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Ottawa to open door to disabled immigrants

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OTTAWA—After four decades, the federal government is getting rid of rules that turned away would-be immigrants with intellectual or physical disabilities, Immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said yesterday.

The government no longer will be allowed to reject permanent resident applications from those with serious health conditions or disabilities.

Most of those impacted by the policy have been economic immigrants already working and creating jobs in Canada, but whose children or spouses may have a disability, Hussen noted.

“The current provisions on medical inadmissibility are over 40 years old and are clearly not in line with Canadian values or our government's vision of inclusion,” he said.

Hussen cited the case of a tenured professor at York University who was denied permanent residence because his son had Down syndrome, and another case of a family that came to Canada and started a business but were rejected because of a child with epilepsy.

“These newcomers can contribute and are not a burden to Canada," the minister stressed. "These newcomers have the ability to help grow our economy and enrich our social fabric.”

The changes will amend the definition of social services by removing references to special education, social and vocational rehabilitation services, and personal support services.

Ottawa also is tripling the cost threshold at which an application for permanent residency can be denied on medical grounds.

That will allow immigrants with minor health conditions that have relatively low health and social services costs to be approved for permanent residency, such as those with hearing or visual impairments.

Of the 177,000 economic immigrants admitted to Canada every year, about 1,000 are affected by the medical inadmissibility policy.

The changes are expected to dispense with a majority of those cases.

There have been calls to repeal the policy entirely, including from the House of Commons' citizenship and immigration committee, which studied the issue last year.

Liberal MP and committee chair Rob Oliphant said he had hoped government would announce a full repeal.

But more work must be done to determine the full cost implications to the provinces, he conceded.

“We at committee could not get good cost data,” Oliphant said.

“Right now, [Hussen] is going to have to look at this, the minister of health will have to look at this, the provinces and territories are going to have to look at this and hopefully in a year or two, they are going to recognize that this is not a significant cost,” he added.

But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel says she believes the costs could be high, indeed.

She was critical of government's decision to move ahead with changes before any concrete data has been developed to determine the costs to the provinces and territories.

Hussen said Ottawa will pay the costs of the changes announced yesterday, but remained unclear about whether that would mean additional money in health or social services transfers.

Meanwhile, groups that have been advocating for a full repeal of the policy are expressing disappointment over the changes, which they say don't go far enough.

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