents under the Family Class, including 64,000 spouses, partners and children and 20,000 parents and grandparents. These increased targets will mean more applications processed, more progress on wait times, faster inventory reduction, and more families reunited.

Ensuring sufficient admissions spaces in the levels plan is a key part of any strategy to tackle processing times. Processing times become lengthy when the admission levels are lower than the number of applications received.  This misalignment, over time, creates ageing inventories as it does not allow the Department to finalize a sufficient number of applications.  In such situations, inventories build and processing times lengthen as new cases continue to be received but cannot be finalized until older cases are processed. 

Sustaining high admission levels in the Family Class is a key part of the Government’s strategy to improve processing times by bringing inventories to a working level. Spouses, partners and children are a priority category in the immigration program and, as a demand-driven program, the Department does not limit the number of applications that can be submitted each year. The recent increases in admissions in this category (from 48,000 in 2015 to 60,000 in 2015 and 64,000 in 2017) are intended to reduce the inventory, reduce wait times and resolve the misalignment between application intake and annual admissions. The Government will endeavour to ensure that future admission levels align with expected intake and allow the Department to meet processing service standards.

Intake into the parent and grandparent program is managed by an annual cap on the number of sponsorship applications that will be accepted for processing. On February 26, 2016, the Government doubled the cap to 10,000 new applications per year. The Department is working to reduce the inventory in this category and reduce processing times.

The Department also recognizes, as highlighted by the Committee, that there are linkages between economic and family class immigration and that the labels of economic versus family class should not obscure that applicants selected under the family class may also contribute economically to Canada’s growth. In addition to the permanent residents that are welcomed to Canada under the Family Class, family members also immigrate to Canada as dependants of principal applicants under other immigration programs, including in the economic and refugee streams. Thus, as the Department develops and designs program criteria, it considers impacts and interdependencies with other programs.

Theme 2: Processing times and backlogs

3.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create and make public a game plan with clear timelines of how to eliminate the backlog for every category under family reunification (i.e. spouses and partners, parents and grandparents; children and others).

4.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review and update the risk profile of family class applicants, and do so on an ongoing basis.

5.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada publish online current average wait times for each immigration processing stream by region.

6.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada take steps to ensure consistent delivery standards across all national and global processing offices and that there is consistent application of decisions made by staff.

Processing times are a key issue that impact clients in all of the Department’s business lines. High demand for immigration to Canada, coupled with the need to balance economic, family and humanitarian immigration to meet admission levels, led to large inventories and lengthy processing times in certain categories. The Government very much welcomes the Committee’s focus on this important issue.  

Reducing processing times for family class applicants and reuniting families is a priority for the Government. In 2016-17, the Government provided $25M in supplementary funding to reduce processing times.

In addition, on December 7, 2016, the Department announced client service improvements and committed to processing the majority of new sponsorship applications for spouses, partners and their dependent children within 12 months of receipt. To facilitate the admission of more spouses, partners and dependent children for permanent residence, the Government increased admissions to an all-time high of 64,000 spaces in 2017. Admitting more spouses and children will help reduce the inventory, bring down processing times and reunite more families.

The Department is also focused on reducing processing times in the Parent and Grandparents Program. The Government has maintained high admissions levels for this category and plans to welcome 20,000 parents and grandparents in 2017. Processing times have been lengthy in this category as prior to 2011, a backlog of applications had accumulated. Parents and Grandparents application intake is now closely managed and efforts to reduce the backlog have already resulted in a 75% reduction in inventory compared to 2011 (from 167,007 persons at the end of 2011 to 40,511 persons at the end of 2016).

The Department recognizes that in addition to timely processing, clear communication of what clients can expect is important. Accordingly, the Department provides processing time information on its website to give clients a general idea of how long a process takes. In December 2015, the Department launched the new online Processing Times Tool. This tool better reflects how the Department manages the workload across the global network.   The Department no longer provides processing times by visa office because it now regularly moves applications between offices for timelier processing. This means applications may not be processed at the office closest to where someone lives or applies.  

As such, for many services, instead of asking about the nearest visa office, the Department now asks for a person’s country of residence. For other services, the Department provides a single processing time, no matter where a person lives. These processing times are updated on a weekly basis and they show the time it took to approve or refuse 80 percent of applications that have been completed in the past, usually over a period of 12 months. Processing times for applications in process or those received in the future may be different.

