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Sponsorship requires economic, cultural balance

There are more than a million people waiting in various queues to immigrate to Canada, 165,000 (16.5 per cent) of whom are parents and grandparents - fondly known as FC4s.

There are more than a million people waiting in various queues to immigrate to Canada, 165,000 (16.5 per cent) of whom are parents and grandparents - fondly known as FC4s.

There has been quite a kerfuffle lately over the immigration minister's suspension of all new FC4 applications for up to 24 months, while his department tries to wrestle the backlog.

There are two ways to look at this issue: the practical and the cultural.

First, let's have a look at the practical side. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) currently receives 38,000 new FC4 applications every year and processes about 17,000, adding another 21,000 cases annually.

If you submitted an application to sponsor your parent to immigrate to Canada today, they would join the back of a notional line-up stretching from here to Kelowna where they would start to shuffle slowly forward until their application was finally opened and evaluated in 2021 at the earliest, assuming they're lucky enough to still be alive and in a condition that would make them medically admissible.

That is obviously an untenable situation and violates all sorts of principles of fairness, such as, the reasonable expectation that if you follow the rules and do what is asked of you, your loved ones will have their applications processed before everyone dies of old age.

While new applications are on hold, the minister has temporarily upped annual processing to 25,000 and changed some procedures to make the processing faster.

A lot of people are upset about the two-year moratorium, but if you think about it, giving CIC some breathing room to reduce the backlog and to streamline procedures in order to shorten future wait times is more efficient than rushing to get your application to the end of a 10-year long queue.

Once the suspension on new applications is lifted, processing times ought to be, and to stay, more reasonable.

Things look different on the cultural side. Dutch cross-cultural researcher Geert Hofstede characterised national cultures along five dimensions, one being individualism and collectivism.

Canada is at the top of the individualism scale. Small nuclear families emphasize teaching children to be independent and self-sufficient.

But the source countries for most of Richmond's immigrants are way up there on the collectivism scale.

China, India, the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam value extended, multi-generational families and interconnectedness and mutual support.

CIC looks at the issue of long waiting times for parents and grandparents as a logistical problem - and not as high a priority as increasing economic immigration.

People waiting to bring their extended families to Canada, however, see it as a much higher priority, if not a cultural imperative.

So when the current government makes policy on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis of each individual immigrant, they see only the potential drawbacks of unproductive retirees and their medical expenses.

Families, on the other hand, see them as key agents of socialization into the family's cultural traditions, not to mention welcome hands to help with child care where both parents need to work to make ends meet.

In an effort to dampen disappointment and to make the wait less painful, CIC is introducing a Parents and Grandparents Super Visa, a 10-year, multiple-entry visitor visa that will permit them to stay as long as two years per visit, instead of the current maximum of six months.

I'm sure CIC is hoping that the visa will convince people that there's no need to apply to immigrate after all.

There are some financial constraints that will prevent a lot of folks from qualifying, but it seems like a reasonable approach to help CIC dig themselves out of the mess they created.

Dr. Joe Greenholtz is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) and a director of the Premier Canadian Immigration Co-op. He also sits on the Richmond intercultural Advisory Committee. He can be reached at joe@