Canada becomes more accessible to immigrants with disability and illness

A doctor prescribes medication to a patient in a clinic exam room. (Getty Images)

The federal government has announced major changes to its outdated medical inadmissibility rules that will lead to fewer sick and disabled hopeful immigrants being turned away.

Under the former rules, approximately 1,000 applications for permanent and temporary residence were rejected on the grounds of medical inadmissibility each year. Between 200 and 300 applications rejected each year involved special education needs for children.

Immigration candidates found medically inadmissible were rejected on the basis that their medical conditions and disabilities could strain Canada’s public health and social services. If the costs associated with their needs fell within a certain threshold, they were accepted, if they didn’t, they were turned away.

These rules were in place for 40 years, and immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk said the new policy shift, which is intended to bring the policy in line with Canadians’ values in 2018, was overdue.

“These changes are incredibly significant,” Sandaluk said. “What these changes amount to is a complete reimagining of the way medical admissibility to Canada works. It basically represents a long overdue modernization of Canada’s law with respect to medical inadmissibility.”

The policy changes include removing some social services like special education from the list of factors that go into assessing the cost of an applicant’s needs, and tripling the cost threshold.

The threshold for admissibility in 2017 was $6,655 per year or $33,275 per five years, so sick or disabled immigration candidates whose needs were expected to cost more than those amounts in medical and social services were usually turned away. This policy forced families to collectively give up on immigrating to Canada or face separation.

“You could have a family of valuable immigrants to Canada that are sidelined by one relative with a disability,” Sandaluk said.

He added it’s hard to quantify how many people the old policy affected, since beyond the 1,000 applications rejected each year, many immigration candidates at risk of being found inadmissible would have been deterred from applying for residence in the first place.

“It’s very much a deterrent policy, because generally speaking people know if they have a disability or they don’t, or their child has an illness or they don’t,” Sandaluk said.

“So rather than putting in the application and taking your chances with disappointment you’re going to apply to go somewhere else.”

Since the new policy triples the former cost thresholds, immigration to Canada is now more attainable for a wider range of people, with most people with disabilities now considered admissible.

The change also means people with chronic conditions like HIV that require publicly funded prescription drugs are likely to become admissible, since the cost of those drugs should fall within the new threshold.

This new level of inclusiveness, Sandaluk said, better reflects the way Canadian society views its responsibility toward people with illness and disability.

“Canadians’ attitudes toward people with disabilities and medical conditions have changed dramatically over the years,” Sandaluk said.

“So you had a situation where people could be excluded from Canada for a number of reasons, but the Canadian public has said ‘this isn’t the kind of country I want to live in.'”