A growing number of seniors around the planet have become like nomads, travelling the world to spend time with their children in different immigrant-receiving countries.
As a result, says Vancouver immigration lawyer Joshua Sohn, many offshore parents who don’t want to become Canadian citizens are instead applying for this country’s “super visa” which allows them to stay with their children here for up to two years at a time.
So far 89,000 parents and grandparents have come to Canada on the super-visa program, which was setup five years ago as an alternative to the over-subscribed parent-reunification program, which is more costly to Canadian taxpayers.
More than half of those who have so far received super visas are from South Asia, particularly India, where specialists say there is more of an emphasis on several generations of a family living under one roof.
The sought-after super-visa program is generally considered a success in immigration circles and particularly in Metro Vancouver, which has a large number of South Asians.
Although some warn the super-visa program is not without potential for abuse, Sohn is one of several immigration lawyers and specialists who suggest it was an innovative idea by former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney. It has been retained under the federal Liberals.
“It was a smart move,” Sohn said. “I think it’s good in that there are many grandparents and parents who don’t want to come and be permanent residents in Canada. They’re more like nomads. They want to be free to visit their children in various parts of the world.”
The super-visa was created in part to protect Canadian society from the social costs of accepting too many offshore seniors as permanent residents or citizens.
Kenney said in 2012 that family-sponsored parents and grandparents end up relying far more than most citizens on taxpayer-funded health care when they come here to become immigrants. One out of four, according to Kenney, were also going on welfare after 10 years in Canada, despite their offspring’s agreement to support them.
A Forum poll found two of three Canadians, including immigrants, disapprove of family-sponsored parent reunification programs because of the health and social safety-net costs. Almost no other country allows them.
In contrast, Sohn said Canada’s super-visa program, which began in 2012, requires foreign applicants to purchase private health insurance to cover their stay in Canada. The super visa can be extended to allow several two-year visits over a 10-year period.
“It’s a long time.”
People on super visas are not eligible for welfare nor to enter Canadian taxpayer-funded seniors homes.
Immigrant families that sponsor parents as immigrants or permanent residents must also provide income-tax statements to officials, to show their Canadian household is significantly above poverty level.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, he immediately doubled the number of family-sponsored parents to Canada to 10,000 a year, while offering the long line of applicants permanent resident status through a lottery system.
At the same time, however, Trudeau kept intact the Conservatives’ super-visa program. He promised to issue up to 20,000 super visas a year.
“The super visa is a compromise measure to address pent-up demand by parents, children and grandchildren to have extended family stays,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman.
“They’re particularly helpful for those years where there are young grandchildren, while ensuring that the expenses for those visits, particularly medical costs, are borne by the families themselves and not at the expense of provincial health care plans.”
Although Hyman said super visas create an unfortunate opportunity for rich visitors to buy properties in Canada while avoiding or evading paying income taxes in the country, he said the potential to exploit Canada’s tax loopholes is much higher among the millions of people who have recently been given a different Canadian visa, the 10-year, multiple-entry visa.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientists Shinder Purewal, a former citizenship court judge, said he’s aware of another danger of the super visa; that some use it to come to Canada to illicitly seek jobs or to work in the underground parts of the ethnic economy, without paying taxes.
All in all, Sohn and other migration specialists believe the super-visa program has allowed almost 100,000 parents and grandparents to avoid the medical and financial risks associated with frequent long-distance travel from their homeland to their children’s new chosen land.
By permitting a foreign senior to stay in Canada for up to two years, and perhaps longer with a visa extension, Sohn said it also offers many South Asian, Chinese and other grandparents the chance to continue a tradition of helping out with raising grandchildren, including while their parents work.
Although Sohn said a universal daycare program could provide a similar benefit to all Canadian parents, he said that long-term visits by offshore parents can also provide middle-aged immigrants with a sense of family stability.
“It can help them settle, and stay in Canada. It can serve as an anchor.”