The Committee’s recommendations also highlight the importance of consistency in decision-making and consideration of risk. The Department continually strives to ensure consistency in decision-making. The Department provides various operational instructions: operational manuals; operational bulletins; and program delivery instructions, to all inland and overseas offices for the processing of Family Class applications. Moreover, the Department regularly conducts quality assurance exercises to ensure that officers’ decisions are consistent.

Further, any efforts to reduce processing times will take into account considerations to maintain and strengthen program integrity, such as ensuring that security screening is not compromised, and that fraud indicators and trends are regularly identified and monitored. Evaluation of risk is a dynamic process and there are no profiles per se. Rather, risk mitigation strategies are part of any changes to the process and are modified as needed.

Theme 3: Client Services

7.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue to focus on culture change across all relevant departments to ensure a customer-centric focus.

8.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure more resources are put into the staffing and training of call centre agents for the purpose of:

·         Reducing the amount of time it takes for an applicant to get a live person on the phone;

·         Developing an affordable plan using best practices from top service companies to better respond to applications whose first language is not English or French; and

·         Considering having people in the applicant’s language return phone calls if call centre staff do not understand what is being asked of them.

9.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada first attempt to contact applicants by email and/or phone if documentation is missing or incorrectly filed with appropriate timelines to address the issues prior to returning the entire application package.

10.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada find a cost effective way to notify applicants of small omissions or that information is missing and do so in a timely fashion.

11.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue working toward the single window approach used by the Canada Revenue Agency (single person, single portal, single entry for your lifetime); and that this work is completed within a 12-month timeline from the time this report is filed and that IRCC report back to CIMM when it is completed.

12.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada move towards providing more transparency to applicants online and providing more information on the status of their application.

13.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide more accessible information through the eCAS portal, including status updates, and to allow for multiple options for the payment of processing fees.

14.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider introducing a) an in-person service that can advise people on a case by case basis; in which b) a fee can also be considered under an expedited timeframe.

15.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada undertake a full review of the fees for family classes with a special consideration to establishing a maximum amount per family.  

The Government shares the Committee’s commitment to improving client service and welcomes the focus on this subject, which is a key Departmental priority. Indeed, the Government has mandated the Department to work on reducing processing times and on improving the Department’s service delivery and client services to make them timelier and less complicated.

In January 2017, the Department established a Client Experience Branch with a mandate to build organizational capacity to design client-centered services and to work horizontally across the organization to continue to build a service culture where considering the client experience is an organizational reflex. The creation of the Client Experience Branch reflects the Department’s commitment to deliver a best-in-class service experience, offering clients intuitive application processes, effective assurance mechanisms, and clear lines of communication.

The launch of the redesigned spousal process in December 2016 flows from the Department’s focus on the client experience. As part of the redesign of the application process for spouses, partners and dependent children, the Department simplified and streamlined guides, kits and forms, reducing the burden on clients in the following ways:

·         Introduced 1 application kit for all applicants, rather than 2 separate application kits  for in-Canada and overseas applicants;

·         Reduced 180 pages in separate guides for in-Canada and overseas applicants to 1 guide of 75 pages;

·         Consolidated 14 guides and checklists into 1 checklist for each type of application (spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner and dependent children);

·         Replaced 3 separate relationship questionnaires and 1 sponsor evaluation form with a single combined form; and

·         Eliminated the need to submit upfront medical exams and police certificates. The Department now requests these later in the sponsorship process, when needed.

Communication with clients

To improve all points of contact with clients, the Department is focusing on how we communicate with clients at touch points across the immigration continuum, including: the website; application products (guides, forms); letters used to communicate decisions or request further information; and its staff – at the call centre and offices across the network.

The Department’s Client Support Centre is a key point of contact for in-Canada clients and is operating at capacity based on its current resources and service model. As recommended by the Committee, the Department is exploring ways to reduce the amount of time it takes clients to reach a live person on the phone. This could involve addressing inquiries via another channel and simplifying Client Support Centre technologies including the Integrated Voice Recognition (IVR) system. A plan is being developed to explore how the Department might best do this.

In addition, a new client service approach was implemented in January 2017, a pillar of which will apply best practices for contact centers in terms of communicating with clients in clear and simple language. The Department is continuously reviewing client service best practices and looking at ways to improve the delivery of contact centre services to all clients, including those whose first language is not English or French.

