Good morning, everybody. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 26 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations from health authorities, as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on Thursday, November 25, 2021, to remain healthy and safe, all those attending the meeting in person are to maintain two-metre physical distancing and must wear a non-medical mask when circulating in the room. It is highly recommended that the mask be worn at all times. You must maintain proper hand hygiene by using the provided hand sanitizer in the room. Please refrain from coming to the room if you are symptomatic.
I would remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute and your camera must be on.
Before we begin, I would like to indicate a few things for the upcoming meetings. Our Thursday meeting has been cancelled, as another committee required our spot. This means that Tuesday, June 7 will be the last panel on Bill , followed by a panel on application backlogs and processing times.
Does the committee agree to clause-by-clause being scheduled for Thursday, June 9 for private member's Bill ? Is everyone in agreement?
Go ahead, Mr. Genuis.
Yes, I have written a letter to the clerk based on the clarifications that one of the members was looking for. As of yet, we have not received any response. I will work with Madam Clerk to see when we can get the response from the law clerk. Once we have that, we can look into scheduling something accordingly.
One more thing, before we go further, is with regard to budget approvals I need. I would like to request budget approval for three studies. The first is on the subject matter of part 5, division 23 of Bill , an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 7, 2022 and other measures, for an amount of $850.
Is it agreed that the chair submit the budget to the Subcommittee on Committee Budgets of the Liaison Committee by June 3, 2022? Is everyone in agreement?
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, May 4, 2022, we will now resume consideration of Bill , an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (temporary resident visas for parents and grandparents).
Today we will be hearing from a number of witnesses. For the first panel, I would like to welcome Dima Amad, executive director, and Rasha Salman, program development lead, from the Arab Community Centre of Toronto; Vance Langford, director, Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association; and Richard Kurland, lawyer and policy analyst, representing Lexbase.
Thank you to all of the witnesses for appearing before the committee today. All of you will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Then we will go into our round of questioning.
We will start with Madam Amad, executive director of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto.
You have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please begin.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Members of the committee, good morning, and thank you for inviting the Arab Community Centre of Toronto as a witness this morning in regard to the .
My name is Dima Amad. I am the executive director. Joining me today is Ms. Rasha Salman, our program development lead. We will both speak to the ACCT's position on the bill being discussed today.
We first wish to express our thanks and appreciation to the federal government on its fervent commitment to the humanitarian values of Canada by consistently opening up opportunities for refugees and immigrants to to relocate to Canada, particularly its recent commitment to welcome at least 40,000 Afghan refugees and unlimited Ukrainian refugees through various programs and partnerships. The prioritization of human life over financial interests has always been a characteristic of different Canadian governments, and we hope it will continue to be so for a long time.
We have seen and experienced first-hand the challenges these populations face by having to leave their homes and seek refuge and a better life somewhere else. Some of these are life-threatening challenges, and world solidarity is much needed today. Indeed, with 26.4 million refugees worldwide, demand on immigration and refugee programs is only bound to increase, and we all must do our best to help.
As an organization whose raison d'être is to help refugees and immigrants, we deeply appreciate the government's understanding of this complex world emergency, and we thank you for your continuous support of our mission and programs. We also highly value the opportunity to contribute to policy discussions such as today's and strive to be a faithful messenger of the concerns and needs of a large and important chunk of the Canadian population.
This brings me to our discussion today. I am going to start by going straight to the point.
The ACCT supports the bill proposed by MP and considers it a great improvement to the original super visa program. I will get to our assessment of the bill in what follows. I will also detail some observations we have and recommendations that we hope will feature in the coming discussions of this bill.
When the super visa was introduced in 2011, it came as a welcome measure to reduce backlogs in immigration applications and to facilitate family reunification. The flexibility of the super visa and the shorter processing times were indeed great solutions for people wishing to reunite with their families for short periods of time. However, it is understandable that improvements to the visa are due.
From experience and literature, the ACCT has learned of many concerns over the limitations of the original super visa. Some research suggested that, due to its temporary nature, the super visa actually did not support family reunification and prevented families from making meaningful long-term plans.
The costs of travel and insurance and minimum income requirements were thought to be prohibitive for many people. We have heard concerns that forcing parents to buy insurance for the whole year when they were staying for a few months made it impossible for many to apply for the super visa.
