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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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She said in India most of the people who are elderly, they want to come over here, almost everybody want to come here, their kids are here. She said my sincere advice to those seniors if your kids are good to you, only then, Canada’s good but if you have to go out to work, then it’s not worth it…so if you feel that your kids they are not going to stay with you and staying outside and by themselves is very very hard in Canada…..Yes, at the same time she said if they feel that the kids won’t take care of them, stay over there, at least you have relatives, other family members can take care of you but over here because you are purely depending on the kids, if yours are good only then come, it’s not easy—working hard, going out for work and staying by themselves, not with the family, this is very hard.

Some of the women were concerned about the obstacles that the sponsorship program poses

for families:

She said that she heard that in some cases of sponsorship that the parents have to wait for 5 years to come to Canada. She said the time period is too long, for example, sometimes, you know when somebody sponsors their parents and they have a lot of family members, you know, brothers and sisters, they are expecting to come over here but if the time period is too long—5 years or 4 years—the age of the kids, they cross the limit so then they are unable to come over here so ….Then they are divided.

Some kids stay over there, some are here…..She said it’s good, if some wife or husband wants to sponsor marital status because it’s quick. I would say it’s less than 6 months now but for parents, she said for example if the waiting period’s 4 or 5 years so that means they have to show, maintain the level of income so much so that all the family members come. Sometimes it’s hard because of the job market over here. For example, somebody sponsors parents, mother, father, 3 kids so that means 5 persons, so that means they have to maintain level of income.

Delayed sponsorship divides families, reduces eligibility as children age, and undermines the ability of families to meet government regulations of income levels.

Several participants worried about the lack of pensions for immigrant seniors. One talked about how women without husbands may be vulnerable to their children who may not provide for


She said in my case it’s fine, my husband is working so we can financially be okay and sometimes the kids also help us but she is worried about those families who the husband is not working and they are seniors. If they are not working so then financially it’s tough. She …said the government must help ----- Then she said all families are different but some families’ kids they are taking care of them a lot but some kids’ family they don’t take care so that means the ten year condition—yes— they need some help.

Another also felt that immigrant seniors needed pensions so that they could be more

independent financially and not be forced to work on farms, which can be very hard on the elderly:

She said I will say yes, if you are going to Canada, so you are going to have to work over there. Financial wise. Some people, they work in the farms, yes…..She said, until the age of sixty, they are fine, you know, but after sixty, so it is very hard to work. So that means to earn money is very hard for the seniors. So indirect means they have to depend on the kids, you know. And ten year condition is…..So that’s, she said if we got a pension, so they can become more self-sufficient, they can do whatever they feel like….That could be changed, oh yes. Definitely.

A study of farm workers in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia suggests that their financial dependency may make them continue to work under exploitative conditions. Because “many are recent immigrants sponsored by their families, they feel indebted to pay their immigration fees and do not want to be a financial burden to their children or relatives” (Black 2003: 76).4 For studies of the exploitative conditions of BC’s immigrant farm work, see also Fairey (2005) and Moore (2 2004)..

Concluding discussion By focusing on sponsored South Asian elderly women’s experiences, this paper addresses the question of whose problematic is parental sponsorship. Despite the fact that family members provide much of the sustenance and development of human, social and cultural capital of immigrants (McLaren and Dyck 2004; Ong 1999), immigration policy ironically has set up obstacles for family class entry to Canada. Specifically, by reducing the numbers of parents and grandparents, and contributing to the ongoing problematization of immigrant families (especially the family class) in official and popular discourse, the policy adversely, and perversely, targets women. They are the ones most likely to be responsible for the forging of family ties and undertaking unpaid labour of family life and its multiple dimensions of caregiving (McDaniel 2002). The neoliberal contention that the only proper citizen is one with a skilled job in the labour force – that prima facie ensures selfsufficiency – overlooks and demeans essential, but poorly paid or unpaid labour and care in the home and community (McLaren and Dyck 2004). It fails to recognize that the ‘autonomous immigrant’ is a fiction (Walton-Roberts 2003).

Family relations are central in decisions to immigrate and whether or not to settle permanently (Angel et al. 1999; Khoo 2003). While the immigrant selection system in Canada seeks to recruit ‘independent’ economic immigrants, who so happen to be predominantly male, their migration depends on the many contributions of non-selected family members, the majority of whom are women, in the paid workforce, the home, and the community (McLaren and Dyck 2002). For example, often immigrant families initially rely on the labour force participation of wives, categorized as dependants, and only later that of husbands as well (Ng 1992). Many who occupy low-wage jobs that fill important niches of the labour market are immigrant women (Spitzer et al. 2003; Dossa 2005), many of whom have come to Canada under the family class (Satzewich and Wong 2003).

Arat-Koc (1999: 38) argues that elderly parents are most likely to be perceived as being noncontributors and yet “directly contribute their labour in the care of children in the home or in family businesses”.

This study suggests that sponsored elderly immigrant women may help their families to fulfil the criteria of ‘ideal immigrants’ that are written into immigration policy and practice and that shape the migration process. By contributing to household income, helping out in the home, networking locally or globally, older women assist their families in multiple ways, that include being more productive and self-sufficient. More particularly, in relation to the dominant economic discourse in immigration policy, elderly immigrant women provide the critical labour and support that enables their daughters or daughters-in-law with children to join the labour force, usually in jobs typically filled by immigrant women. It is worth considering, as well, how sponsored parents’ assistance may help to stem a childcare crisis in Canada.

At the same time, the sponsorship program inflicts costs on the elderly women and their families. Sponsored elderly parents may feel obligated to provide income to their families or in-kind services that could lead to exploitation, indebtedness, isolation, abuse or marginality. If they are sponsored, elderly immigrant women are likely to have few support systems apart from their families.

