moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-394, which I call the once in a lifetime bill. I call it that because it would amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would allow a Canadian resident or permanent citizen to sponsor once in their lifetime a family member from outside the family classes currently defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Currently, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines family as: a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student or is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled; a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; and a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under the age of 18 and is not a spouse or common law partner.
What would my bill do? It proposes to add additional members to the sponsorship definition. It will cover, in addition, a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not dependent on his or her parents. It will cover an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, a niece or nephew or a first cousin. It will expand the definition of family so the sponsor could add additional people to the definition of those from whom they could choose to sponsor.
Why is this bill necessary? In short, as Statistics Canada recently reported, one in five Canadians is now born outside of Canada. It is an increase of 13.6% from 2001, with the vast majority of newcomers settling in my province of Ontario. We have found that 6.2 million people in Canada were born outside of the country and the foreign born population of our country is now at its highest proportion in 75 years.
In the past five years 1.1 million immigrants have come to Canada and have made it their home, most of them settling in Ontario, which is 52.3% of newcomers. In addition, 17% settled in Quebec and 16% settled in British Columbia.
Why is it important to have a broader definition of family for the purpose of sponsorship? There are three main reasons and I will elaborate on each of them. The first is to reunite families. The second is to help new Canadians who come to Canada succeed. The third is for the economic and social benefit of all Canadians.
First, reuniting families is a very important goal in and of itself. The current act recognizes the important role that family members play in the life of a new Canadian, but the current family class rules are simply too restrictive and it means that many close relatives are simply not eligible.
Many people have a close relative, such as a brother or sister, who they would desperately like to have join them in Canada. A brother can be as close to someone as a parent, or an aunt and uncle can be as close as a grandmother or grandfather, but the current rules do not allow for this. Therefore, families are kept apart.
I want to provide three examples of people of whom I know, but there are many people who find themselves in these kinds of situations.
I have a woman in my riding who is a 62-year-old an English teacher from Ukraine. The age requirement has prevented her from sponsoring her 31-year-old daughter and 15-year-old grandson to join her in Canada. She said:
It's hard. I'm getting to that age when I could need some help. And I want to care for my grandson as well. We don't want to be separated, but there's so little we can do.
She lives in Toronto with her older son. She said about her daughter, “We talk on the phone every day, but it's simply not the same”.
I know of another case, a refugee who came to Canada over 25 years ago from Vietnam. He is now in his forties and is very successful. He has a very elderly mother who lives with him. His only relative left in Vietnam is his sister, who just misses qualifying under the point system. He desperately wants to reunite his family. His mother is too old and does not want to travel to Vietnam. He wants to bring his sister to Canada.
I know of another person whose parents died when he was very young. He was the elder of three siblings and, in essence, raised his brother and sister. He has only one sibling left in his country of origin. He was like the parent to that sibling, but because they are now adults, they do not qualify under the current rules. Therefore, the bill would make all the difference to someone in that situation.
There are many examples that I could offer of people who are simply denied the ability to reunite their families under the current definition. Reuniting families should be a major aim of our immigration policy and the bill would help a great deal to do this.
The second reason for the bill is to help new Canadians succeed. Canada is a country of newcomers. Helping new Canadians adjust and thrive in their new country is one of the primary goals of our immigration policy. The bill would significantly help with that.
Many immigrants to Canada bring their children with them or have children soon after they arrive. This adds to our child care crisis. New Canadians are barely on their feet financially with almost no social network. They have to find enough revenue for the ever rising cost of child care because our country has failed parents. It has not introduced a national child care program to meet the needs of children with early learning and care, so parents, for the most part, are left on their own to cope and find child care. It is difficult to find and it is expensive.
This search on the part of new Canadians becomes especially difficult when parents are forced to upgrade their qualifications in order to work in their fields of expertise while in Canada. Costly and time consuming studies place an extra burden on their child care needs.
If brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles were allowed to be sponsored under Bill C-394, they could play an important role in helping fulfill the family's child care needs. This would also help newcomers to get the work and the skills they need to succeed because they would be assured and would have the peace of mind that their children were cared for by a family member.
The families of many new Canadians include older parents or grandparents. Caring for an aging family member can place a great strain on anyone. However, for newcomers, with new social networks, lack of financial stability, an urgent need to acquire new skills and oftentimes with children to look after, the task becomes truly arduous and limits their capacity to adjust and succeed in Canada. Allowing the sponsorship of siblings, older children or nieces and nephews in Canada makes the family unit much stronger and capable of caring for its aging members.
Adjusting to a new life in Canada while finding work can be challenging. As I mentioned, many immigrants find themselves unable to get work in the fields of their expertise and specialization without upgrading their qualifications. The financial, emotional and social support that family members provide for each other makes it much more likely for a newcomer to succeed in finding work and the time and resources to upgrade their skills. The once in a lifetime bill would help reunite families and make them stronger.
The third reason I believe this definition should be expanded, as I have outlined in my bill, is it has economic and social benefits for all Canadians. Allowing new Canadians to reunite with important family members is critical to their success upon arrival in Canada. The success of immigrants to Canada is a net benefit to all Canadians.
As a member of the industry committee, I know there is a labour shortage in Canada. Allowing family members to come through a sponsorship program is a relatively risk free way of bringing in new Canadians who can be part of the economic strength of our country. The sooner and more efficiently new Canadians can adjust and enter the workforce, the better for our economy.
Lack of family reunification leads to a greater sense of isolation, fewer social supports, fewer resources and therefore a much more difficult time integrating into the Canadian economy and supporting oneself. Such circumstances are a greater strain on the country's social infrastructure and do not allow new Canadians to get ahead. It robs the national economy of valuable contributions.
The restrictive definition of family class in the current legislation does not allow for the sponsor of relatives who can greatly help new Canadians play an important role in our growing economy.
It is well known, after many years of budget cuts, that there are problems with the application processing within Citizenship and Immigration, but this should not impact the right of families to be reunited. The problem of the backlog lies with the funding and resourcing of the department and not with the families that submit applications.
What effect will the bill have on our current immigration targets? In a word, none. The bill would in no way modifies immigration targets or quotas, but it would positively affect the lives of Canadians who have family living abroad.
Bill C-394 has no impact on the current standards, regulations and rules stipulated for immigration to Canada. Additional family members sponsored under this new legislation would remain subject to all current immigration selection criteria.
In summary, Canada is a country of newcomers. We have based our success, our history, our economy on the efforts of generation, after generation of newcomers. We know newcomers do best when they have the benefit of strong family supports, just like all of us. However, newcomers face additional challenges. In fitting in the economy, they may face language barriers and the challenge of learning about their new society. It would make their lives much easier to have family members with them.
We know the current law is too restrictive and leaves many families separated and in distress. There are many examples, whether families are here from immigration or they came as a refugee. Families are separated and they desperately want to reunite with their family members, especially if they are isolated, alone, in the country of origin. They want to get that family members back to Canada.
The change I am proposing does not solve all the problems with immigration or even with the sponsorship program. However, it would solve a particular problem that today has no solution for so many families and creates such a crisis for so many landed immigrants and Canadians here.
Sponsorship is such a low risk form of immigration for Canada. The families bear the cost and the responsibility. We know that when people come to Canada through the sponsorship program, they have a greater chance of fitting in, of finding success and of settling in their new country because of the sponsorship program.
I want to add that many newcomer organizations strongly support this once in a lifetime bill. They are very excited about it. Many people have watched this debate closely and want to see its success.
I thank my colleagues in advance for their generous support.