Sometimes families or single parents needed help with child-rearing, which back home was a job for the grandmother, and couldn't afford day care costs. One cited a monthly bill of $1,800.
At other times, immigrants expressed concern for parents or even siblings left alone during war or conflict when remaining members of the family have passed away or have fled to safer havens. Many of those immigrants or refugees prefer to reunite permanently with their parents in Canada, but in the absence of a sponsorship opportunity, many resort to the super visa.
Furthermore, some research in the past few years showed that super visa approvals were heavily skewed in favour of European or U.S. parents or grandparents as opposed to racialized populations. Scholars argued that there was a much lower approval rate from the global south, such as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, than from the U.S. and Europe, which meant that super visa reinforced racial stratification.
Finally, people on super visas cannot work. This means that while Canada might have visitors staying for up to two years—and now five—these residents, who may well be as young as 45 or 50, cannot contribute to the economy.
Having said that, I will say that the new bill comes with much-needed improvements: extending the number of years of stay from two to five; allowing insurance to be purchased from providers outside Canada; and addressing the minimum income threshold. These are excellent improvements, and we believe they will greatly facilitate the lives and integration journey of many new immigrants. However, we believe that these measures should not be a substitute to the paths for permanent relocation of parents and grandparents.
I'll now give the floor to my colleague Rasha to expand on this.
Madam Chair, honourable committee members, fellow witnesses, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
Thank you for the invitation to participate in this study of Bill .
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association was founded under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act on January 1, 2021, with the purpose of promoting the rule of law, access to justice and the development of Canadian immigration law and policy through legal research, education and related activities. CILA currently has over 400 members, including lawyers, students, academics and non-governmental organizations across Canada. A top priority for CILA is addressing the exclusion of legal counsel in Canada's immigration system. More information can be found at cila.co.
Regarding the amendments proposed by Bill , there are diverse views among CILA members. We absolutely support programs that will streamline procedures and facilitate family reunification while maintaining the integrity of our immigration system and social systems, including health care. We strongly oppose abuse by agents and members of the public that would take advantage of our fair and generous immigration system.
Regarding the authorization of foreign health insurance, CILA acknowledges that additional competition in the insurance industry may benefit Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their parents and grandparents who apply for super visas. I did a bit of research and found that there are at least 30 companies in Canada selling private health insurance for super visas, so it may be that competition is alive and well. Nevertheless, costs are very high, ranging from about $1,800 to over $5,000 per year for a 70-year-old with no pre-existing medical conditions.
There is significant risk associated with authorizing foreign insurance companies. To maintain program integrity, we would not object to a limited number of foreign insurance brokers and underwriters being subject to equivalent standards to brokers and underwriters in Canada. We also recommend that any authorization of foreign health insurance involve robust information programs to make it clear that only authorized insurance brokers and underwriters are eligible, to avoid the victimization of Canadians and their parents and grandparents.
Regarding the proposed extension of the period to enter and remain in Canada under a super visa from two to five years, CILA is not convinced that the increase is necessary or advisable. I read the transcripts from the May 17 meeting of this committee. It appears there was a misunderstanding where it was stated that, “The original super visa allows the family to stay for two years over 10 years.” As well, if extended to five years, “They could come for five months a year [over] 10 years.” In fact, the super visa authorizes entry for up to two years at a time, not two years over 10 years. It authorizes multiple entries during its 10-year validity. A person could actually be in Canada for nine years or more as long as they left every two years. Further, a super visa holder can apply to extend their temporary resident status from within Canada and, if approved, remain for longer than two years at a time.
CILA foresees that if super visa holders are allowed to remain in Canada for up to five years at a time during its 10-year validity, they will have little incentive to maintain ties to their country of origin and residence there. On the contrary; more super visa holders may apply for permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, flooding what is already a limited category. H and C is an exceptional measure. It is not simply another means of applying for permanent residence in Canada.
There has been, and likely will continue to be, more demand than supply for parent and grandparent immigrant visas, but it may not be prudent economically to expand this category. Therefore, the importance of the super visa to facilitate family reunification, albeit on a temporary basis, is critical, especially if Canada is going to continue to attract strong economic immigrants. Potential immigrants need to know that super visas facilitate parents and grandparents visiting and the process is not too onerous.
