© Tom Hanson/Canadian PressFigures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show the government will issue about 11,000 visas this year to parents and grandparents of Canadian residents, down from more than 16,000 last year.
Cuts would most affect overseas parents, grandparents

New figures indicate the federal government hopes to reduce overall immigration next year by five per cent, mainly by cutting back on family reunification visas.

Among the hardest hit by the lower immigration targets will be parents and grandparents seeking to join their children in Canada, according to numbers obtained from the Citizenship and Immigration Department through the Access to Information Act.

The figures indicate the government will issue about 11,000 family reunification visas for parents and grandparents overseas, down from more than 16,000 last year.

Richard Kurland, the Vancouver-based immigration lawyer who filed the access-to-information request, said he is surprised the government has decided to grant fewer visas to parents and grandparents, considering how the Conservatives have courted new Canadians as voters.

Kurland told CBC News the slashed rate and the 140,000 applicants already in the queue mean a parent could wait 13 years for a visa if he or she were to apply today.

"Frankly, there's a better chance of the parents seeing a coffin before a Canadian visa," he said.

Kurland said he believes the political logic lies in a backlash in public opinion following the arrival of two boatloads of Tamil migrants off B.C. in recent months.

He called the government's position disingenuous, since it has attracted some newcomers, so-called economic immigrants, with a promise their parents and grandparents will soon be able to follow.

Restricting family reunification visas will only make it harder for those who immigrated legally to adapt to Canada, argued Sharry Aiken, who teaches immigration and refugee law at Queen's University.

"The presence of family, which is one of those softer variables - it's very hard to quantify - can make a huge difference as to whether someone settles here and integrates effectively," Aiken told CBC News.

© CBC NewsVancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says the federal government's reduced targets go against its practice of attracting economic immigrants with a promise their parents and grandparents will soon be able to follow.
Spouses, kids get priority: Kenney

Speaking in Etobicoke on Sunday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney responded to plans to reduce family reunification visas, suggesting this is necessary so "priority" applicants - and their spouses and children - can be processed first.

"There have to be choices made," he said.

"I know that the most popular thing they could do politically would be to say that this year, we're going to go from 14,000 to 100,000 parents and grandparents. ...But it wouldn't be responsible because that means fewer economic immigrants coming and paying taxes, or fewer refugees to save from refugee camps."

Kenney made his remarks during an announcement of preliminary figures showing Canada welcomed the highest number of legal immigrants in 2010 than it had in more than 50 years.

CBC's Hanna Thibedeau speculated that the timing of Kenney's announcement, which indicated Canada admitted 280,636 new permanent residents last year, may have been a pre-emptive move to "dull the blow" from critics of the new visa cuts.

Parents and grandparents often aren't viewed as a help to the economy. But Aiken said many immigrants entering the workforce rely on parents and grandparents for child care and help around the home.

The numbers show the government will issue about 56,000 federal skilled worker visas overseas, down from nearly 70,000 issued last year - a drop of about 20 per cent.

Among the biggest losers from Canada's reduced immigration targets are those applying under the federal skilled worker program - a category the government has repeatedly said it wants to prioritize.

The numbers in this group will drop by 20 per cent this year over last, with just 56,000 workers being allowed into Canada - compared with 70,000 last year.

Kurland said cutting the numbers will only undermine the government's recent success in slashing the years-long waits for those same skilled workers.

Figures obtained by CBC News from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show new skilled-worker applicants now receive an answer in less than a year, but only if they have a skill on a list of 29 drawn up by the immigration minister based on a controversial change introduced in 2008.

Under the old system, applicants waited more than five years for a response. Applications made under that system are still being processed, but the backlog now contains more than 300,000 applications.