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Family reunification changes would ease immigration backlog

The Harper government is moving to restrict applications for a program allowing immigrants to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada – part of a plan to eliminate a massive backlog in this category that has people waiting eight years.

But this is only part of what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will announce on Friday at noon ET in Mississauga, immigration lawyers predict.

Experts say they expect Ottawa will also increase the number of parents and grandparents admitted annually under this family reunification program. The waiting list is currently at more than 150,000 people.

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The Immigration Minister's announcement will include details of a planned overhaul of the grandparents and parents portion of the program.

Mr. Kenney will also announce that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration will hold consultations in early 2012 to solicit opinion from Canadians on how best to revamp the program.

The federal government each year receives about 40,000 applications from grandparents and parents of immigrants and admits only about 17,500. At the same time, the backlog grows by 13,000 to 14,000 annually.

Mr. Kenney hinted at his plans at a Commons committee in late October, saying the two best ways to eliminate the backlog of applicants are to cut the number of applications considered each year and to increase admissions.

"Is the department going to have to issue directives limiting the number of new applications that we receive? I think that it is a solution that we have to consider," he told the Commons immigration committee last month.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he expects the Harper government will restrict applications and increase approvals as a solution to the backlog.

"I think the only way out is going to be a Sound of Music solution, where 'When a door gets closed, somewhere, a window gets opened,' " Mr. Kurland said.

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The immigration lawyer suggested Mr. Kenney could find a way to make it work.

"So even if applications are capped, the minister can direct that temporary visas be issued in order to bring families together until the backlog is processed."

Sources said consultations in 2012 will be used to seek ways to redesign the program to prevent future backlogs. All options are on the table, including different rules for who can sponsor parents and grandparents, or increases in the amount of income required to support newcomers under the program, the sources said.

Mr. Kenney promised to address the backlog in the parents and grandparents class during the federal election campaign earlier this year. Parents often apply for permanent residence on the advice of Canadian visa officers after they are refused a visitor visa, lawyers say.

Immigration lawyers say a more permanent solution to the backlog should include changing visitor visa rules.

They say Ottawa should devise a way to allow parents of immigrants to visit without incurring the risk of a drain on medicare if they fall ill while in Canada.

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Mr. Kurland estimated that about 20 per cent of those parents and grandparents in the queue for permanent residency would withdraw their application if they could instead secure a long-term, multiple-entry visa that stipulated they cover their own health insurance in Canada.

Canada expects to admit 254,000 immigrants this year in total.

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