In summary, CILA recommends maintenance of the super visa, valid for up to 10 years, with admission for up to two years at a time, and the implementation of a stable, transparent, user-friendly parents and grandparents sponsorship program.
Regarding the proposal to require the minister to prepare a report on reducing the minimum income requirement, CILA fully supports this element of Bill in further research and reporting. If the research indicates that reducing the income requirement enables Canadian citizens and permanent residents to leverage the benefits of parents and grandparents to work more hours, access education and increase household income, then we would support a reasonable reduction in the minimum income requirement.
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association thanks the committee for consulting with us. I am available to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's a good bill. The five-year duration is excellent. The insurance aspect is a red flag. We may want to scrutinize Canada's international obligations to ensure the free flow of goods and services, so we may not be able to limit or restrict the selection of an insurance product to only a Canadian product. This is a heads-up for that.
There are unintended consequences that will flow from Bill . In theory, it's a nice portrait. However, the practical reality is that after a five-year period, we're going to see extraordinary numbers of parents and grandparents stressed and anguished at the thought of forcibly being returned to the homeland after half a decade with their family in Canada. That's cruel. Unless there is a kind of consumer protection waiver signed at the front end, this is a titanic and compassionate humanitarian disaster in the making. Here is the cure.
Canada, annually, has a target or a quota, if you will, of parents and grandparents who will be allowed to remain or to enter Canada's permanent residence. There's nothing wrong with that. The problem we have now, which will be sorely exacerbated if we bring in a five-year super visa framework, is that every year people submit their expressions of interest to sponsor a parent or a grandparent. What used to happen every year was a lottery was held and the inventory was emptied.
We can't proceed along this path anymore. What should occur is that when there is an inventory of expressions of interest—right now, there are close to 100,000—and we know that we're only going to select a range, let's say 30,000 to 35,000 individuals, you should not be emptying that inventory annually. Instead, when you are in the inventory, the floodgates should close, no new expressions or interests will be allowed to be uploaded into the system, and then you diminish the inventory every year by the number of parents and grandparents you wish to select every year.
What's the difference for Canada? Zero. It's the same number of parents and grandparents. What's the difference for IRCC? Zero. They're going to process the same number, operationally. The difference is in the humans in the inventory. It is no longer a question of “if” I can sponsor my family member; it is a question of “when”.
If you're going to pop a five-year matrix, and you know that people are going to be stressing about being forcibly removed from Canada, you keep them in this inventory. The floodgates open. They enter if they wish to seek permanent residence, and not all do. They know that over the three- or five-year period, there's a high likelihood of being processed for permanent residence, and then you open the floodgates again and take the next batch.
I'll leave that for now.
In terms of the eligibility on minimum income, here is something creative. We don't need to.... We can lower it—there are no problems with that—but what we should be doing is giving a $5,000 credit on that minimum income threshold for every child 12 and under in that family, because we need to reward the homemaker, the person raising the children.
We need to understand the economic value of having a parent or grandparent take care of a young child, because it may free up the biological mom or biological dad to go into the workplace where they will be paying taxes to contribute to our economy.
Those are my five minutes, Chair—
Thank you, Mr. Redekopp and Madam Chair, and thank you, Dima.
We distilled our observations on the bill and for it not to need to replace the path for permanent residence for parents and grandparents. We basically focus on the fact that multi-generational families are a cultural aspect of many immigrant families, and there's a need to expand our definition of “family” to consider newcomer family structures. We also focus on the economic and non-economic contributions of parents and grandparents, which is consistent with research as well, basically allowing the chance for productive aging. It has been mentioned how, when parents and grandparents live with the family, they free up time and resources for the parents to go out and seek more employment and education.
We have also highlighted that many immigrants consider it their cultural duty to take care of their parents financially, even if they live in separate countries. Many immigrants are actually sending money abroad. Instead of taking trips to countries of origin or buying health insurance abroad, immigrants can spend these resources in the Canadian economy if their parents live with them.
I'm going to interrupt you there, because I only have a very limited time. I do want to talk about insurance, and I know that in our first meeting there was a lot of discussion about this. The Liberals on the committee, especially, were pretty concerned about the insurance.
One of the considerations that was made clear was that the minister will have the ability to decide which companies are able to provide that insurance.
