Today, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that it will accept up to 15,000 complete applications under the Parents and Grandparents sponsorship program.

On October 10, 2023, IRCC will initiate the process of sending out invitations to 24,200 potential sponsors who have expressed interest in the program, with the invitations being distributed over a span of two weeks.

The catch is that IRCC will again only select applicants from the 2020 pool. IRCC has taken the position that doing so ensures a consistent and equitable process for all applicants. In our view, this proves that IRCC has moved away from a true lottery system.

To begin, the parental sponsorship process was supposed to run as a yearly lottery. It was introduced in 2016, and an IRCC press release stated that applicants who were not selected in a given year were free to reapply in the following year. The latter implies that the selection pool would be drawn from the applicants who applied in that same calendar year.

Yet, for 2020, 2021, 2022 and again in 2023, IRCC is only issuing Invitations to Apply to applicants that submitted an Expression of Interest in the 2020 calendar year. By repeatedly choosing applicants from the 2020 pool, IRCC has effectively moved from a true annual lottery system to one that exhausts a particular year’s pool of applicants through multiple rounds of random selection across multiple years.

The irony is that the 2016 introduction of the lottery system was designed to move away from a first come, first serve system, which was deemed unfair because it required applicants to prepare and submit their applications at lightening speed (since the annual slots filled up in matter of hours). That system gave unfair advantage to immigration consultants and lawyers who were able to submit applications the moment intake opened (for that year).

The lottery system, as it was originally envisioned, did improve fairness, although it also introduced uncertainty, since there was no guarantee an application would be selected that year. But everyone had an equal chance and they could always reapply the following year.

Why has IRCC moved away from a true annual lottery system?

There is some logic to be found in IRCC’s approach during the last three years. In a true annual lottery system, the total pool of applicants will grow larger and larger every year. New applicants applying for the first time will increase the pool along with prior applicants who are reapplying because they were not selected in the previous year. If IRCC maintains consistent annual quotas for parental sponsorships, say between 15,000 to 30,000 per year, the ever-growing pool of total applicants means that each applicant will have a diminishing probability of being selected in the current year. (If there are 30,000 applicants in the pool in 2024 for 15,000 slots, and 40,0000 applicants in the pool in 2025 for 15,000 slots, then in 2025 each applicant has a smaller chance of being randomly selected).

The above is likely why IRCC has moved to clearing out all the applicants in the pool before opening the intake form for a new set of applicants.

Another reason IRCC likely modified its approach is because there is an argument to be made that the fairest approach is to prioritize the parents of Canadians who have been waiting the longest.

While we don’t disagree that families that have waited the longest should have the chance to bring in their parents first, it also means IRCC has circuitously returned to a new form of “first come, first serve”. More precisely, we can call this system “year in, year out”.

The net result of the modified rules is that families who have not been able to file an Expression of Interest during the last 3 years might have to wait years before they have a chance to sponsor their parents. This goes against true flat equity. In other words, it vitiates the equalizing effect of a true annual lottery system that allowed all applicants across all years to have the same chance to sponsor their parents.

To be clear, both approaches are equitable in their own way. IRCC just needs to be clear about the approach it has taken.

How will this new system play out?

Once IRCC exhausts all the applicants from 2020, they will open a new Expression of Interest form. Assuming a large amount of expressions are lodged, it could again take 3 or 4 years for IRCC to clear all the applicants from the year the new expression of interest form was accepted.

In effect, the Parental Sponsorship Program will now move in waves or tranches that might take years to clear out. This means the true annual lottery system has been replaced with a new “year in, year out” system that maintains the use of random selection.

Policy solutions

As an aside, a simple policy solution to this problem would be to limit the Expressions of Interest to a set number. (Currently, IRCC accepts all expressions of interest filed within specific dates (say, October to November)). If IRCC knows it will only process 15,000 applications in a given year, then limiting Expression of Interest forms to, say, 20,000 for that year would allow them to control the size of the total pool. Of course, the problem is that a fixed number of Expressions of Interest would result in a submission race (which was the very problem the 2016 change to a lottery system was designed to resolve).

Another approach would be to introduce a system where a portion of the annual parental sponsorship quota is reserved for new applicants each year, while the remaining is allocated to the existing pool. This would ensure a fair chance for new applicants while still prioritizing those who have waited longer.


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