Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon for his work on this legislation.
The government is firmly committed to reuniting families and their loved ones abroad. Family members are an important part of our immigration system.
Canada has one of the most generous and comprehensive family reunification programs in the world. Through this program, we help to keep families together and contribute to the integration of immigrants, who are an important part of the success of our communities across our country. Parents and grandparents want to visit their adult children and grandchildren. Likewise, Canadian citizens and permanent residents benefit from the support of their parents and grandparents.
Parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who wish to visit their family for a longer period can apply for a parent and grandparent super visa. This process is authorized through ministerial instructions.
The super visa is a multiple-entry visa that is valid for up to 10 years and allows for stays of up to two years at a time. Super visa holders may also request an extension of their stay for up to an additional two years while in Canada, and there are no limits on the number of extensions they can request.
Since the super visa allows for longer stays than a regular temporary resident visa, applicants must meet additional medical and financial criteria. These criteria include a medical exam, private medical insurance from a Canadian company and financial support from a child/grandchild host, who must meet an income cut-off minimum based on their family size.
These important safeguards are in place to ensure that this potentially vulnerable population has financial support and protection in the event of a medical emergency while in Canada.
They also ensure that there is no undue burden on the Canadian taxpayer through unpaid medical bills. This is particularly important, as demonstrated by our experience during the pandemic, when many health care systems across the country are strained. This private member's bill, Bill C-242, proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow a parent or grandparent to stay in Canada for five years under the super visa and to purchase private health care insurance from outside Canada. It also requires the minister to table a report on reducing the income requirements that the child or grandchild must meet for the parent or grandparent to qualify for a super visa.
While the government supports many principles of Bill C-242, we have concerns that it would reduce our ability to ensure that parents and grandparents are arriving with adequate supports during their stay. We also continue to look out for the best interests of Canadian taxpayers.
First, the act is not the appropriate instrument to make program changes to super visa conditions. Parliament intended for the act to serve as framework legislation, which authorizes the making of regulations and ministerial instructions. As I stated, the super visa is authorized through these ministerial instructions. As such, we propose amendments to Bill C-242 to maintain the authority for super visa conditions under ministerial instructions. This would allow the government to respond quickly to the emerging needs of clients, rather than necessitating a lengthy legislative process.
The government supports the member's proposal to increase the length of stay per entry. However, we propose to extend this from the current two years to three. Once again, this would be changed through ministerial instructions. Since super visa holders already have the opportunity to extend their stay in Canada for up to two years, this means parents and grandparents could then stay in Canada for up to five years without needing to leave the country.
The government believes that increasing the length of stay any further would negate the spirit of the super visa, which is to support temporary residence in Canada. Increasing the length of stay beyond three years without needing to request an extension could lead to visitors establishing more permanent connections to Canada, and this would undermine the purpose of having a legal framework to address temporary residents.
The government does not support the member's proposal to allow super visa applicants to purchase private health insurance from foreign companies.
Private health insurance is required through a Canadian company, and this is to ensure super visa holders, who are a potentially vulnerable population, have sufficient and reliable medical insurance in case of a health emergency while in Canada. This is an important component of the super visa. The government believes that allowing super visa holders to purchase insurance from companies outside Canada could introduce various risks. Applicants might purchase coverage from unregulated or fraudulent providers, for example, and this could have devastating consequences to parents and grandparents, as well as for our health care system.
We have actually seen what can happen when parents and grandparents arrive on regular visas that do not require emergency medical insurance. We know of several cases when parents were visiting on a regular visitor visa and experienced a medical emergency, such as a stroke, during their stay. They did not have health insurance and incurred medical bills worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. These stories underscore the importance of ensuring that super visa holders are protected with appropriate health insurance during their visit.
I would like to also note that allowing super visa holders to obtain coverage from international health insurance providers, as proposed in the hon. member's bill, could pose significant complexities for the government to verify the coverage. To ensure the validity of foreign health care providers for coverage and billing purposes, IRCC would have to establish a complex and costly designation framework to establish pre-approved insurance options from abroad. With respect to Bill C-242's final proposal, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship commits to tabling a report to Parliament to review the current financial requirements for children or grandchildren.
While the Government supports a review of this requirement, I wish to underscore that we believe a financial requirement remains a necessary and important component of the super visa. While family reunification is an important part of our immigration system, it should not place undue financial burdens on Canadian taxpayers, and visitors should be adequately supported during their stay.
I will state once again that the super visa's minimum necessary income requirement is in place to ensure the host child or grandchild can provide for the basic requirements of their visiting family members while they are in Canada. This is also key to maintaining public support for the super visa, which facilitates longer stays of parents and grandparents.
The government is committed to family reunification. We must maintain an immigration system that meets the needs of Canadians if we want to take full advantage of this system.
The government believes the current conditions of the super visa adequately balance the interests of families that wish to reunite with their loved ones, as well as those of all Canadians, as it protects their hard-earned taxpayer services.
The super visa enables us to reunite families quickly and for longer periods. At the same time, the government is able to adequately manage the operations of this program under its current framework. For over a decade, the super visa has remained a popular and accessible option for Canadian citizens and permanent residents to reunite with their parents and grandparents, with approximately 17,000 super visas issued each year.
I believe it is a highly successful program by any measure. That being said, the government always remains open to finding ways to improve our programs and policies.
Although the government supports the spirit and intent of Bill C‑242, it will only support this bill with the proposed amendments. The goal is to ensure the integrity and long-term viability of the highly successful super visa program.