There kept being questions about this and if it would work and everything else. I would like your response on the following, because when I travel abroad to the U.S. or wherever, I get insurance in Canada for my trip to that country, so I'm essentially getting insurance here for a trip somewhere else. Why can't we allow the same for someone coming to Canada? I guess I'd like a little more information from each of you.
Maybe we'll start with Mr. Kurland.
Well, I agree with Mr. Kurland, and I don't have concerns about a prescribed list. If the minister designates a list of prescribed foreign insurers, CILA would be fine with that. It's just a matter of public protection and protection of people who come here with some foreign insurance that doesn't ultimately pay their medical bills, and the Canadian system has to cover that.
The other note about insurance is that there is currently a gap in the system for super visas, whereby a parent or grandparent coming on that visa needs to get insurance for one year, but if they enter Canada and remain for two years, they could effectively save money and let their insurance lapse while they're here. That is something to note as a concern. They would be offside their visa, they would be non- compliant, and there could be potential consequences for that; but if they remain in Canada, they could effectively let their insurance lapse. This has to be balanced with the concerns that were raised by the Arab Community Centre of Toronto about the overall cost. The insurance costs are very significant.
Hopefully, what we could get to is a reduced cost with a foreign insurer who is reputable and vetted, so there isn't a gap whereunder parents or grandparents are letting it lapse while they're here.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to welcome our guests. We're very grateful to them for testifying before the committee.
My first question is for Dima Amad.
Ms. Amad, as you know, the super visa is a facilitation tool designed to protect visitors by ensuring that they can be financially supported by their host children or grandchildren and that they have insurance coverage so they can receive emergency medical care.
Do you believe members of your community would benefit from being able to purchase coverage from international insurers?
The truth is that for our community the insurance is very costly, and it's prohibitive for many families to bring their parents and grandparents here. That's why one of the recommendations, as Rasha mentioned, is to have it based on the length of stay.
I might have missed a bit of the question at the beginning because I didn't realize that I was only on the French channel, but for the communities we serve, having flexibility in the insurance and having the ability to purchase from the outside is definitely something that might reduce the costs, so we would welcome it.
However, at the end of the day, we think this is a temporary measure until they are reunited with their families through a proper sponsorship program.
I am not sure if I answered the question.
I'd like to ask Mr. Kurland and Mr. Langford a question based on Ms. Amad's response.
I have two cases in my riding where the grandparents have come to visit the children and grandchildren several times. They are now over 70, and they find the cost of insurance so steep that they have had to withdraw their visa application. Therefore, they will not be able to come visit their family.
I would like to hear what you would say to them. Do you have a suggestion, recommendation or proposal for us as to how we could bring down the cost of insurance while still ensuring medical care as needed or in emergency situations?
I have another question for Ms. Amad.
With respect to bringing one's parents or grandparents to Canada for an extended stay, I'm sure you have had the opportunity to see the impact of that. Can you share with the committee what you have observed in terms of the economic, social and cultural value of family reunification?
I hope the interpretation is correct.
I hope the translation is.... If not, I will try to do it in English.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank all the witnesses today, who are taking the time to help us formulate our recommendations and study this bill.
Mr. Kurland, I am a little confused about something. The length of stay now granted with the super visa will lead to applications for permanent residence in better conditions. However, according to what has been stated, you need to ensure that the family member voluntarily leaves Canada once the visit is over.
Therefore, on the one hand, they are told they must return home, and on the other, they are told to extend their stay so that they can apply for permanent residence. Do you not see an institutional contradiction there?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all of the witnesses for their presentations.
I'd like to ask all of the witnesses this question. The system we have at the moment does not allow for an appeal process. That is to say, under certain extenuating circumstances a person might all of a sudden be disqualified.
As a case in point, I actually had someone tell me that in their final year of meeting the income requirement, their baby came early. As a result of that they had to go on maternity leave, literally in the last month of that requirement. As a result, their income dipped when they went on that leave and that disqualified them, after having waited the entire time, getting the draw and all of that. There's no appeal mechanism for an extenuating circumstance to understand the situation and allow for the application to proceed. Right after the maternity leave, for one month the individual went right back to work, and their income went right back to where it was before.
I'd like to ask the witnesses to comment on whether or not we should a provision in 's bill that would allow for the minister to consider a mechanism for appeal in this regard.
