Canada has raised the age of dependency for immigration — the maximum age at which children can be included in their parents’ applications — from 18 to 21. The increase in age applies to new applications, as of October 24, for all programs that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada administers. Children who are 22 or older and who rely on their parents due to a physical or mental health condition will also continue to be considered dependent children.

Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in May that “raising the age of dependants lets more families stay together.” It is typically very difficult for young adults to immigrate if they do not come with their parents; usually they must study here and find Canadian employment after graduating to qualify. The Liberal government has also said that increasing the age of dependency will have positive social and cultural impacts and will enhance Canada’s economy by making our nation a destination of choice for skilled immigrants who want to keep their families together.

Given the minister’s statements, one might wonder why the previous Conservative government lowered the maximum age of dependency from 21 to 18 on January 1, 2014. Before the Conservative changes, the definition of dependent children was similar to what it will now be again: under 22, or older but unable to be financially self-supporting due to a physical or mental condition. But there was a significant difference: until 2014, children 22 or older were also considered dependent if they had relied on the financial support of parents and had attended school continuously, full-time, since before age 22. This provision was removed by the Conservatives and has not been restored by the Liberals.

The Conservatives said that the reason for their changes was that studies had shown that older dependent children of immigrants had worse economic outcomes than those who immigrated to Canada at a younger age. Specifically, the data showed that dependants who had arrived when they were 15 to 18 earned roughly 20 percent more by the age of 30 than dependants who arrived in Canada between the ages of 19 and 21.

The provision for older children to be considered dependent while pursuing full-time studies, the Conservatives said, had created operational challenges and was vulnerable to fraud. The data showed that immigrant children who completed primary and secondary schooling in Canada had economic outcomes on par with, and in some instances better than, the average outcomes of Canadian-born children.

When the Liberals reversed the Conservative change to the age of dependency, they did not dispute the economic data that the Conservatives cited, but rather shifted the focus to family life.

The Liberals noted that raising the maximum age of dependent children in immigration applications is consistent with the underlying socioeconomic trend that children are staying at home longer with their parents, particularly when studying for lengthier periods. Thirteen percent of Canadians complete high school between the ages of 20 and 24, and over half of all young adults aged 20 to 24 lived with their parents as of 2011, a proportion that is increasing. The median age of people who complete a degree in Canada is 24.8, the Liberals said.

Indeed, when the statistics they cite all refer to completing school at a median age of 24.8 or an age range of 20 to 24, it is puzzling that the Liberals chose to increase the age of dependency only to 21. Furthermore, given their focus on people graduating from post-secondary institutions at increasingly older ages, it is also unclear why they did not reintroduce the provision for post-secondary students over age 22 to immigrate with their parents as dependants.

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to reverse the Conservative change to the age of dependency. Looking at the gap between their rationale and their policy, one would be forgiven for wondering whether the Liberals simply found statistics that loosely justify the implementation of their campaign promise rather basing their reforms on evidence.

Ultimately, the increase in the age of dependency is likely to affect only a small number of people. Between 2002 and 2014, dependent children represented, on average, 28 percent of all immigration applicants approved annually. Of these 72,000 dependent children, approximately 7 percent were between 19 and 21; a further 4 percent were 22 or older.

As well, in 2014, most of the dependent children over the age of 18 who arrived in Canada came through the Parents and Grandparents Program, the business streams and provincial nomination programs. The Parents and Grandparents Program now has an annual application limit of 10,000, most business streams are closed, and older students who are completing post-secondary studies no longer qualify as dependent, so the number of older dependent children arriving in Canada is likely to remain low.

Photo: Shutterstock, by DayOwl.

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Steven Meurrens
Steven Meurrens is a partner at Larlee Rosenberg LLP, an immigration law firm in Vancouver. He is the chair of the Canadian Bar Association of British Columbia’s immigration subsection and also a member of the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration.

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