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«Vancouver Centre of Excellence Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis Working Paper Series No. 06-08 Parental Sponsorship – ...»

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Vancouver Centre of Excellence

Research on Immigration and

Integration in the Metropolis

Working Paper Series

No. 06-08

Parental Sponsorship – Whose Problematic? A Consideration of South

Asian Women’s Immigration Experiences in Vancouver

Arlene Tigar Mclaren

June 2006

RIIM

Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis

The Vancouver Centre is funded by grants from the Social Sciences and

Humanities Research Council of Canada, Citizenship & Immigration Canada,

Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. We also wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Metropolis

partner agencies:

• Health Canada

• Human Resources Development Canada

• Department of Canadian Heritage

• Department of the Solicitor General of Canada

• Status of Women Canada

• Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

• Correctional Service of Canada

• Immigration & Refugee Board Views expressed in this manuscript are those of the author(s) alone. For more information, contact the Co-directors of the Centre, Dr. Don DeVoretz, Department of Economics, SFU (e-mail: devoretz@sfu.ca) or Dr. Daniel Hiebert, Department of Geography, UBC (e-mail: dhiebert@geog.ubc.ca).

Parental Sponsorship – Whose Problematic? A Consideration of South Asian Women’s Immigration Experiences in Vancouver Arlene Tigar McLaren Department of Sociology & Anthropology Simon Fraser University Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6 mclaren@sfu.ca June 2006 Acknowledgements: My first thanks go to the women who participated in the study and to those who facilitated recruitment, interpretation, translation and transcription. I would like to thank Tracey Lou Black for her research assistance throughout the project. This research has been made possible through joint funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Vancouver Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis (RIIM).

Abstract: This paper examines how parental sponsorship policy is fractured. Canada’s immigration policy recognizes the importance of family reunification, yet in selecting economic immigrants based on human capital measures and restricting parental sponsorship, immigration policy has created a dual system. The paper examines the problematic of sponsorship that discursively constructs parents as a potential ‘burden’ and competing interpretations that consider the sponsorship mechanism itself as creating the burdens of dependency and marginalization. The paper explores some of the tensions in immigration discourse and practices regarding parental sponsorship by focusing on older South Asian women’s immigration experiences. Elderly immigrants’ stories call into account purely economic rationales for immigration and convey their centrality to family life, the limited value of idealized models of the ‘autonomous’ immigrant, the necessity to question simplistic portrayals of ‘immigrant families’, and the necessity of hearing their ‘voices’.

Key Words: elderly immigrant women, gender analysis, immigration policy and discourses, family class immigration, sponsorship, dependency, narrative Introduction In parental sponsorship policy, immigration discourse and practice is fractured. Canada’s immigration policy has had a longstanding recognition of the importance of family reunification. But the policy, which allows landed immigrants and citizens to sponsor family members, is historically marked by exclusions that are racially, gendered, and class-based (Côté et al. 2001; Agnew 1996). These exclusions continue, but in less obvious and more complex ways in immigration discourses and practices. The point system, which determines criteria for selecting ‘independent’ immigrants, has enabled a growing population of non-Europeans to immigrate to Canada. At the same time, it contributes to ‘deficiency discourses’ that are particularly harmful to racialized sponsored parents who immigrate to Canada in the family class category (McLaren and Black 2005; McLaren 2006).

More particularly, the discourses and practices of the point system give legitimacy to the recent reduction in the admission of sponsored parents and justification for the continued use of the sponsorship program, despite the harm it may cause groups who are already made vulnerable.

Immigration policy operates as a dual system that selects economic immigrants based on human capital measures and that restricts and manages the sponsorship of family members (Li 2004).

Yet immigration policy and practices provide a discursive space in which the meanings of sponsored parents vary and are subjected to contestation. This paper aims to contribute to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s commitment to gender-based analysis, which considers the different impacts of policies, programs, legislation and research on women and men (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2002). In particular, the paper focuses on elderly women1 who make up the majority of parental sponsorships. This paper explores some of the tensions in immigration discourse and practices regarding parental sponsorship by focusing specifically on older South Asian women’s immigration experiences in the Greater Vancouver area. To set the context, this paper, first, discusses immigration discourses, practices and research that problematize the ‘immigrant family’ – particularly sponsored parents (for an elaboration, see McLaren and Black 2005). Second, the paper considers research on the sponsorship program and its implications for women. Third, the paper examines changing trends in South Asian family class immigration to BC. Finally, utilizing in-depth interviews with twenty South Asian elderly women who came to Canada as sponsored immigrants, the paper shows how elderly immigrants’ stories, that locate their experiences in meaningful social contexts, call into account purely economic rationales for immigration. Their narratives convey their It is important to understand gender as an organizing principle of migration that intersects with age and other social categories such as ‘race’, ethnicity, and social class.





centrality to family life, the limited value of idealized models of the ‘autonomous’ immigrant, the necessity to question simplistic portrayals of ‘immigrant families’, and the necessity of hearing their ‘voices’ to address violations and exclusions (see Anthias 2002).

The sponsorship problematic

In exploring parental sponsorship, it is necessary to consider how prevailing discourses define the value of immigrants, the eligibility of immigrants, and the circumstances of their immigration and how they interact with such material practices as the immigration point system. Various discourses have informed the highly charged debates in Canada’s fraught history of immigration admission policies and practices. The debates, however, have generally been framed by prominent discourses that perpetuate “the separation of ‘Canadians as members of the nation’ from immigrants as the ‘new’ problem under consideration” (Thobani 2000: 38). By virtue of their embeddedness in routine practices, prominent immigration discourses provide common sense, which is powerful, often exclusionary, but not easy to identify (McLaren and Black 2005).