Maybe I can start with Mr. Kurland, and then we can go through to the other witnesses.
Thank you, Mr. Kurland.
Thank you, Ms. Kwan, for the question.
I think the situation you outlined happens to a lot of people. There should be some appeal process. For a visa application, I believe an application could be made to the Federal Court for leave and for a judicial review of the decision. That would be determined based on whether the officer who reviewed the visa application fettered his or her discretion. That's an impractical, long and expensive process and it would be, ultimately, based on whether the person met the income requirement. That may not be worth pursuing.
Another idea I had—and others can comment on it—is that the minister could issue a temporary resident permit for someone who didn't meet the requirement. That's one idea.
The third thought is that these visas are issued and the program criteria are developed through ministerial instructions. One of the questions that was considered in the past meeting of this committee on this bill, on May 17, was whether IRPA should be amended, the regulations should be amended or it should be dealt with in another way. Our submission would be that it should continue to be dealt with by ministerial instruction, so that there could be more flexibility. I would suggest that if the research shows it's warranted, the flexibility be built into reducing or eliminating the low-income cut-off or allowing for credit, for example, for the assets and resources that the parents and grandparents have. You can't necessarily post a bond. We might not like to go there, but if there's another way to guarantee that those resources can be accessed, that would be a good idea as well.
There are a range of options, and I think this could be dealt with within the program itself.
Ms. Kwan, first of all, we agree with you 100%. For a lot of the immigrants who we serve and the communities that we come from, they are overrepresented in precarious employment, and to produce approval of three years of income, even a minimum threshold income, is too much to request. If you're going to purchase a home, the bank doesn't ask for three years at the same level of income in order for you to be able to get the mortgage.
For us, I'd like to stress that although we welcome the improvements in the bill, because we believe the families have the right to bring in their parents and grandparents, we see it only as an alternative to them sponsoring, or while waiting for the sponsorship to kick in, so that they can be reunited.
The answer would be, Madam Chair, flexibility.
Amending IRPA to provide a different duration, amending IRPA to do other things that are proposed in the bill, allowing for an insurance provider or reducing the minimum income, are all sort of programmatic requirements. The only one I would see as worthwhile to consider putting into the act or the regulations would be the duration of the visa, but I think the Canadian immigration system would benefit from the use of ministerial instructions to adjust or change something like the duration of a visa without having to amend the act. I think there are more fundamental things that would be done in the legislation.
I would also agree with caution about the use of ministerial instructions for many things and that, when ministerial instructions are used, the government has an obligation to report to Parliament at least annually on the use of ministerial instructions.
The only thing I can say is that when we're thinking of families, we're thinking about real lives and about the right of families to be reunited. We shouldn't put a cost and benefit to the taxpayers above having the families' rights to be reunited.
At the same time, the problem with having them come on temporary visitor visas is that a lot of people get declined, because the parents have to prove that they have the income and will return.
The super visa came, as we mentioned before, as a welcome measure for the families to be reunited. It's too bad that we didn't get to talking about the benefits of having grandparents and parents together, but I think all of us come from families, and we do realize the value of having parents and grandparents around in terms of the language, in terms of passing on the heritage, in terms of the wisdom, and in terms of just having that connection. For us, it's a matter of making it easier for our communities to be able to reunite with their families.
Whatever bill comes in that would make make it easier for families, less costly, and from a human perspective gives an opportunity for families to be reunited, we obviously welcome—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to note that in the previous Parliament in 2015, this issue was actually studied by committee, and the witnesses indicated all of the concerns that people have raised here, including the income threshold being too onerous for parent and grandparent reunification. At that time, recommendations were made, by the way, to the government, which, of course, sat on the books, and six years later nothing has happened.
I am concerned about the idea that somehow this should be dealt with through ministerial instruction, as if that would actually do the trick, because we know that so far it hasn't.
To that end, my question is for Ms. Amad. Is it important then for us to clearly lay out what measures should be put in place to reduce the onerous requirements for parent and grandparent sponsorship? I ask because if we don't, and we rely on the government to act on its own, at least in my tenure, in the last 6 years, nothing will happen.
The time is up for Ms. Kwan.
With this, our first panel comes to an end. On behalf of all the members, I really want to thank all of the witnesses for your important input as we consider private member's Bill .
