Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
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As a Canadian immigration lawyer, I can be frequently heard swearing under my breath (or sometimes at much louder volumes) about Canadian immigration policy. In many respects, the Canadian government just doesn’t seem to get it. Historically, this has been the case with family sponsorships. In a country with an aging population and a low birth rate, you’d think that the government would be interested in helping families to live together in Canada and raise children, with both partners capable of working and contributing to the Canadian economy, and both partners and their children capable of receiving such basic rights as health care.

Unfortunately, spousal sponsorship processing times have ballooned in recent years. If you are sponsoring a spouse and the two of you live in Canada, you can expect it to take more than 2 years before the sponsored spouse obtains permanent residence. That’s a long time for a sponsored spouse, for example, to be without legal employment or health care. That’s also a long time to forego having children.

I’ve encountered many couples who have had children during the sponsorship processing period. If one spouse happens to fall out of status, that spouse may not be able to access health care, or may have to pay tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to access health care. For example, if you are unlucky enough to be an out-of-status sponsored female partner who becomes pregnant, you may expect to pay well over $10,000 just to have a baby. If you require anything more complicated, like a C-section, you may expect to pay double or triple that.

To make matters worse, a child born in a province like Alberta is not automatically entitled to health care in this province. Entitlement to health care is often tied to the legal status of the mother, even if the baby is born in Canada, and therefore a Canadian citizen, born in Canada, may not be able to see a doctor to get things like basic immunizations. You might expect this sort of thing in a dictatorial Third World country, but you’d think a rich democratic country like Canada would treat pregnant women and infant citizens at least slightly better.

Well, I’m happy to report that the situation has improved slightly in recent weeks. As of December 2014, a sponsored spouse can now apply for an open work permit as soon as an in-Canada sponsorship application is submitted. Regardless of whether or not the spouse intends to enter the workforce right away, having an open work permit will entitle a sponsored spouse to apply for provincial health care. The estimated processing time to receive the open work permit is about 4 months. Okay, that still isn’t great, but it’s significantly better than the year-and-a-half that a sponsored spouse would previously have had to wait to be able to obtain an open work permit, and therefore access to provincial health care.

To summarize, women, children, and Canadian families are still being screwed over by government policies. Citizenship and Immigration Canada! But their plight is now significantly less bleak. Kudos, Harper government. Kudos.


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