The Government notes the Committee’s recommendation regarding in-person service. The Department recognizes that under certain circumstances, information available to clients online or by telephone may not sufficiently meet the needs of either the client or the Department. In the case of complex applications, the Department may reach out to clients to provide further information or seek clarifications. Flowing from the Committee’s recommendation, the Department commits to explore the feasibility and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of in-person services being offered to clients on a case-by-case basis.

Receipt of applications and communication during processing

In order to ensure efficient processing and deliver on processing time objectives, the Department needs to have the necessary information provided by clients upfront. The Department recognizes that it is a source of frustration for clients to have their application packages returned to them when they are incomplete and acknowledges the Committee’s recommendation on this issue. In the past, the Department had generally shown significant flexibility in accepting and beginning to process family class applications where multiple forms or documents were missing. However, this flexibility was highly resource intensive and introduced inefficiencies in processing, leading to increases in processing times. As a result, this not only slowed down processing for applicants who did not submit all of the required documents and forms, but also for applicants who did submit complete applications.

For spouse and partner applications, the Minister recently issued Ministerial Instructions to require that applicants submit upfront the documents needed by immigration officers to assess their application. Any application which is incomplete or missing documents must be returned. This approach has already been used in the Parent and Grandparent program and Express Entry. While there was a period of adjustment, the Department has noted progressively lower rates of application return and increases in efficiency as a result of such measures.

The expectation of complete applications has been supported by efforts to improve the clarity and readability of the Department’s kits and forms and by improving the information available online to help applicants prepare a complete application. By taking steps to make our tools as clear as possible about what is required as part of a complete application, and by enforcing completeness, the Department can best deliver on the objective to reduce processing times for all applicants. Indeed, the efforts the Department made to simplify forms and processing for spouses, partners and children are a step in this direction. 

For the spousal program, the Department has also recently made efforts to encourage spouse, partner or children applicants to link their application to an online account after it has been submitted for processing. The online account is a useful tool that allows the Department to request or obtain information from applicants in an expeditious manner and which is consistent with the direction the Department is moving to increase clients’ access to online services.

The Department’s long-term goal is to have all services online with pre-submission validation, which would mean that clients would know before they submitted their application if information was missing. Recognizing that this will not be in place in the short-term, in cases today where there are small omissions in information which do not prevent an officer from conducting an overall assessment of the application, and do not render the application incomplete, the usual practice of the Department is for the officer reviewing the case to send a request to the applicant to ask them to supply the missing information. Where appropriate, the officer responsible for the application may also contact the applicant by telephone or by convoke him/her to an interview, particularly if an interview is required to finish assessing the application.

Technical tools and fee payment

The Department has been working on technological improvements that would positively impact the client experience, as recommended by the Committee. The Department is moving towards MyAccount as being the primary portal for clients to be able to access information on their case status and receive mail online. Given investments to MyAccount, eCas (which allows clients to view basic information on case status) is projected to be decommissioned in the coming years.

The Department recognizes that in an effort to get case specific information, clients have made requests under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.  The Department is improving its tools to make it easier for clients to obtain case status information so that it will be less necessary to resort to these avenues to get information.

MyAccount is the platform to enable the Department to gradually move towards a single window (e.g. single person, single portal, single entry for one’s lifetime) for the majority of services, whether the client submits their application online or by mail. As of Fall 2016, the majority of clients in all lines of business are now able to link their application to MyAccount to receive online case status information. Enhancements to MyAccount, which include the provision of more information on the status of applications, are planned for fiscal year 2017-18.

While progress towards accomplishing a single window approach has been made, this is a longer term effort that will not be completed fully within the timeline recommended by the Committee (12 months) as operational, technical, privacy and legal considerations are currently being assessed. The Department would be pleased to update the Committee as this work progresses.

Concerning payment options for processing fees, many options are already in place as the Department accepts payment by major credit cards (Visa, Amex, MC and JCB) as well as Interac Debit and Visa Debit. As new forms of online payment are developed, the Department will explore the possibility of accepting them at that time.

The Government welcomes the Committee’s recommendation on a fee review.  Fees have not been reviewed since 2002. The Department collects revenue on behalf of the Government of Canada for more than 80 user fees and monitors fees annually. The Department must ensure service fees do not exceed the cost of providing a particular service. The Department plans to undertake a permanent resident fee review that will include all permanent resident classes, including the family class. This fee review will include many criteria for consideration including those proposed by the Committee. It is expected that the Department will be able to share the results of the Permanent Resident Fee review in 2018.

