OTTAWA — The federal government is eliminating a long-standing rule that turned away would-be immigrants with intellectual or physical disabilities.
On Monday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced the first change in 40 years to the federal medical inadmissibility rules, which allowed the government to reject permanent resident applications from those with serious health conditions or disabilities.
Hussen says the majority of those impacted by the policy have been economic immigrants who were already working and creating jobs in Canada, but whose children or spouses may have a disability.
"The current provisions on medical inadmissibility are over 40 years old and are clearly not in line with Canadian values or our government's vision of inclusion," Hussen said.
He cited the case of a tenured professor at York University who was denied permanent residency because his son had Down syndrome and another case of a family which came to Canada and started a business, but were rejected because of a child with epilepsy.
"These newcomers can contribute and are not a burden to Canada. These newcomers have the ability to help grow our economy and enrich our social fabric."
The changes will amend the definition of social services by removing references to special education, social and vocational rehabilitation services and personal support services.
These newcomers can contribute and are not a burden to Canada. These newcomers have the ability to help grow our economy and enrich our social fabric.Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen
Ottawa is also tripling the cost threshold at which an application for permanent residency can be denied on medical grounds.
This will allow immigrants with minor health conditions that have relatively low health and social services costs to be approved for permanent residency, such as those with hearing or visual impairments.
Of the 177,000 economic immigrants admitted to Canada every year, about 1,000 are affected by the medical inadmissibility policy. The changes are expected to dispense with a majority of these cases.
There have been calls to repeal the policy entirely, including from the House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee, which studied the issue last year.
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Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the committee chair, said he had hoped government would announce a full repeal. But he said he recognizes more work must be done to determine the full cost implications to the provinces.
"We at committee could not get good cost data," Oliphant said.
"Right now (Hussen) is going to have to look at this, the minister of health will have to look at this, the provinces and territories are going to have to look at this and hopefully in a year or two they are going to recognize that this is not a significant cost."
Hussen told reporters Ottawa will pay the costs of the changes announced today, but remained unclear about whether this would mean additional money in health or social services transfers.
"We will reflect on these changes to see the impact that they will have. We have to wait and see what the numbers will be before I can answer that question, " Hussen said.
The changes are expected to come into effect immediately.