I will now suspend the meeting for two minutes, so that sound checks can be done for the second panel.
Madam Clerk, please do the sound checks for the next panel.
I call the meeting back to order.
I would like to welcome the officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who are appearing before the committee today as we consider Bill , an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (temporary resident visas for parents and grandparents).
I would like to welcome Michèle Kingsley, director general, immigration; James Seyler, director, immigration program guidance; and Ben Mitchell, counsel.
Welcome, and thanks for appearing before the committee.
You will each have five minutes for your opening remarks. You may begin, and then we will go to our round of questioning.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm pleased to join the committee, and would like to take a moment to acknowledge that the land from which I'm joining you today is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation.
As director general of the Immigration Branch within the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, I am happy to speak today about the super visa and the proposed amendments presented by Bill .
I am joined by my colleagues James Seyler from the Operations Sector as well as Caroline Forbes and Ben Mitchell from Departmental Legal Services.
Canada's immigration system recognizes the importance of family reunification and the social, cultural and economic benefits of reuniting parents and grandparents with their loved ones in Canada.
The super visa was established in 2011, and since its introduction it has been a popular and facilitative multi-entry visa that successfully reunites families in Canada.
The super visa is valid for up to 10 years, and it allows parents and grandparents to stay in Canada for up to two years each time they enter the country. They can also extend their stay from within Canada for up to two more years with no limit on the number of requests for extensions within the country.
There are also no limits on the number of individuals who can apply for the super visa, and IRCC approves approximately 17,000 of them each year.
Because of longer stays, applicants must meet additional criteria, including a one-time standard medical exam at the time of application, private health insurance from a Canadian company, and financial support from a host who must meet a minimum income cut-off. These safeguards are in place to protect clients and our health system.
Madam Chair, I would like to now address the proposed changes to the super visa brought forward by Bill .
With regard to authorities, Bill C-242 proposes that certain conditions of the super visa be established in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Currently, the act serves as a framework legislation, and authorizes the making of regulations and ministerial instructions to deliver programs and services. Program criteria for the super visa are established in ministerial instructions and not the act. This approach allows for program changes to be pursued quickly to respond to emerging needs of clients.
The proposed changes by Bill C-242 would mean that future adjustments could only be done through legislative procedures that can require years to complete.
Bill C-242 also proposes to establish the length of stay in the act, increasing it from two years to five years per entry. As I mentioned, under the current super visa, clients can request extensions while here, meaning that they already have the possibility to stay for five years or even longer without needing to leave Canada.
Another important feature of the bill would allow private insurance from international providers to be designated by the minister. Under the current super visa, insurance from a Canadian company is required, because we know these providers. They are regulated in Canada, and they are reliable.
IRCC does not currently have expertise in the international health insurance market, and allowing foreign providers, as proposed by the bill, would require consultations with health sector experts as well as with provinces and territories to determine which criteria should be included in such a designation scheme. Simply put, there are many unknown impacts of broadening health insurance to foreign providers, which require further examination.
Bill also proposes that a report be tabled to review the financial criteria for the super visa. Current income requirements are based on low–income cut–off, defined by Statistics Canada, and are intended to ensure that visiting parents and grandparents are supported by their host while in Canada.
The government agrees with the requirement to table a report on the impacts of lowering these thresholds.
I would like to thank the honourable member for and all committee members for bringing forward Bill C-242. The super visa is an important pathway to reunite parents and grandparents with their loved ones in Canada.
We continue to review existing criteria, and we welcome opportunities to strengthen our supports for family reunification.
I'm happy to take your questions now. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses, and if they are still listening, to the witnesses from the first panel as well.
I wonder if all of the witnesses could comment on the issue of the income cut-off a little bit more. This issue is addressed in the bill. In particular, I guess, the presumption of even having an income cut-off is that those who are coming are drawing on the resources of those who are providing for them, when, in fact, as we've heard at this committee, in many cases there is—if it's not too crass to say—an economic benefit to the family that's associated with the presence of parents and grandparents in terms of various kinds of support.
In that light, does it make sense to have an income cut-off at all?
Chair, we take a step back and consider Statistics Canada's definition of the low-income cut-off, I think that's a good place to start.
