Starting next month, the federal government will extend how long Canadians’ visiting parents and grandparents can stay in this country and allow them to use foreign health insurance during their time here — two long-sought adjustments to this country’s controversial “super visa” program.
The changes will come into effect July 4.
The surprise announcement from Immigration Minister Sean Fraser on Tuesday came in the wake of an ongoing review by the parliamentary immigration committee of a private member’s bill, C-242, to amend the law to make those exact changes. It was a bid to ease family reunification for Canadians who have parents and grandparents abroad.
“The enhancements to the super visa program allow family members to reunite for longer in Canada, which helps everyday Canadian citizens and permanent residents succeed and contribute to society, while affording their parents and grandparents invaluable opportunities to spend time with their family in Canada,” Fraser said.
The committee had already held three meetings and heard from witnesses in response to the Reuniting Families Act, which also sought to ask immigration officials to prepare and table a report on reducing the minimum income requirement that a Canadian sponsor must meet in order for their parents or grandparents to stay here for an extended period.
The so-called super visa — a multiple-entry visitor visa valid for 10 years — currently allows the holder to stay here for a maximum two years at a time. That will now be extended to up to five years.
But in order to get a super visa, the visitor had needed to be covered by a Canadian health insurance company, a cost that could range between $1,800 and $5,000 a year, depending on the coverage, age and health conditions of the insured person. Insurance plans by foreign entities are expected to be less costly.
Super visas are meant to offer a temporary relief for parents and grandparents who are unable to win the lottery held by the immigration department each year to choose who can be sponsored as permanent residents by their children or grandchildren in Canada. There are limited spots for such sponsorship yearly, 20,000 pre-COVID in 2019 and 30,000 last year.
The changes introduced Tuesday will allow the immigration minister to designate international medical insurance companies to provide coverage to super visa applicants. Details of designated providers will be posted on the department website later.
Last week, a senior immigration department official told the parliamentary committee that there were no need to bring in changes to the super visa program.
“Under the current super visa, clients can request extensions while here, meaning that they already have the possibility to stay for five years or even longer without needing to leave Canada,” said Michele Kingsley, a director general of the immigration department.
“Allowing foreign providers as proposed by the bill would require consultations with health-sector experts, as well as with provinces and territories to determine which criteria should be included in such a designation scheme. Simply put, there are many unknown impacts of broadening health insurance to foreign providers.”
Advocates for Canadians interested in sponsoring parents and grandparents have said the changes to super visa are just “Band-Aid” solutions in lieu of an overhaul of the sponsorship process.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the Liberal government has had years to address the shortcomings with the parents and grandparents immigration streams and that Fraser’s “half-measure” announcement is meant to “sideline” Bill C-242.
“Families longing to reunite with their loved ones have had to endure serious barriers over the years. They ranged from long delays in processing (sometimes as long as 10 years) to being subjected to a lottery scheme where, literally, reunification is based on the luck of the draw,” Kwan told the Star.
“What is really needed is for the Liberal government to lift the barriers for the parents and grandparents’ reunification stream once and for all.”
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