They may feel “purely dependent” on them, with no alternatives. They lack the usual entitlements of social assistance and social security. If they lack adequate health care, social services, settlement services and transit support – and the foundations of local, social connections – their ability to help their families and to provide for themselves may be undermined. Programs that favour ‘skilled’ workers are unlikely to address many of the barriers faced by sponsored elderly immigrant women, who in their daily activities may participate in non-standard employment, and contribute as caregivers to their household and community.

In focusing on South Asian older women who were sponsored by their families to immigrate to Canada, this paper explores questions raised in Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (2002) gender-based analysis: parents’ vulnerability in relation to sponsorship; low-income families’ difficulties in sustaining sponsorships; parents’ presence that may increase women’s access to the labour market; and the different impacts that human capital selection criteria may have on women and men. Such questions, this paper suggests, need multi-layered analyses of the intricate relations between discursive and material practices. In indicating that the sponsorship program creates dependency and vulnerability, studies provide compelling reasons for considering alternative discursive and theoretical understandings to prevailing neoliberal and human capital discourses. More research is needed that takes account of how prevailing discourses inform the point system and sponsorship programs, how they obscure the contributions of sponsored parents to family settlement and the possible harms of sponsorship.

To challenge dominating discourses and practices of parental sponsorship, elderly women’s (and men’s) narratives must be heard and understood within their specific social contexts. Research needs to start from the perspectives and experiences of family class immigrants themselves. Rather than being objects of evaluation, they need to be “subjects whose values, aspirations and wishes are to be taken into account” (Li 2004: 28). Such research also needs to understand the centrality of gender and generation and how they intersect with ‘race’, and social class. In her study of aging Muslim women in diaspora, Dossa (1999) argues that narrative can render marginalized lives socially visible.

Older immigrant women, she insists, are “global subjects engaged in (re)imagining their lives” (p.

269). Yet, “aging women have not emerged as actors in the body of literature on gender within diasporic communities: they continue to remain on the backstage with their scripts unwritten” (p.

246). Dossa notes that while feminist ethnographers have attempted to redress Western stereotypes of immigrant women as oppressed and passive, and dependent in old age, they have markedly excluded age as part of women’s multiple identities. Research needs to challenge the way that dominant discourses and practices make invisible sponsored elderly women’s struggles, lived experiences, and their centrality to family life and broader society.


Abu-Laban, Y. 1998. Welcome/STAY OUT: The contradictions of Canadian integration and immigration policies at the millennium. Canadian Ethnic Studies 30(3): 190-211.

Agnew, V. 1996. Resisting discrimination: Women from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and the women’s movement in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Angel, R.J., J.L. Angel, G-Y. Lee and K.S. Markides. 1999. Age at migration and family dependency among older Mexican immigrants: Recent evidence from the Mexican American EPESE. The Gerontologist 39(1): 59-65.

Anthias, F. 2002. Beyond feminism and multiculturalism: Locating difference and the politics of location. Women’s Studies International Forum. 25(3): 275-286.

Arat-Koc, S. 1999. Neo-liberalism, state restructuring and immigration: Changes in Canadian policies in the 1990s. Journal of Canadian Studies 34(2): 31-56.

Baker, M. and D. Benjamin. 2002. Are elderly immigrants a burden? Paper prepared for the conference Canadian Immigration Policy for the 21st Century, Kingston, Ontario, October 18/19.

BC Stats. 2001. Immigration highlights. Special feature: Immigrants from India. Available at www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca ———. 2001 Census profiles. Available at www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca ———. March, 2004. Immigration highlights. Special feature: Immigrants from India and China. Available at www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca Beaulieu, M., R M. Gordon and C. Spencer. 2003. An environmental scan of abuse and neglect of older adults in Canada: What’s working and why. Report prepared for the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Committee of Officials (Seniors).

Becker, G. 2003. Meanings of place and displacement in three groups of older immigrants.

Journal of Aging Studies 17: 129-49.

Black, T. L. 2003. Multi-faceted organising strategies: Integrating community and labour struggles. M.A. Thesis, University of British Columbia.

Boyd, M. 1989. Immigration and income security policies in Canada: Implications for elderly immigrant women. Population Research and Policy Review 8: 5-24.

Canadian Bar Association. 2005. Immigration and Refugee Protections Act – Family reunification issues. April. http://www.cba.org/CBA/submissions/pdf/05-20-eng.pdf.

Retrieved 15 May2005.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 2002. Bill C-11 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act: Gender-based analysis chart. http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/irpa/c11gender.html. Retrieved 18 November 2005.

———. 2003. Immigration overview: Permanent residents. Facts and Figures.


———. 2005. Annual report to parliament on immigration. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. Cat. No. C11-2004.

Collacott, M. 2002. Canada’s immigration policy: The need for major reform. Vancouver:

Fraser Institute.

Côté, A., M. Kérisit and M.-L. Côté. 2001. Sponsorhip…for better or for worse: The impact of sponsorship on the equality rights of immigrant women. Ottawa: Status of Women Canada.

Dempsey, C. 2004. Elderly immigrants: Income sources and composition. Horizons 7(2).

http://policyresearch.gc.ca/page.asp?pagenm=v7n2_art_10. Retrieved 10 May 2005.

Dossa, P. 1999. (Re)imagining aging lives: Ethnographic narratives of Muslim women in diaspora. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 14: 245-272.

———. 2002. Narrative mediation of conventional and new ‘mental health’ paradigms:

Reading the stories of immigrant Iranian women. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16(3): 341-59.

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