The low-income cut-off is the threshold below which a family will devote a much larger share of its income in comparison to the average family to basic necessities, such as food and shelter and clothing. That is why it was established as the threshold for the super visa because it takes into account the basic necessities that extra family members would bring. It is meant to balance the fact that it is a longer-stay visa and to make sure that clients are appropriately supported while they're here.
That said, the government agrees that this is something that should be continually revised. We'll be examining it, and the minister will be tabling a report—if this bill is adopted—on the low-income cut-off and whether other considerations, including those that have been raised by other witnesses, should be considered.
I won't press the point with you, but for the committee's reflection, that still seems to come from a perspective of assuming that there is a cost to the family instead of an economic benefit. It may be that for families who are struggling economically, one of their big challenges might be child care, and having a supportive grandparent present will allow them to improve their economic situation.
I want to drill down further on the issue of ministerial instructions. Some members of the government on this committee have said that action could be taken by ministerial instruction on some of these issues.
The nature of a bill, especially a private member's bill, is that it takes a long time for it to wind through the process. We're trying to deal with this bill as quickly as possible, but assuming everything goes well, it will go through report stage, third reading and likely committee study at the Senate as well.
The government could move forward to demonstrate its commitment on some of these issues on ministerial instructions right now, could it not, even while the bill is proceeding? It doesn't make much sense to me that they would argue that we don't need these provisions because we can do it by ministerial instructions, when they have actually failed to act when it comes to ministerial instructions.
Could you maybe just clarify the timelines that would be involved in ministerial instructions, if the government were to try to move on some of these issues right now?
My point, though, is that it seems that the argument being used by some is, “Well, we shouldn't have certain provisions that are in this bill because the government could act by ministerial instructions.”
My point is that the government could have acted by ministerial instructions by now and they haven't, and if they want to act by ministerial instructions, one way they could strengthen their case is by moving forward with those actions right away. You're confirming that the government could do so. They could do so in a matter of weeks. However, they have chosen not to.
From my perspective, that strengthens the rationale for legislative measures, because it shows that the government has been unwilling to make some of these changes. That's where you need legislation. It's often when you see the government unwilling to move on something that legislation becomes important, because it requires government action.
I have 20 seconds left. I don't know if you want to comment on that, as opposed to me just sharing an opinion. Do you want to comment on any of that?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the officials for being here.
Through you, Madam Chair, I would like to better understand the bill's proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The program in question, the super visa, is currently under the authority of ministerial instructions. To be quite honest, I'm not entirely sure that everyone has a full understanding of what ministerial instructions are and how they differ from legislation. If we set the changes in Bill in legislation, what would that mean the next time the program needs to be adjusted to reflect the needs of clients?
Anyone can jump in to answer.
I understand from your previous answers and your opening remarks that placing the super visa under the authority of IRPA would make it much more difficult to change in the future.
Bill calls for the minister to table a report about reducing the minimum income requirement of the child or grandchild in Canada. If that report shows that reducing this income requirement would be appropriate, what would have to happen to make that change happen in IRPA versus if the change only needed to be made by ministerial instruction?
Can you give some examples of instances when changes to the super visa or other temporary resident streams could done expeditiously through ministerial instructions? Secondly, are there any other temporary residence programs that are entrenched in IRPA?
I think that the objectives of the bill to recognize the social, economic and cultural contributions of parents and grandparents to not only their families but to our society are completely aligned with government objectives. The current super visa provides for an initial entry of two years, but it also provides for unlimited renewals from within Canada for period of two years at a time. I believe that's completely aligned with the objective of the bill for longer stays as well.
I believe that the objectives of the bill for family reunification, recognizing the benefits, and for longer stays are already provided through the current super visa, and the government welcomes furthering those objectives. Really, the issue is to be consistent with the framework legislation that we have and to keep it as ministerial instructions, rather than including it in the legislation, which would result in future changes being extremely cumbersome and difficult to pass.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank all of our friends from the department who are here today.
I'd like to ask a few specific questions, but I will let the witnesses decide who can respond most appropriately.
In 2016, a lawyer pointed out to the committee that it was difficult for widows to obtain a super visa because the visa officer is less likely to be satisfied that the parents and grandparents will leave Canada at the end of the authorized stay. The lawyer recommended removing the requirement to leave.
Considering that Bill extends the authorized stay to five years, what effect would this have on widowed or other vulnerable individuals applying for a super visa?
