Canada's immigration open, but not for one French family
Looking to swell its population with an influx of up to 250,000 immigrants annually, Canada is arguably among the world's most welcoming nations, but its doors are not open to all.
A French couple, Sophie and David Barlagne, recently experienced bitter rejection by a still selective immigration policy.
They arrived in Canada five years ago on temporary work permits, full of hope, and started a small software firm in Montreal.
But their request for permanent residency was denied because their seven-year-old daughter Rachel, who suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy, poses an "excessive burden" on the nation.
"I don't accept the term 'burden,' it's callous. My daughter, because she has a handicap, is treated like a criminal," Sophie Barlagne told AFP.
According to the government's definition, Rachel is considered to be an extreme burden because her treatments cost 5,000 dollars more per year than the average healthcare expenditures of Canadians.
The family's personal wealth was deemed by authorities to be insufficient to pay for her care, and so it would likely fall on the public healthcare system to foot the bill.
Her parents qualified to come to Canada as economic immigrants (investors and skilled workers), the only immigration category in which strict criteria apply.
Like most Western nations, Canada's birthrate has slowed in recent decades and massive immigration is needed to keep its numbers up, in order to keep the economy roaring.
Canada's immigration policy has been tremendously successful -- the population has grown to 33.9 million, up 0.17 percent in the last three months of 2009 with net immigration of 27,863 almost equal to net births (93,731 births minus 64,121 deaths).
The last census in 2006 found that one in five Canadians (19.8 percent) was foreign-born, the highest proportion of foreign-born Canadians in 75 years, and second only to Australia (22.2 percent).
Most, some 58.3 percent, of recent immigrants now herald from Asia and the Middle East. European migrants, who once accounted for the bulk of newcomers, are now the second-largest group, at 16.1 percent.
China, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, the United States, South Korea, Romania, Iran, Britain and Colombia, in this order, topped the countries of birth for immigrants from 1981 to 2006.
Last year, a total of 252,124 immigrants came to Canada. More than half were economic immigrants, more than one-quarter were family members joining a spouse, parent or child living in Canada, and about 10 percent were refugees.
Economic migrants are the only group scrutinized to determine if their entry to Canada would benefit the nation: candidates must be educated, have no criminal record and be in good health.
"For certain categories of immigrants, Canada does not even ask these questions," Selin Deravedisyan-Adam, president of the Quebec wing of the Canadian Migration Institute, told AFP.
"For example, if a resident wants to sponsor a spouse, a sick child, there's no problem, it is approved.
"However, if someone wants to settle in Canada as a skilled worker, or as an entrepreneur then these questions are asked because immigration is not a right, it's a privilege."
After exhausting all legal challenges, the Barlagne family expects to be forced to leave Canada after their work permits expire next year, leaving behind a life they built in Montreal.
Their only hope now is for a ministerial reprieve.
The couple last week asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, herself an immigrant, to intervene on their behalf and press Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to allow the family to remain in Canada on compassionate grounds.
© 2010 AFP