By Shaheen Ramputh
Prem Vallipuram runs his fingers through his hair as he thinks about all the school work he has to do. Surrounded by a stack of graphs and books, he takes a little break in the cafeteria before he gets back to work. He has three assignments and two labs to complete before he can even begin to think about his other problems. But the Ryerson mechanical engineering student, now in his final year, is used to working hard. Seven years ago, Vallipuram worked hard to sponsor his family to immigrate here from Sri Lanka, a country plagued by civil war.
“I had no choice. I had to bring them here,” says the 26-year-old student. “I could not let them live there with all that fighting going on.”
As a refugee from the war, Vallipuram arrived in Canada in February 1991. With no relatives in the country, Vallipuram took up residence in an east-end Toronto apartment with three other young men who arrived with him. After being in the country for eight months, Vallipuram was summoned to the immigration magistrate where he was quickly granted landed-immigrant papers and the right to remain in Canada permanently.
“The next day I filled out the forms to sponsor my parents and my two sisters over,” says Vallipuram proudly.
But Vallipuram never dreamed the process would take so long and be so difficult.
His first attempt to sponsor his family was quickly dashed when he did not meet the financial requirements needed to sponsor four family members. “I was going at it blindly. I hardly had an income and I believed that what I had was enough to show that I was being economically responsible,” says Vallipuram.
He promptly realized he would not be able to go to high school and have an income more than $32,000 which he needed to sponsor his family. “I put my life on hold for two years to do what the immigration officials wanted from me,” says Vallipuram.
To sponsor a spouse, a fiancé or any family members above the age of 19, the government requires the sponsor to pay a non-refundable fee of $500 plus a landing fee of $975, which adds up to $1,475 per sponsored person. But the financial commitment does not end there. Anyone who wishes to sponsor an immigrant must provide information about their financial resources and obligations for 12 months before submitting the sponsorship application.
The person must also meet Canada’s low-income cutoff figures, meaning he or she must have a minimum income for a certain geographical area. In Vallipuram’s case, he had to make at least $32,759 to sponsor his parents and his two sisters.
He left school and worked as a dishwasher and a security guard until he made the minimum requirement. Once the year was up, he reapplied to bring his family over. “It was an easy decision for me. I figured that school would always be there.”
Although the decision to sponsor his family was easy, the government made the sponsorship process very difficult.
“This is for the benefit of the country,” explains Marie Hayes, a Canadian immigration and public affairs administrator. “These criterion are here to make sure that someone will be able to look after the immigrants.”
Hayes says the financial requirements are based on the poverty line and could easily be met by anyone who is willing to reunite his family.
“I don’t see a particular barrier to stand in the way of keeping a family together,” she says.
However, those who have gone through this financial test see it as a troublesome obstacle.
“It poses a major problem for those who are in financial difficulties and still try to help their extended family,” says Sidney Zaidi, an immigration consultant who has helped the Toronto South Asian community for more than 14 years.
“I don’t think that Immigration Canada takes into consideration that many of these people who are sponsoring relatives are doing so because they are trying to give their families an easier life,” he says.
Zaidi believes too many criteria must be met before a person can sponsor someone. He think the government is imposing tough regulations on those attempting to sponsor relatives because it fears new immigrants will abuse the country’s social welfare system.
“You hear of one or two cases where new immigrants run to use the welfare system but these stories are not as common as they seem.
Zaidi believes immigrants are being punished by high fees and tough regulations for the few who have abused the system.
And the situation is about to get worse, not better. Most immigrants arriving in Canada (42 per cent in 1992) come under the family sponsorship category. However, this category came under close scrutiny last fall when the government proposed legislative changes to Canada’s Immigration Act. Of the 172 recommendations, 14 of them deal specifically with the family immigrants. Many of the suggestions would increase the cost of sponsorship. For instance, those who sponsor anyone above the age of 6 who doesn’t have a basic knowledge of English or French will be required to pay tuition fee reflection the cost of language training in Canada. Language training is currently fee.
Luckily, Vallipuram won’t have to worry about any new regulations. His hard work paid off and his parents and sisters joined him here in 1995.
“I’m grateful that my family is already here and I don’t have to face the possibility of having to put more money into this process.”