Canada will welcome 25,000 parents and grandparents as immigrants next year, despite concerns about the economic impact of targeting older rather than younger immigrants.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government has decided to "bite the bullet" on family reunification in order to reduce a backlog of applications that had grown unmanageable.
"I don't suggest that this is an economic benefit to Canada," Mr. Kenney said. "We have a certain commitment to family reunification as one element of our immigration program, but as I've said it has to be limited because of fiscal constraints."
Mr. Kenney, speaking in Mississauga, announced that Canada will accept a total of 50,000 family reunification applications over this year and next, about 47 per cent higher than the average for the past two decades, he said.
Family reunification is a politically difficult question because of its crucial importance in many immigrant communities, particularly the suburban ridings around Toronto and Vancouver that handed the Conservatives a majority government in the past election. Mr. Kenney, speaking to a room of reporters primarily from Canadian ethnic media outlets, highlighted his government's decision to raise family reunification numbers substantially.
But he also pointed out that this may not be the case over the long term. He said his government's primary goal is to cut the backlog of applications that had pushed wait times beyond eight years in some cases. No new family reunification applications will be processed before 2014 to prevent the backlog from growing. In future, Mr. Kenney said, there will be a new family reunification program "that limits intake to a level that is fiscally sustainable."
"While family reunification is important, we also have a very practical reality that most seniors who immigrate to Canada will not be in the tax-paying work force and rather will be making use of our public health care and other social benefit programs," Mr. Kenney said.
NDP Immigration critic Jinny Sims said she's concerned by what she called Mr. Kenney's foreboding language on the future of family reunification.
She said parents and grandparents are being described as though they will impose a burden on Canada's social welfare system. But reunification also means the economic advantage of additional caregivers and greater stability for many families, she said, plus it's a factor that could help attract skilled immigrants.
"The Conservative government talks about the family unit being central and yet we have hundreds of thousands of Canadian families who are waiting 6,7,8 years to have their family reunited," Ms. Sims said. "They created that problem."
A recent report by TD Economics called for the government to increase the proportion of immigrants in its economic streams, rather than in family reunification, to address Canada's future demographic challenges. It also suggested immigration could rise well beyond current levels of 250,000 a year to tackle labour shortages resulting from the retirement of the baby boom generation.
Mr. Kenney said it doesn't make sense to raise overall immigration levels when unemployment among immigrants is nearly twice as high as among the general population.