Canada tightens rules on immigrant and refugee children
By: Ashley Chapman From: Thestar.com
Cut-off age for immigrant and refugee children will change from 21 to 18 on Aug. 1 as Canada lets economic motives determine immigration policy.
While much of the country is enjoying the summer, the federal government is quietly amending its immigration and refugee protection regulations. With only $62,000 set aside for both implementation and communications, it’s clear that they’re not wanting much public attention.
And no wonder.
As of Aug. 1, Canada is tightening the rules on which immigrant and refugee children are eligible to come to Canada with their parents. Until that date, unmarried dependants aged 21 and under could be included in their parents’ immigration or refugee applications. Exceptions were made for full-time students over 21 who were financially dependent on their parents. Under the new regulations, the cut-off age is 18 and under, with no exceptions for students.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “The amendments to the definition of dependent child respond to government priorities of having an immigration system focused on Canada’s economic and labour force needs.” Their own regulatory impact analysis statement cites evidence that the younger a child is when they immigrate, the better their long-term labour market outcomes. On average, they claim, Canadian education yields a higher financial return than foreign education.
The economic evidence may stand, but Canada will likely lose out on some highly qualified immigrants who are understandably unwilling to move to a new country or continent without their 19- or 20-year-old progeny. What’s more, the changes go against one of the official objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — to reunite families.
Still, economic migrants make the choice to come to Canada; the amendments will have a much graver impact on those with very little choice in their immigration — refugees and others in the humanitarian immigration stream. In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees took notice when the changes were first previewed in the Canada Gazette last year. So did the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.
In total, 60 groups and individuals submitted written comments after the changes were first proposed. Most were in opposition.
Many refugees and asylum seekers will now have to decide whether safety in Canada is worth leaving a 19-year-old son or daughter behind in a potentially life-threatening situation.
At the Canadian Council for Refugees’ Consultation last year, refugee settlement workers explained the gendered dangers this would create in countries where women are oppressed. No longer in their parents’ household, they could be forced to marry, face destitution or worse.
One worker recounted a situation under the previous regulations where a 22-year-old daughter was the only remaining family member left in a new country (the neighbouring country where the family fled to make their refugee claim). The family pleaded with the minister of citizenship and immigration for an exemption, to no avail.
Ironically, it was only after the daughter attempted to commit suicide that the situation improved. As a result of her new mental health issue, she could now be considered a dependant.
With the age of dependency being lowered by three years, it’s estimated that 7,000 young adults will lose their chance to come to Canada with their families next year. About 800 of them will be the children of refugees. This is what happens when we let economic motives determine our immigration policy.
Of course the government also claims the regulatory changes better reflect life in Canada, where — apparently — young adult children are fully independent by age 19.
The Canadian reality is that most high school graduates are neither ready nor willing to make it entirely apart from their parents’ financial, social and emotional support. In fact, 42 per cent of 20-somethings in Canada still live with their parents, and most have never faced war, famine or torture.
It’s no easy feat to qualify for refugee status internationally or in Canada; those who are accepted have been through more than most can imagine. Adding a forced familial separation onto that load is not only unconscionable, it’s unthinkable.
But the government isn’t asking us to think about it. The meagre communications budget allotted the change will not reach anyone but those who are no longer eligible to apply. The rest of us will continue with our summer holiday plans and continue to joke that our 27-year-old offspring will leave the nest — someday.
Ashley Chapman is with Citizens for Public Justice, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa.