Canada redefines dependent children for immigrant families






arrow-redLhazey, 19, and his parents are in India waiting to come to Canada through a Tibetan resettlement program. He would have been considered a dependent child in the previous definition. He is a full-time student and financially dependent on his family. His older and younger brothers will also be joining the family in Canada in the coming months. [Photo © Shannon Lough]

By Shannon Lough

OTTAWA — Canada’s new definition of dependent children for immigrants raises criticism against choosing economic benefits over humanitarianism.

For immigrant families considering to come to Canada, a child is considered dependent if they are under the age of 19 and financially rely on their parents support. Before Aug. 1, a child under the age of 22 was considered, or if they were over the age limit but a full-time student they were allowed to join their parents in Canada. The Canadian government made the new age limit more specific.

“The adverse impact is going to be more pronounced if you’re low-income.”

When word of the new policy got out, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) received 60 submissions from critics about their proposal.

Criticisms against the policy

Some of the arguments against the new definition point out the lack of consideration for other cultural traditions.

“You’ve got children who are either studying or closely tied to their family but they’re 20. There may be cultural reasons they’re staying at home,” says Laurie Joe, a lawyer at West End Legal Services of Ottawa.

“You have to tell that family that they’re not dependent.”

“The adverse impact is going to be more pronounced if you’re low-income,” Joe says. Her clinic deals with low-income clients.

“When you’re a refugee, you do not choose to leave your country to come to the Great White North. You’re fleeing persecution,” Joe says.

It’s too early to tell how the new age limit on dependent children will impact immigrant families in Canada.

By Shannon Lough

Kalsang Dickyi arrived in Canada this April with her three children, ages 12, 17 and 18 years. Under the new policy, they would still be considered dependent children. By Shannon Lough

According to CIC, most of the comments they received rejected their plan. Despite these concerns, immigrants and refugees must now consider leaving their dependent children behind if they are over the age of 18.

The impact is more severe for refugees, says Brad Wassink of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ). The Christian organization he works for researches and analyzes government policy for immigrants. A recent release from the group opposes the new restrictions on immigrant families.

“You have young women and girls, 18-20 years old who are being left behind in a country that is not only war torn and suffering from famine,” says Wassink, “but also a misogynistic country that degrades women or marries them off.”

He says the reformulated policy goes against the core objectives in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). In section three of the act a line states the objective is to see families reunited in Canada.

“And it’s doing the exact opposite. It’s pulling families apart,” Wassink says.

Despite all the critiques and objections to the proposed changes, the government went ahead with the amendment.

Before the change, an immigrant could bring their dependent child to Canada if they were under 22, or if they were a full-time student in another country. Once they finished their education, they were able to reunite with their family in Canada.

The government’s reasons for change

The Canadian government has reasons for the change. Capping at 18 years and removing the consideration of including full-time students makes the definition consistent, says Stan Kustec, a CIC senior researcher. It’s when you become an adult in Canada.

“The research shows if you arrive at 18-21 years they don’t perform well,” says Kustec.

Kustec points out research done to support the government’s decision, in the May edition of the Canada Gazette. The government newspaper laid out the highlights of research that lead to the policy change, which was mainly for economic purposes.

Dependent children make up 30 per cent of immigrants who come to Canada. Statistics from the Gazette article show those who come here from 19-21 years have less economic potential than those who arrive in Canada at a younger age.

“The primary reason that we bring in immigrants is economic.”

Full-time students, regardless of age, were allowed to join their parents later. They could immigrate anytime between their late 20s or 30s. CIC research in the Gazette article found these groups had trouble integrating into the society and had a weak long-term economic performance.

Another reason to change the age, according to CIC, was the cost associated with verifying dependent children in full-time studies abroad. It was expensive and time-consuming for visa offices, and also susceptible to fraud.

“What they’ve decided to do is control the family class entries a little bit,” says Howard Duncan, the executive head of Metropolis, a public policy research group that focuses on migration.

“The primary reason that we bring in immigrants is economic,” Duncan says.

“If you have to raise the number of economic immigrants, you have to drop something else. It’s basic arithmetic.”

The May release of the government newspaper presented few options for dependent children over 18 years to reunite with their parents. They can apply on their own, just as their parents did, or they can come to Canada as an international student. After graduation, if they find Canadian work experience and meet all the qualifications, they can apply to immigrate under the Canadian Experience Class.

Coming to Canada to pay international student fees is an option for affluent families. This option doesn’t consider refugees or low-income families.

The examples given by the critics are all hypothetical. The policy only changed in the summer and an age-lock provision was put in place to mitigate the initial impact.

The age-lock works like this: if a family applies for immigration, whether it’s for economic or humanitarian reasons, the age of their dependent children will be locked-in once the paperwork gets processed. Even if they turn 19 or 20 before they get to Canada, they will be considered a dependent if they were 18 when they applied to immigrate.

Kustec of CIC clarified in an email how the multi-step system will “apply for the duration of immigration process regardless of how long it takes to finally land in Canada.”

In 1971, Pierre Elliott Trudeau introduced multiculturalism as an official policy:

“The government will support and encourage the various cultures and ethnic groups that give structure and vitality to our society. They will be encouraged to share their cultural expression and values with other Canadians and so contribute to a richer life for us all,” he said.

With the new policy, the current Canadian government is not acknowledging various cultural expressions and is being more ethnocentric, as Wassink of CPJ says. The changes to the age of a dependant are economic – to a richer life for us all, as Trudeau said.

Wassink says the new policy “doesn’t leave room for humanitarian compassion.”


The numbers behind the redefinition of a dependent child |Create infographics


  1. This is literally the worst thing that has ever happened to me and my family. I turned 20 in October of 2014, so the ability for my parents (who are Canadian citizens) has ceased. So the only option left for me, a dependent of my parents, was to either remain homeless in the United States, or apply to a Canadian post secondary and have status in Canada through a student visa. I really wish these changes would be revoked, I know I speak for a very small minority of people in my situation, but these changes are just completely inhumane.

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    • I have exactly the same problem for my child, he was just turning 19 when we applied for the PR and could not include him with the family and he is also having a study permit now. I do not know what they will gain form these kinds of changes but only make the families suffer and have pain and problems.

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