Theme 4: Excluded family members

16.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada require visa officers to consider all the facts of the case, including intention and any mitigating circumstances, in deciding whether to impose an exclusion under section 117(9)(d) of the Regulations, which should not exceed five years, in accordance with the penalties for misrepresentation elsewhere in the Act.

The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation that immigration officers consider all facts of a case when assessing cases involving Regulation 117(9)(d) –  the excluded family members provision – which prevents a family member who was not declared and examined as part of a previous immigration application from later being sponsored as a member of the Family Class. The purpose of the provision is to ensure full disclosure at the time of application in order to enhance the overall integrity of Canada’s immigration programs, to prevent fraud, and to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians.

Foreign nationals excluded from membership in the family class can request their application be given humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Immigration officers have the authority to consider the reasons for non-disclosure provided by the applicant, and to determine whether an exemption from the excluded family members provision is warranted. In reaching a decision, officers consider the best interests of any child affected by the decision.

In support of its ongoing commitment to family reunification, the Department is exploring means to address some of the concerns expressed by the Committee and by stakeholders regarding the scope and penalties associated with section 117(9)(d) of the Regulations.

Theme 5: Spouses and Partners

17.

That the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship take immediate steps to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations so that section 4(1) reads as follows:

4 (1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a foreign national shall not be considered a spouse, a common-law partner or a conjugal partner of a person if the marriage, common-law partnership or conjugal partnership:

(a) is not genuine; and

(b) the primary purpose of the marriage, common-law partnership or conjugal partnership is to acquire status or privilege under the Act.

18.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada mainstream training to provide country-specific cultural awareness including awareness of different classes and how intimacy is discussed, so that bone fide relationships are not penalized.

19.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create an appeals process for rejected in-land spousal sponsorships; that the appeal decision be issued within a 12-month window; and apply a similar timeline for appeals of overseas applicants.

Spouses and partners are selected solely on the basis of their relationship to a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The overwhelming majority (in 2016, 87%) of applicants are approved and families are reunited in Canada. A determination by the Department that a relationship is not genuine is not made lightly. The Department recognizes that internationally, there are different norms for marriages and relationships and is committed to ensuring officers are trained to develop an awareness of how attitudes and behaviours related to personal intimacy vary around the world.  During their training, Immigration Officers are sensitized to cultural differences and to the importance of familiarizing themselves with the local cultures in the countries under their office of responsibility. Visa offices provide immediate as well as ongoing training to ensure officers understand the customs, the culture, and the norms across the region. Locally-engaged officers who are generally from the region and speak the local language(s), as well as experienced Canada-based officers at visa offices are also reliable sources of local or regional information. In addition, the Department has an online Country Information Library which provides guidance to officers on region-specific information, including general cultural knowledge, fraud trends, push and pull factors, program specific risks and information on documents. With these tools, officers are better equipped to recognize when marriages are non-genuine or have been entered into primarily for immigration purposes.

The Government will review and consider the Committee’s recommendation regarding the definition of bad faith relationships. Section 4 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations was modified in 2010 in response to concerns regarding marriage fraud raised by both the public and immigration officers. Before 2010, the test was conjunctive: to refuse a spouse or partner application, an officer required evidence that the relationship was both non-genuine and entered into primarily to gain status or privilege under the Act. As a result, it was difficult for officers to refuse fraudulent relationships even when one of the “bad faith” elements had been strongly met.  

In 2010, amendments were made to the “bad faith” test so that officers can now refuse an application if either “non-genuineness” or “primary purpose” is met: a disjunctive test.  As marriages of convenience and marriage fraud remain an ongoing concern, the current test has strengthened officers’ ability to refuse applications where there is evidence of a bad faith relationship, thus improving the integrity of the spousal sponsorship program. Further, the disjunctive test has provided a stronger basis for refusing applications involving forced marriages, another Departmental concern. The Department will review this definition in light of the Committee’s recommendation.

The Government acknowledges the Committee’s recommendation regarding an appeal mechanism for rejected in-land spousal sponsorships. Access to appeals is limited in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to sponsors of applicants applying for a visa as a member of the Family Class (i.e., overseas applicants). Applicants in Canada may seek leave for judicial review by the Federal Court of Canada. 

