Family questions rigid sponsorship system


Family questions rigid sponsorship system

A cancer diagnosis means Leocadio Valencia would be deemed medically inadmissible for permanent resident status in Canada, and his wife will be barred from moving to Canada, too.

When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer last October, Juan Valencia was devastated.

But as if the impending loss of his father weren’t upsetting enough, because of a technicality in federal immigration rules, the diagnosis could mean that Valencia remains separated from his mother as well.

Valencia, 37, immigrated to Canada from Colombia in 2000. After his sister followed him 10 years later,his parents were left with no close relatives in Medellin, so in April 2011 he applied to the federal parent and grandparent sponsorship program to bring them here.

The family waited more than four years as their application made its way through the immigration department’s bureaucracy, and then finally last fall, they reached the last stages of the process; a medical exam to determine whether Leocadio, 81, and Cecilia, 71, were healthy enough to come to Canada. That’s when a doctor found the mass on Leocadio’s lung. It was colon cancer that had spread throughout his body.

The diagnosis means Leocadio would be deemed medically inadmissible for permanent resident statusin Canada, and the family has resigned itself to the fact that he will die in Colombia. But because Leocadio was listed as the principal applicant on the sponsorship for both he and his wife, if he’s rejected, she will be barred from moving to Canada, too.

The family has put the application on hold while they consider their options. But Valencia, an award-winning musician who lives in Pickering, Ont., said he doesn’t understand why the system is so rigid.

“I think that we as Canadians deserve a little bit more flexibility in terms of being able to bring our parents here and enjoy their last few years that they have in this world,” said Valencia, who became a citizen in 2008. “The laws for the grandparents and parents are very strict.”

In what seems to the family a cruel irony, according to IRCC there’s only one way to name a new principal applicant on a sponsorship application: if the current one dies. That means that Cecilia could proceed with her current application, but only if her husband passes away. Valencia said his father could live for at least two more years, and depending how long he survives, Cecilia may have to submit to a new medical exam as part of the process. The older she gets, the less likely she is of passing one.

In any case, Valencia is anxious to get his mother’s status sorted before anything happens to his father. “That’s what we’re afraid of, that if my dad passes she’s alone there, she might not last long,” he said.

Valencia could try to withdraw the current application and begin a new one listing his mother as the primary applicant, but they would have to start the lengthy process all over again. According to the IRCC website the department is only now getting to applications filed in November 2011.

Given the pressure on the immigration system, there’s no guarantee Valencia could even get the government to consider a new application. Since he first applied in 2011, Ottawa has limited the intake of sponsorship submissions to 5,000 a year. Demand for the program far exceeds the available spaces, which has created a scramble among applicants trying to get their forms in first.

The new Liberal government has promised to “immediately” double the quota to 10,000, but that still wouldn’t be enough to meet demand. This year IRCC received 14,000 applications in three days, and shut the process down until 2017.

Asked about concerns that the sponsorship process is too rigid and takes too long, Faith St-John, a spokeswoman for IRCC, told the Star in an email: “Canada is committed to reuniting families and recognizes the interest and importance of the sponsorship program.”

She noted that between 2012 and 2014, more than 70,000 parents and grandparents as well as their dependants were admitted to Canada, and IRCC has made progress cutting down wait times in the past five years.

“Family reunification is a core government priority, and IRCC is committed to improving processing times and reducing backlogs,” St-John wrote.

Angela Princewill, Valencia’s attorney, said the parent and grandparent sponsorship program is “unfair on so many levels.” She intends to ask the immigration department to allow Cecilia Valencia to be named the principal applicant on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Princewill argued that the family wouldn’t be in such a tight spot if the government processed applications quicker. “If things moved a little bit faster, it’s easier to say, OK let’s withdraw and start over,” Princewill said, and “if you had processed their application faster, maybe (Valencia’s parents) would have even been here” before Leocadio received his cancer diagnosis.