New age limits on dependents have immigrant advocates crying foul

New age limits on dependents have immigrant advocates crying foul

A new rule setting the ceiling at the age of 18 could hurt thousands of families—and, some argue, the Canadian economy

Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

In the dead of summer, when most people weren’t watching, a Tory government intent on beefing up its economic bona fides quietly made it more difficult for immigrants to make a new home in Canada. Thousands of young adults who used to qualify as dependents can no longer make the trip on their parents’ coattails. The move, which took effect on Aug. 1, has upset advocates for immigrants and refugees and sparked the latest round in an ongoing feud between the governing party and its critics at the Canadian Bar Association.

Until the end of July, children of new immigrants could apply as dependents until they turned 21. The new rules set the ceiling at 18. The rationale is that kids who arrive in Canada earlier can benefit from a Canadian education, and ultimately offer more to our fragile economy than their older counterparts.

It’s a change the Tories spent two years trying to make. Jason Kenney, then minister of citizenship and immigration, first raised the idea during public consultations in spring 2012, when he was coming up with a tighter approach to family reunification. A year later, at a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., he dismissed dependency rules as “peculiar.” He was speaking that day about dependents in their late 20s and 30s who used to qualify if they enrolled in a post-secondary program. “You’re not a child anymore. You’re an adult. Take responsibility for yourself,” Kenney said. “Come as a tourist. Apply for permanent residency. Apply for immigration as an independent economic immigrant. You’re more than welcome, but come as an independent immigrant.”

The new rules disqualify those so-called freeloaders, but they reach far deeper and target 19-year-olds who might be barely out of high school, and children of potential refugees who scramble for resettlement. Federal data suggests 7,832 eligible dependents in 2012 were older than 18 years of age—about 10 per cent of all dependent children under the old definition. The only ones from that group who would now qualify are applicants between 19 and 22 who suffer from a mental or physical disability.

The government argued its case in the Canada Gazette last year. “Statistics demonstrate that older dependent children have lower economic outcomes over the long run,” read its analysis, which pointed out that 66,782 applicants in 2012 would still qualify now.

Kenney eventually moved into a different portfolio, but the policy survived, despite the waves of disagreement sparked by a second consultation last year. Sixty submissions largely opposed the change. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) warned the policy would break apart families and leave defenceless dependents in unsafe conditions. Loly Rico, the CCR’s president, told Maclean’s that Conservatives who have kids ought to know better and “really don’t have a heart.” Mario Bellissimo, chair of the bar association’s national immigration law section, says a purely economic rationale allows government to exert more control over who settles in Canada, but damages the country’s immigration model because every potential dependent left behind could provide a benefit down the line. “You’re looking at economic units entering Canadian society without the societal supports that you might later have from individuals that surround you—and might support you through times of sickness, child rearing, job loss,” he says.

There’s an economic cost to shutting out a pool of young adults. “Canadian employers need to find new entrants into the labour force,” says Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, “and often kids that come with their parents will look for a job.” There’s another question that remains unanswered, which is how much of a difference those three years make. A seven-year-old might assimilate much more quickly than a child of 21, but how much better does one adapt at 18 than at 20?

Kenney declined to speak to Maclean’s for this story, but Arthur Sweetman, an economics professor at McMaster University and co-author of a 2001 paper referenced in government analyses, says immigration toward the end of high school is “disruptive”: learning a new language is difficult at that time, and younger kids are better at bridging a quality gap between two countries’ education systems. But he admits older kids are often able to overcome those challenges.

It’s too early to tell how many families will be forced to split apart or build new lives elsewhere, or what the cost to our economy will be of losing skilled-worker parents. Bellissimo has only anecdotal evidence of impact on families. Rico says she’ll know more in six months. Meanwhile, the Tories seem focused on their economic message. It’s unclear how the hard-won immigrant vote will respond to the change, but the economy-first mantra is a political position the Tories plan to ride all the way to the voting booth.

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New age limits on dependents have immigrant advocates crying foul

  1. Trying, bit by bit, to make Canada an all-white country. Red meat to their base.

    • uhm, you’ve got that backwards.

      • How true – Em is a troll and a “pretend” veteran who claims she served when we “had a military”

        Now she wants us to believe Canada is a racist – “for whites only” country

        Beware of even engaging with her – she will drag you down to her level and beat you with her experience = voice of experience – she got me there once. LOL

  2. This gov’t has brought in more immigrants, tfw;s,…, than any before it, to the point where there is very little “decent” work for anybody, especially our youth, and yet NOW they’re trying to backpeddle ???
    well, slamming the door now, after the fact, is abit too late wouldn’t you say Harp?

    • Better late than never, Rickster. At least with Bill C24 they’re trying to strengthen what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

      As for the newest so-called problem, as long as these new immigrants know in advance that their 20 year-old will have to apply to emigrate at the same time mom and dad do, if he wants to be with them still, then I don’t see what the problem is, except that getting used to Canada not being so generous with its jobs, training, and healthcare is something they will have to get used to.

  3. “There’s an economic cost to shutting out a pool of young adults. “Canadian employers need to find new entrants into the labour force,” says Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, “and often kids that come with their parents will look for a job.” ”

    There are many sound reasons to oppose these changes; however, given the high youth unemployment rate in this country, I’m not at all convinced that this is one of them.

  4. Canada needs at least a million immigrants a year to survive and thrive.

    Colour is irrelevant.

    • Where did you get that particular number from?

        • I clicked on that link, but it only goes to a pageful of articles, not to one particular article. I don’t know where on the page you found what you say you did, and even if you did, it doesn’t mean it’s true just because one wealthy Canadian says it is. But knowing how you sometimes fail to interpret ideas well, it could be helpful for you to quote the words Kenney says, and which article they came from, if you want readers to consider them.

          But regardless of that, I think that many middle class people don’t realize the situation this puts the poorer Canadians into, as wealtheir foreigners start to abuse their newfound power and use their Canadian citizenship against some of us.

    • Colour may be irrelevant to middle class Canadians for whom it is in their best interests to side with middle class immigrants. But when people from other countries start abusing and putting down longterm Canadians because they see themselves as having a right to more, just because they are middle class, then we do have a problem.

  5. There is another problem which is not mentioned and one that I saw personally while working in Social Services. Daughters of eighteen from the Third World are very often married when they arrive as “dependents” with their parents. After a safe period, they then sponsor their husbands. Excuses I have seen are – he was kidnapped by the Taliban and I thought he was dead, I went back a month ago and got married and usually – I don’t have my certificate, it was destroyed. This will also prevent arranged marriages of young women under the age of 21 just to get the husband over here. The excuses given by refugee associations are bogus. Canada doesn’t need more youth for jobs that aren’t there.

    • If you’d actually done this work you’d know the difference between an ‘immigrant’ and a ‘refugee’.

      All those oil jobs taken are they?

    • They’ll uses all sorts of strategies. We have seen that. Coming over here and then claiming they didn’t know they wouldn’t be able to practice medicine or whatever their profession is, has also been used as an excuse.

      But Canada is trying to clamp down on these types of false claims, and also insisting that once “Canadian” they spend a specific amount of time residing here and are not just using their Canadian status to get them ahead elsewhere.

      One cannot just let in immigrants from hugely-populated countries and expect them to simply abide by our customs and not attempt to make Canada like their old country. We have to find ways to control the rate of immigration and the family members they bring in.