The Immigration Appeal Division is housed within the Immigration and Refugee Board, which also manages the Refugee Protection Division, the Refugee Appeal Division and the Immigration Division. The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible to prepare and present the government’s position in cases before the Immigration Appeal Division and also appears before the other three tribunals.

Theme 6: Dependent Children

20.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada put in place transitional provisions that would enable dependent children who would have been eligible before the change in August 2014 to apply for permanent residence in Canada.

21.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada expedite the processing of children under the age of 18 to less than six months if both parents are in Canada.

22.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review the situation of permanent residents of Canada who give birth to children outside of Canada and provide options for a remedy that would permit the child to enter Canada during the sponsorship process.

23.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider recognizing broader definitions of parent-child relationship that do not require formal adoption.

24.

That the federal government work with the provinces to review exceptions to the adoption moratoria on countries whose adoption systems are considered unreliable.

25.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada exercise greater flexibility and accommodation in the sponsorship of adopted children; and that the government improve coordination with Canadian provincial authorities, including exploring giving an adopted child a temporary resident visa while waiting for an application for citizenship to be processed, and reviewing the circumstances in which an application might succeed on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, so that it includes situations such as the inability to locate relatives of abandoned children.

26.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reduce the processing time to six months for routine applications for proof of citizenship of Canadian citizens under the age of 18 who were born abroad to a parent(s) who is a Canadian citizen.

27.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review and consider adopting an age lock-in date provision for the overseas dependents of Humanitarian and Compassionate applicants.

In addition to spouses and partners, the Department prioritizes the processing of applications to reunite children and adopted children with their parents in Canada. Sometimes these processes take longer than is desirable, but the protection of this vulnerable group must be foremost in the Department’s scrutiny and rigour of the application process.

The Government welcomes the Committee’s focus on dependent children and agrees with the intent of recommendations aimed at ensuring expeditious and flexible processing. There are, however, limitations to the degree of flexibility that can be brought to certain policies given the need for a rigorous process that mitigates the risk of child trafficking and ensures that Canada’s international obligations are respected.

Age of Dependants Regulatory Change

As outlined in the Minister’s mandate letter, the Department has restored the maximum age for dependent children from under 19 to under 22, allowing for more families to remain united.  In preparing to amend the definition of a dependent child, the Department undertook a gender-based analysis “plus” which showed that that the proposal would likely increase the number of people who may qualify for permanent residence by approximately 5,000 per year.  The analysis found that the benefits would be more significant for some individuals such as refugees or other young women who would be otherwise left alone in the country of origin. 

Dependent children

The Department supports the intent behind the Committee’s recommendation to expedite the processing of children under the age of 18 to less than six months if both parents are in Canada. The Department does expedite these applications, to the extent possible, while exercising due diligence in establishing the relationship between parent and child, and simultaneously protecting and safeguarding children. For example, officers must be satisfied, when parents apply to sponsor their biological or adopted child, that there are no custody issues that would prevent the child from coming to Canada. 

In response to the Committee’s recommendation regarding the situation of permanent residents of Canada who give birth to children outside of Canada, the Department agrees that family unity is particularly important in cases involving infants. When a child is born abroad to a permanent resident parent, the Department recognizes the importance of allowing the child to remain in their care. Officers may exercise their discretion and issue a temporary resident permit and/or use humanitarian and compassionate considerations to approve an application.  The Department encourages officers to use their discretion positively in these rare cases, providing the parent requests it and supplies supporting evidence, such as proof that they are the parent of the child.

Adoptions

Regarding intercountry adoptions, Canada is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention), which establishes legal and procedural safeguards to ensure intercountry adoptions take place in the best interest of the child. The Government is committed to safeguarding the rights of all children involved in an intercountry adoption who apply for status. The process involves multiple jurisdictions; it requires the approval of adoption authorities of both the province of residence of the adoptive parents, and of the country of residence of the child. The Department plays a limited, but important, role in the process. It reviews each application for immigration or proof of citizenship, as the case may be and ensures that legal requirements of provincial/territorial partners and foreign authorities have been met.  

The Department ensures that intercountry adoptions comply both with the laws of the country where the adoption took place and with Canadian laws. This helps to prevent the possible abduction, sale of, and trafficking in children. Due to the complex and sensitive nature of these cases, the Department does not support giving an adopted child a temporary resident visa while waiting for an application for citizenship to be processed, as such a practice could increase the likelihood of child trafficking. In addition, if the adoption is not finalized, there could be implications for the child who would be in Canada without a clear path to permanent status and implications for jurisdictions that would be responsible for the care and maintenance of the child.

The Department recognizes that on occasion a child may have a de facto parent without a formal adoption or a biological parent-child connection. In such cases, applicants may request humanitarian and compassionate consideration with supporting documentation. Such requests would be considered by the decision-making officer, including an examination of the best interests of the child. However, the Department does not support expanding the regulatory definition of dependent child in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Such an approach could put children at risk of abduction and trafficking and could negatively impact program integrity.

The Department acknowledges the Committee’s recommendation regarding working with the provinces to review exceptions to the adoption moratoria. The Department respects the role of the provinces and territories in imposing a moratorium on intercountry adoptions on countries whose adoption systems are considered unreliable. Likewise, it is up to an individual province or territory to determine whether to end a moratorium, or make an exception in an individual case. Generally, a moratorium is a safeguard to ensure that adoptions take place in the best interest of the child and with respect for their fundamental rights. Moratoria also help prevent the abduction, sale of or traffic of children. Until the country has resolved the issues which led to the imposition of a moratorium, the Department supports provinces and territories in maintaining moratoria.

Citizenship applications

The Department supports the intent of the Committee’s recommendation to reduce the processing time to six months for routine applications for proof of citizenship of Canadian citizens under the age of 18 who were born abroad to a parent(s) who is a Canadian citizen.

The Department currently processes routine proof of citizenship applications within 5 months of the date of receipt. There are also procedures in place for urgent proof applications. However, non-routine and overseas applications may take longer to process. In an effort to improve client service and reduce processing times, the department is investigating solutions in the short to medium term such as an e-application for proof of citizenship applications and streamlining the transfer of applications/certificates between the case processing centre and overseas missions. 

Lock-in dates for humanitarian and compassionate cases

The Department takes note of the Committee’s recommendation to review the issue of an age lock-in date provision for overseas dependents of in-Canada humanitarian and compassionate applicants and agrees to examine the issue. Information that is locked in during the immigration application process is information that will not change over time. For example, if a dependent child’s age is locked in at 18 that will be the age on which his or her dependency will be assessed for the purpose of the application, regardless of how long it takes to process the application.

The humanitarian and compassionate application process in Canada is meant to benefit the applicant and their family members in Canada, by providing them with an opportunity to apply for permanent resident status from within Canada, rather than applying from abroad through a regular immigration class. Because the in-Canada humanitarian and compassionate application process is intended to address the specific circumstances of the applicant and family in Canada, overseas family members are not concurrently processed for permanent resident status along with the in-Canada applicant.  Instead, overseas family members of humanitarian and compassionate applicants may be sponsored as members of the family class in the event the principal applicant in Canada obtains their permanent resident status.

Theme 7: Parents and Grandparents

28.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada adopt a more flexible approach to demonstrating the minimum necessary income required to sponsor parents and grandparents, by allowing siblings to co-sponsor an application and counting any transferrable state benefits for parents and grandparents in the calculation and by reducing the number of years required of proof of income from three years to one.

29.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shorten the undertaking period to 10 years for sponsoring parents and grandparents aged 60 and under.

30.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish a service standard for processing parent and grandparent sponsorship applications.        

31.

With respect to parents and grandparents on a Super Visa, that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada explore alternative options for accepting a broader range of health insurance coverage options outside the Canadian market that meets Canadian standards for coverage; and consult with domestic health insurance providers to ensure fairness to families in Canada.

The Government recognizes the value of parent and grandparent immigration and the benefits they bring to their families in Canada, the community and Canada as a whole. Parents and grandparents are selected on the basis of their relationship to their sponsor in Canada and the undertaking is signed by their sponsor. Sponsorship requirements and income verification in this program aim to ensure that the sponsor is able to meet the essential needs of their parent and grandparent, in addition to the needs of their family. Ensuring that a robust support system is in place is key to maintaining public confidence in, and support for, immigration of parents and grandparents.

Requiring prospective sponsors to provide evidence of income over a three-year period, as opposed to 12 months, is to ensure that sponsors have income stability and the financial means to provide for the basic needs of their parents and grandparents. A three year test also ensures that the proof of income provides an accurate picture of the economic situation of the family. Under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, family class applicants whose sponsors do not meet the sponsorship requirements may request humanitarian and compassionate consideration in order to overcome the requirement to meet the financial thresholds.

