Today marks a day of both hope and anxiety for immigrants desperate to bring their parents or grandparents to live permanently in Canada, as a controversial lottery process opens for family reunification.
Beginning at 12 noon ET today, prospective sponsors can fill out an online form to express interest in sponsoring a relative, and they will have three weeks to do so.
After that, about 10,000 coveted spots will be selected randomly through a lottery. Those 10,000 applicants will then be allowed to formally apply – a process that has been widely panned for leaving family reunification to the luck of the draw.
Grace Sorenson is the only child of a widowed mother who is now 87 years old and has no family left in the Philippines. She said it’s becoming increasingly difficult for her mother to come to Canada on a visa.
“I will be so heartbroken not to be picked this time as my mom is getting older and with diabetes,” Sorenson said, adding her mother has trouble walking and is not “safe anymore to travel.”
She is among tens of thousands of immigrants who have been disappointed each year by the sponsorship program.
This year, the government is returning to the contentious lottery system after last year’s first-come, first-served online system was plagued by problems. The lottery system itself had replaced a first-in process which saw applicants sprint to get their documents to processing centres.
That system also left people frustrated because it offered an advantage to those who lived closer to the processing centres, or could afford to pay someone to help get them to the front of the queue.
Lottery the most ‘equitable’ option: Mendicino
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the lottery is the most equitable way to go.
“We think this is the fairest way in which to administer the intake and to invite expressions of interest,” he told CBC News. “We know that last year there was a very high demand and that there were some individuals who were disadvantaged by the intake process, so we wanted to try and create a level playing field as much as possible.”
Last year’s online first-come process left many in distress because they couldn’t access the form or fill it out quickly enough. The online portal closed after less than 10 minutes.
Some said the race to file applications worked against those who couldn’t fill them out quickly, such as those with disabilities or literacy issues, or those living in places with slow internet connections.
The federal government ended up making a secret settlement to quash two lawsuits that claimed the process was flawed and unfair. To resolve the group litigation, the government awarded at least 70 spots to applicants allowing them to sponsor their parents’ or grandparents’ immigration to Canada.
But many said going back to a lottery that essentially gambles with people’s lives is not the solution.
Vishnu Mohan and his wife have been trying to sponsor both sets of parents in India for years.
“It’s totally unfair because they should not treat parents as luck,” he said.
Lee-Anne Stuart agrees. She has been in Canada for eight years and is anxious to bring her parents here from South Africa. After applying each year since 2016, she said she’s giving up hope.
“There are people (who) on their first attempt are able to sponsor their parents, then other people have been trying for 10 years. I just don’t think that’s fair,” she said.
Stuart said that had she known there was no chance her parents would be able to join her, she might not have chosen to immigrate to Canada.
“I want to be with my family, and the thought of not having them here eventually is very difficult for me to deal with personally,” she said. “I have even contemplated going back because I can’t live with never having them with me.”
Some have suggested the government consider the length of time the applicant has been in Canada, their financial means and compassionate circumstances when it prioritizes family reunification applications.
Others have suggested a weighted model that would give an individual applicant a greater chance of success with each subsequent year they apply.
Some argue that if the government charged a fee to file the online expression of interest form, that would weed out the people who would not be in a position to sponsor their relative that year.
Alex Konstantinovski has been trying for years to sponsor his 80-year-old mother from Ukraine. He said Canada’s immigration process is generally thorough and fair, but that’s not the case for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program.
“The application should have no room for error, no room for flaws and any kind of discrimination or speculation,” he said.
The parent and grandparent sponsorship program launch was delayed this year by the pandemic.
Mendicino said next year’s lottery will have 30,000 spots.