OTTAWA — The federal government is scrapping an immigration application system that saw some Canadians paying hundreds of dollars to ensure paperwork to sponsor family members was at the top of the pile.
The Liberals announced Wednesday that instead, applications for the coveted parent and grandparent visa program will now be selected by lottery, and not by which ones arrive first.
Beginning January 3, Canadians will have 30 days to fill out an online form indicating their desire to sponsor someone. From those, immigration officials will randomly draw 10,000 individuals who will then be asked to submit the full application within 90 days.
Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks in Montreal on Dec. 11, 2016. (Photo: Graham Hughes/CP)
The change comes after The Canadian Press reported earlier this year that the old first-come, first-serve system was seeing couriers charge more than $400 to guarantee applications would be at the top of the pile.
That raised concerns that the visas were going to those who could afford to pay the high fees or camp out for hours at the Mississauga, Ont., immigration office — the only place in Canada accepting the forms.
Immigration Minister John McCallum says the new system is designed for fairness.
"We're ensuring everyone can access the application process by giving them the same chance to have their name chosen," he said in a statement.
"We're ensuring everyone can access the application process by giving them the same chance to have their name chosen."
The popular parent and grandparent program routinely receives thousands more applications than there are spaces. Last year, 14,000 applications were received for what was initially only 5,000 spots.
That level had been set by the previous Conservative government after they had closed the program entirely in 2011 to spend three years whittling away a massive backlog. When it re-opened in 2014, they put an annual cap on applications of 5,000 while they continued to work at the backlog.
Last year, the Liberals raised the intake to 10,000 and will accept the same number of applications for 2017. While the online form to indicate interest will be available as of Jan. 3, the full application will not be posted until Jan. 9.
But couriers have already started taking reservations to deliver them, billing on their websites that they guarantee a position at the front of the line and demanding payment up front.
Fees appear to begin around $60 per package, though one courier was reportedly charging $200 according to conversations in an online forum dedicated to Canadian immigration issues.