Immigration legislation currently allows spouses and common-law partners to co-sign a sponsorship undertaking, allowing some pooling of resources to meet the income requirements of the program. Co-sponsorship by siblings would mean that two or more sponsors, neither of whom could meet the financial test for sponsorship, would be allowed to pool their resources. The Department’s previous experience with co-sponsorship in the family class (in the late 1980s and 1990s) showed higher levels of default by co-sponsors. Co-sponsorship would also impose an administrative burden on the Department which would have to assess income, debts and eligibility of multiple sponsors, leading to potentially longer processing times. It could also prove more difficult to enforce sponsorship undertakings in a co-sponsor situation.

Similarly, factoring in state benefits of parents and grandparents in the income calculation for sponsors would add a layer of complexity to the sponsorship assessment process that would be difficult to deliver operationally. The ability of officers to verify the level of income to which an immigrant senior in Canada will have access would prove challenging, labour-intensive and could be subject to abuse. There could also be implications for sponsorship default as enforcing the undertaking could be weakened by an income calculation regime which draws on income from sources other than that of the sponsor and co-signer.  

The Department takes note of the Committee’s recommendation to shorten the undertaking period to 10 years for sponsoring parents and grandparents aged 60 and under. Sponsors are required to sign an undertaking which commits them to provide financial support and basic requirements for the family members they sponsor. The current undertaking period for parents and grandparents is 20 years. Introducing a variance of sponsorship periods within a category based solely on a person’s age could be challenging. Moreover, there is nothing in the sponsorship undertaking that prevents a sponsored parent or grandparent from entering the workforce, should they choose to do so, regardless of the length of the undertaking period.

The Department is committed to reducing processing times and managing application intake for parents and grandparents.  Establishing a meaningful service standard for the processing of parent and grandparent applications is something the Department is considering exploring in the future, but it must be done with a view of balancing various considerations, including inventory levels and processing capacity.

With the parent and grandparent super visa, the Department has facilitated a way for eligible parents and grandparents to visit family in Canada for up to two years on initial entry without the need to renew their status during this period.  The Super Visa can provide temporary entry for parents and grandparents who do not qualify for permanent residence, do not want to immigrate to Canada, or who may be waiting for their permanent residence application to be processed.  One of the criteria is that the applicant must hold Canadian medical insurance coverage of at least $100,000 for a minimum of one year. As the Department is continually seeking to improve its programs and the services, it supports the Committee’s recommendation to explore alternative options for accepting a broader range of health insurance coverage options.  The Department will explore with the Canadian insurance industry whether lower cost Super Visa insurance products could be identified, which would help with accessibility of the Super Visa.

Theme 8: Research

32.

To counter the reliance on qualitative and anecdotal evidence, that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish guidelines as to how to better track quantifiable data on immigrants entering Canada through family reunification so that decisions regarding this category can be better informed.

33.

That the federal government work with the provinces to gather the following information: impact of sponsored parents and grandparents on Canada’s health care and social welfare system – breaking it down according to age and regions in Canada where they live.

34.

That the federal government work with each of the provinces to collect data on provincial retention rates of family class applicants.

35.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada gather data on the economic contribution to the family unit of the sponsored parents and/or grandparents who take care of children.

36.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada gather data on the economic contribution of the family unit as well as qualitative data on other types of contributions.

37.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide funding for research and programs to support the unique needs of the Canadian citizens who sponsor spouses and children for immigration and assess the impacts of delays and separation on Canadian families.

The Government welcomes the Committee’s focus on reinforcing the evidence base for its family reunification programs and identifying areas warranting further research. The Department recognizes the important role that research plays in advancing Canadians’ understanding of the impact of immigration on Canadian society.  The Department collects data on immigrants coming through all federal immigration programs, including those admitted under the family reunification program. This includes sex-disaggregated data, source country information and socio-economic data. The Department will continue its collaborative partnership with Statistics Canada, and will work on expanded data linkages in order to enhance the evidence base. 

The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation to collect data on provincial retention rates of family class applicants. This information is available through the Longitudinal Immigration Database and the Department will provide the Committee with a summary report of provincial retention rates.

