Let's Bring Mom to Canada
His voice was thin and quavering. "I'm alright now, love, it was just a bad fall."
"When I left them at the airport, they looked so small and defenseless, it broke my heart."
"Every Sunday, I call my mother with the phone in one hand a hanky in the other."
Each of these adult children hail from different nations, cultures and religions. What’s the common denominator here? They’ve all asked themselves the same question – ‘There has to be a better way - what if I bring my parents to Canada?’
On the surface, it’s a no-brainer – politically stable, economically sound and with subsidized health care, Canada seems to be the ideal solution. Granted, it’s a big decision, and emotionally charged – but one that could bring enormous joy and peace of mind to you and your parents. The key, as with all important life decisions, is to carefully research the facts regarding immigration, health coverage, housing, care, banking, legal arrangements and funding. Less tangible, but equally important, is understanding the emotional impact on your parents, your family and yourself, and finding the support you will need for this major undertaking.
Here are the six things you need to consider:
The goal of the immigration process is to sponsor your parents so they eventually attain Canadian ‘permanent resident’ status. Canadian citizens and permanent residents living in Canada, 18 years of age or older, may sponsor parents from abroad who want to become permanent residents of Canada under the Family Class application. The process and all forms are available online at www.cic.gc.ca. The rules are specific:
To sponsor a relative or family member you must sign an Undertaking with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that you will support the person you sponsor and their family members for a period of three to ten years so that they will not need to apply for social assistance. Note that provision is made for dependent parents; ‘the person you sponsor promises to make every effort to become self-supporting (unless they are elderly.)’ You may have to meet certain income requirements to be able to support all family members that you have sponsored in the past; if you have previously sponsored relatives who have received social assistance, you may not be allowed to sponsor another person. Complete the Application to Sponsor and, once approved as a sponsor, send your parents a Family Class application that they complete and send to a Canadian Visa office in their country.
Many families choose to use an immigration consultant to facilitate the process. Both families and consultants report that it saves time to know the pitfalls – medicals must be done by Ministry-approved doctors; any errors in the forms result in everything being sent back and starting again; if a parent is ill, they may be deemed medically inadmissible; your family income must cover all your parent’s expenses, even if they are financially independent. Consulting fees range from $2,000 for a consultant to $6,000 for a lawyer, for seeing the application through to acceptance. Check your Yellow Pages for immigration lawyers and consultants and be sure to check their references carefully.
Provincial Health Coverage
Since your parents will not immediately qualify for provincial health plans, be sure they are covered in the interim. In the case of Ontario, coverage by OHIP entails a three-month waiting period from the establishment of Ontario residency. The OHIP application is available online at health.gov.on.ca as well as a list of documents that are acceptable for proof of residency, such as mail received at the Ontario address, bills, rental agreements, bank statements from a Canadian bank delivered to the Ontario address. Similar processes are in place for the other provinces; check the Internet or the Blue Pages of your local telephone directory under ‘seniors’ or ‘health care’.
Once OHIP has been applied for, some health benefits can be initiated, such as home care and other social services controlled by the Local Health Integration Network ('LHIN’ – listings found at www.health.gov.on.ca) which is the gateway to all community services and long term care, by showing proof of the OHIP application. Book an appointment with the LHIN as soon as the OHIP application is completed to get set up for any services they may need, rather than waiting for an urgent need to arise. When the OHIP card is received, all provincial benefits to seniors will be available (also listed on the website) as well as community programs such as Meals on Wheels and visiting homemakers.
- Housing & Care:
Suitable housing should be arranged for your parents upon arrival; it must be affordable and offer the level of care they currently require. The next phase is to locate affordable housing for the longer term that will support their income, care needs, daily activities and cultural preferences.
