City council to debate Ottawa’s cuts to family reunification program

The federal government’s proposed reductions in the family reunification program, which allows established immigrant families to bring parents and grandparents here to join them, is raising grave concern in immigrant communities right across Canada.

If Vancouver City Council passes the motion I have proposed for our next meeting, it will be the first in Canada, as far as I know, to urge the government to change direction and ensure everyone who was promised this opportunity can realize the dream of reuniting their family in this country, often after a wait of many, many years.

In this column, scheduled for publication in Philippine News Today, I set out the case for restoring the number of visas to last year’s level:

The federal government’s decision to slash the number of visas available for family reunification is a cruel and unacceptable betrayal of Canada’s commitment to new immigrants.
The prospect of reuniting grandparents with their children and grandchildren in Canada is one of the most cherished dreams of many immigrant families, a dream that may only be realized after many years of hard work and struggle.
During those years, new immigrants make a priceless contribution to Canada’s prosperity, often working for substandard wages in occupations far below the careers they trained for at home.
For many, the reward for these sacrifices is the prospect of reuniting parents with their extended family in Canada.
Now, that dream may be denied.
Altlhough Canada admitted 16,000 people on family reunification visas last year, Ottawa has decided only 11,000 can come in 2011.
As many as 140,000 are in the queue. Many on the list have already been waiting five, six or seven years.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says that wait may now stretch to 13 years. People will literally die on the waiting list to join their loved ones.
How does Immigration Minister Jason Kenney justify these cuts?
“There have to be choices made,” he says.
“I know that the most popular thing we could do politically would be to say that this year, we’re going to go from 14,000 to 100,000 parents and grandparents.
“But it wouldn’t be responsible because that means fewer economic immigrants coming and paying taxes, or fewer refugees to save from refugee camps.”
Who is he kidding? This policy has nothing to do with refugees.
Nor is Ottawa really interested in “economic immigrants” who are “paying taxes.”
The dramatic expansion of the temporary foreign worker programs demonstrates that reality.
Ottawa is admitting tens of thousands of these temporary workers, who can only stay for short terms, have limited access to immigration and are dependent on individual employers.
They pay minimal taxes, they work hard and they get sent home when no longer needed.
While the temporary programs expand, Ottawa is cutting back, even in the skilled foreign worker program it claims is a priority. The number of workers to admitted this year will decline to 56,000 from 70,000 last year. Another 300,000 are on that waiting list.
Despite the Conservatives claims to support immigrant communities, events of the last few months show a new reality.
Funding for immigrant services agencies have been frozen or rolled back, with the impact particularly severe in eastern Canada.
Here in BC, where the province runs employment centres, a radical restructuring driven by budget pressures may lead to widespread cuts in existing services.
Now Ottawa is cutting back on family reunification and immigration for skilled workers.
Canada owes much of its economic strength to the contribution of immigrants and their extended families.
But Jason Kenney’s new policy will deny them their dream of family reunification.