Thank you for these responses.
Perhaps we can get the testimony of this attorney who appeared before the committee in 2016 sent to you. If not, you could simply ask the Library of Parliament staff provide it to you. I'm sure they will be happy to send it to you.
Some Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada critics say it's too demanding, because it assumes that a family's income will not vary from year to year and never fall below the income threshold during recessions. However, we're about to go through serious economic upheaval. We saw some upheaval during the COVID‑19 pandemic. In terms of the post-pandemic period, the forecast varies depending on which economist you talk to.
How do the new reporting requirements in sections 4 and 5 of Bill C‑242 address this issue?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the officials here.
On this question around the appeal process, we discussed it briefly during the last panel. It was stated that people can always go to a judicial review, the Federal Court and so on and so forth, which is an onerous and expensive process.
Based on the information you have, could you advise the committee how often that appeal process is exercised by people who have been rejected by the parents and grandparents sponsorship program?
Fair enough. Maybe we could have that information submitted to the committee for our review.
The other piece is related to the issue around the income threshold. There's been a lot of discussion about this. In fact, I remember distinctly back in the first Parliament I was elected to, this issue coming up at the CIMM committee. There was extensive discussion with witnesses as well. Along with it, there was a series of other recommendations. To date, as far as I can tell, none of those recommendations have been acted on, including the request for the department to look into the contributions of parents and grandparents in other ways to Canada's cultural mosaic, as well as to our economy.
Why is that? Why has the government not responded and provided information with respect to those critical questions that are now before us once again?
Sorry, I'm going to interrupt here.
I was asking specifically about recommendations on the contributions of parents and grandparents to Canada, culturally and economically. I don't believe any data or information has been provided with respect to that. I want to ask this question with respect to parents and grandparents. It's related to that. The suggestion was that this should be dealt with through ministerial instructions as opposed to legislation. The argument is that it's easier for government to act, and it's less cumbersome. The counter piece, of course, is that, without legislation, what will compel the government to act? So far, we haven't seen action, realistically. The whole idea with the super visa, in essence, is to fill the gap—the lack of parent and grandparent sponsorship application process.
How do you answer that question? What can compel the government to act if we don't do this through legislation?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I agree. I think the super visa is an extremely facilitative tool that has been used quite a bit since 2011. IRCC approves some 17,000 super visas every year, which means that parents and grandparents who contribute economically, socially and culturally to our communities, country and, of course, families are able to reunite.
Again, that super visa has a validity of 10 years and the initial entry is currently set at two years. It can be renewed any number of times from within the country. It enables family reunification to continue without interruption should super visa holders continue to renew from within the country.
I'm not sure whether my colleague Mr. Seyler or counsel would like to add to that.
Currently, because the super visa requires the private health insurance to be provided by a Canadian provider, the integrity is ensured essentially by the fact that these insurance providers are regulated within the Canadian system. We know them, we know that they're regulated and that we can trust them.
Should we consider foreign insurance providers the way that this bill does, we would really have to come up with a designation system that takes into account new criteria that the department doesn't currently have the expertise to develop. We would have to work with provinces, territories and health experts to determine what those criteria are. Are they around the solvency of companies? Are they around the compliance with laws and regulations abroad? What are the modalities of payments, including criteria around having payments at point of service to protect clients, for example?
Of course, we would have to ensure that any designation scheme has ongoing monitoring to ensure that clients continue to be protected by anyone who's designated.
It's a complex issue that would just need to be really looked into in consultation with experts in the field and provinces and territories.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Once again, I'd like to thank the witnesses. This will be the last time I address them today.
I understand that Bill has consensus across all parties. It contains no major pitfalls that would cause any party to oppose it.
So, I'm wondering, in your opinion, is there a way to speed things up so that what the bill proposes can be implemented as quickly as possible? Is there a way?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll carry on with Mr. Benzen's question.
It's very frustrating to see the insurance costs for children who want to bring the parents and grandparents on super visas. Not only that, but when they come here and at some point one of those people have to go to the hospital, the insurance doesn't even cover the whole amount.
How can the government help? I think it's a good idea that, just like provincial insurance, if MSP can cover it—at least then they don't need to worry about going back and forth between the insurance companies.
Panel members, I would like to hear your comments.