The Government also agrees with the Committee’s recommendation that there would be value in gaining a better understanding of the impact of sponsored parents and grandparents on Canada’s health care and social welfare system, to allow a better planning of resources in the receiving provinces and to inform future policy directions. The Department agrees to look into the feasibility of such research and to leverage existing provincial/territorial networks where possible. 

The Department also recognizes the value of gathering more information on the economic contribution of applicants in the Family Class, including parents and grandparents.  In 2017-18, the Department plans to actively explore how to conceptualize the monetization of the non-financial contributions of family class immigrants, including parents and grandparents. Upon completion of this work, the Department plans to develop a research plan to address identified research gaps.

The Department also recognizes that there are impacts from prolonged separation of families. Therefore, the Department will look into the possibility of funding research projects to inform future program design including through partnerships with expert academics.

Theme 9: Outside of Family Reunification

38.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a game plan to eliminate the backlog of caregiver applications and present this plan to CIMM within six months; and that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reduce the wait times from the current 51 months to 12 months.

39.

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish service standards of 12 months for applications under the One-Year Window family reunification program for resettled refugees and for processing applications for dependents abroad of protected persons.

The Government of Canada supports the intent of these recommendations and recognizes that having adequate support systems, including through family reunification, is an important contributor to positive integration and settlement outcomes. Further, for refugees in particular, family unity can play an important role in helping these vulnerable men, women and children heal from trauma and settle into their new communities.

The Government is committed to reuniting families as soon as is practicable. Reducing backlogs and wait times is a critical component of this. There are backlogs in both refugee and live-in caregiver streams which must be addressed in order to support expedient family reunification.

With respect to the Live-In Caregiver Program, the Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation to create a plan to eliminate the backlog of live-in caregiver applications and to present this plan to the Committee within six months. Backlogs grew over a period of several years since there were no limits on application intake at the temporary stage of the program, while permanent resident immigration was, and continues to be, managed through the annual Levels Plan. These backlogs are still being processed but changes have been introduced that will limit the creation of future backlogs and help address lengthy processing times. Older live-in caregiver applications are being processed and finalized on a priority basis, but the processing times will remain high in the interim.  Establishing a meaningful service standard for the processing of current caregiver applications is something the Department is considering in the future, but it must be done with a view of balancing various considerations, including inventory levels and processing capacity.

The Department is also taking concrete steps to reduce overall refugee program backlogs and wait times, in both the resettlement and protected person class programs, which will better position the Department to allocate resources to important family reunification efforts, including the processing of applications under the One-Year Window Provision (OYW). This provision allows resettled refugees and approved asylum seekers in Canada to be reunited with spouses, common-law partners and dependent children that are still overseas. To be eligible for this provision, an application must be made within one year of admission to Canada as a permanent resident.

In the Resettlement Program, Canada continues to work with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other stakeholders to ensure the most vulnerable cases are prioritized for resettlement to Canada. The UNHCR incorporates age, gender and diversity considerations into its work, including in the identification of refugees for resettlement. From a processing perspective, the Department continues to assess the urgency of each case and endeavours to ensure that each is processed appropriately.

While the Department cannot commit to a 12-month service standard, it is taking concrete steps to improve processing times for OYW applications. This includes centralizing the intake processing of resettlement OYW cases at a new Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa. The Department is also taking steps to improve client service by working on the publication of a new OYW instruction guide for resettlement cases, planned for completion in Fall 2017. From 2012 to 2016, 73% of refugees resettled to Canada under the OYW program were women and children.

Processing times in this stream are sometimes lengthy due to the complexity of the cases, which may involve issues related to establishing custody and identity in the absence of identity documents or reliable civil documents. Also, the processing of OYW cases often include logistical challenges related to establishing and maintaining contact with dependents overseas, such as challenges with processing applicants in countries that are not accessible to Canadian authorities, delays from local governments in issuing exit permits, and volatile country conditions which can result in a highly mobile population and a limited capacity for the visa office to reach the applicant or vice versa.

Conclusion

Canada has a strong and longstanding history of reuniting families through the immigration program. Reuniting families is one of the clear commitments and top priorities of the Department, because it helps immigrants to build successful lives in Canada. When families are able to reunite and stay together, it improves their integration into Canadian society, their economic outcomes and their ability to contribute to their communities and Canada. The Government of Canada is committed to maintaining this tradition and will build on the breadth of work undertaken by the Committee in identifying areas for further consideration and improvement.