Discourses prevail that view family class immigrants, especially the elderly, as undesirable burdens on society, who are ill prepared for the Canadian labour market, do not integrate and are a drain on Canadian society (e.g. Collacott 2002). Powerful discourses that distinguish between ‘desirable’ and ‘deficient’ immigrants obscure how immigration policy already restricts elderly parents’ and grandparents’ immigration, how central they may be to immigrating families, how they may provide support to their families’ settlement in Canada, and how the sponsorship program itself may contribute to immigrant inequalities and marginalization. During the past decade, elderly parents’ and grandparents’ opportunities to immigrate to Canada have diminished relative to economic or ‘independent’ immigrants. In 1994, Canada admitted 41,477 parents or grandparents out of 224,399 immigrants (18% of total admissions) (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2003). In 2004, it admitted only 12,732 out of 235,824 immigrants (5% of total admissions) (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2005). Increasingly, the immigration system selects immigrants on the basis of their human capital ‘skills’ (Abu-Laban 1998; Li 2003; Li 2004; McLaren and Dyck 2004). The growing influence of human capital theory on the immigration point system, which establishes criteria for selecting skilled workers, has given legitimacy to immigration policy’s downward trend of admitting sponsored parents to Canada. (McLaren and Black 2005).

Further, the shift in immigration policy during the past decade towards favouring economic principal applicants (usually selected through the immigration point system) gives legitimacy to demeaning stereotypes of extended family networks associated with foreign cultures “contrary to Canadian family values” (Li 2004: 26). Dominant immigration discourse includes the connotation that the family reunification program needs to be based on the Canadian nuclear family, not the extended Asian or African family (Li 2004). In excluding parents and grandparents from the ‘immediate’ family, immigration policy has targeted them as not only less important, but also as threatening. As Abu-Laban (1998) argues, the policy choice that gives priority to economic over family immigrants and refugees reflects an increasing emphasis on economic self-sufficiency as a measure of an immigrant’s worth, reduced notions of citizenship and citizens’ rights, and a corresponding ‘problematization of immigrant families’. The presumption that the worth of elderly immigrants is measurable according to economic self-sufficiency criteria appears in research, not just official policies and practices.

A recent study found, for example, that sponsored elderly immigrants make considerable use of government pension and social assistance programs, which represents a serious burden to taxpayers, and that elderly immigrants may divert resources away from children and therefore may represent a burden to families as well (Baker and Benjamin 2002). The authors, however, do not take account of the meaningful social context of immigrants’ lives for understanding why some may draw on government benefits and programs. They also do not consider how central sponsored elderly immigrants may be to their families and the various ways that they may contribute to their families’ settlement in Canada. Another recent study (Dempsey 2004) shows that parents and grandparents who had landed when they were 60 years or older relied the most on non-contributory retirement income such as Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement. In contrast, elders who had landed as ‘skilled principal applicants’ and had spent considerable time in Canada relied most heavily on private market income such as employment earnings and investment. An implication of this research brief is that skilled principal applicants are the ‘ideal immigrant’, and that, because sponsored parents may not be economically self-sufficient, they are likely to be a problem. The study does not investigate how ‘independent’ immigrants may be intricately involved in family relations and depend on family members, and it does not consider the obstacles elderly immigrants may face that make it difficult to be economically self-sufficient.

On the other hand, discourses that measure the worth of immigrants in economic terms coexist with others that are more socially inclusive, which allow for broader notions of worth, citizenship and the family. These less dominant discourses, which run counter to officially-inscribed distinctions between desirable and undesirable immigrants, are informed by various theoretical perspectives – including classical liberal, feminist, anti-racist, gerontology, poststructural and/or political economy. In various ways, they challenge the economic and market-based notion of immigrants’ ‘human capital’ by acknowledging the significance and complexity of family and community life, underlying power relations, and patterns of inequality. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, for example, suggests that many compelling reasons exist for promoting family reunification, which include international legal obligations, Canada’s traditional policy of family reunification, and the promotion of newcomer integration (OCASI) 2005). The Canadian Bar Association questions the decline of parental sponsorship target levels and states, “In view of the 75% reduction in quotas (“targets”) over the past two years, it appears that the government is deliberately trying to kill the longstanding program for sponsorship of parents and

grandparents” (2005:4). The Association calls for more public consultation:

The issue of parental sponsorships is a policy decision; a question of values. The government may decide that Canadian values dictate that parents are not integrally part of the family unit and that there is no sufficient policy justification for admitting sponsored parents to Canada. This appears to have been already decided. We believe this is a fundamental issue deserving of public debate. (Canadian Bar Association 2005: 4) The former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, himself, suggested that parental sponsorship is a key component of immigration and needs re-consideration. On April 2005, he announced that the government would permit more landed immigrants and citizens to sponsor parents and grandparents than his Ministry had earlier forecasted. Joseph Volpe, stated: “Reuniting families is a key priority of Canada’s immigration program, and an issue to which the Liberal government is firmly committed” (Volpe 2005). In allowing immigrants to sponsor parents and grandparents, Mr.



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