One option for the interim period when your parents first arrive is to rent a nearby apartment and set up private care arrangements. But do the math – a 1 bedroom, 660 sq. ft. apartment can be $1,200 a month; basic personal-care costs could be $18-$20/hour; and a family doctor, specialists, medical supplies and prescriptions will all be at full price until provincial coverage begins. A less costly alternative would be to house your parents stay in your own home; be sure you, your spouse, and your family are ready to be actively involved in daily care, meals and social support.
Once the OHIP coverage is obtained, care costs will reduce as they can be set up via the LHIN, such as community- subsidized care ($10/hour for personal care), Meals on Wheels and day programs, ideally at a senior’s centre supporting your cultural heritage. Prescription drugs and doctor visits are subsidized or covered by OHIP.
A retirement home may be an option for the longer term, offering accommodation, meals, care, medical attention, personal alarms, activities and social interaction in one setting for a single overall fee of anywhere from $1,500-$4,000+ per month; an ethnic facility could be a great choice. Since waiting lists vary from 2-18 months it is advisable to begin a search soon after your parents arrive. Retirement homes are landlord/tenant, not government controlled, so no Ontario residency is required. Be sure it offers an Assisted Daily Living (ADL) option so that your parents may obtain more care as needed without having to move. Long term care (‘nursing homes’) may be an option if your parent’s care exceeds what is offered either by home care or the retirement home options. Publicly-funded long-term care rates are set by the government; in Ontario, currently at $2,000/mo for a private and $1,800/mo for semi-private rooms, which include all accommodation, care, medical attention and activities, in a more structured setting than a retirement home. Access to long-term care is only via the LHIN. In Ontario, only three homes may be chosen, waiting lists can be 6-18 months long and families are given 24 hours to accept the first choice that becomes available. Check your province’s website for specific information for your community.
Powers of Attorney and Banking
If your parents have been living far way, you may not have been actively involved in their arrangements. Ask yourself - could you manage your parent’s business affairs and direct their care if they were incapacitated? You need both the knowledge and properly executed documentation such as wills and Powers of Attorney for Personal Care and Property – check www.gov.on.ca/health for the required forms. Documents prepared in other countries should be reviewed by a local lawyer to be sure they are valid for use in Canada. Banking arrangements could be set up at your own bank, possibly opening a joint account into which some funds could be transferred to cover expenses, giving you the ability to pay bills on their behalf.
Despite the Undertaking made in the Immigration process, you will want to be sure your parent’s cash flow will meet interim and longer term commitments, especially for variable costs such as care. Statements of assets do not tell the whole story - check the projected values of overseas pensions and pay special attention to currency restrictions and currency exchange rates. Their healthy bank balance may look less robust if there are restrictions on how much can be withdrawn, and its value in Canadian funds. Also, be sure to apply for any relevant pensions or veteran benefits from their homeland.
When your parents qualify for OHIP they can apply for programs such as the Assistive Devices Program which rebates costs for wheelchairs and other equipment, drug subsidies such as the Trillium Drug Plan (see www.gov.on.ca) and the federal Disability Tax Credit (see www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca) if they will be filing a Canadian tax return.
It’s natural to feel protective of your parents, and they in turn may feel unsure about life in a new country. You will need to work together to strike a balance between their desire for total independent and wanting to share some space, time or meals with the family, especially if they are staying your home. If they will be living elsewhere, choose accommodation with proximity to medical services and whatever cultural atmosphere will make them feel more at home. Many ethnic groups have established drop-in centres, retirement and long-term care facilities. Try to re-create the familiar experiences that sustained them in their former home, whether it’s food, recreation, church-going, celebrating national holidays or finding a radio station that plays familiar music. Having your parents here permanently may strain the family bonds for awhile, so expect an adjustment period. Suggest they stay for a long visit before making the commitment; they’ll get a sense of their potential new home, while you get a better idea of how your extended family dynamics would work.
Are you ready?
Think of the joy at having your parents nearby, the relief at knowing about their wellbeing, and the pleasure of no more long distance trips and phone bills! So get busy, do your homework, and may your parents enjoy many happy years in our wonderful country!
Pat M. Irwin, BA, CSA