Every year many families are formed, or find themselves separated, across borders. To address the problem of family separation, the family class stream of immigration to Canada, which accounts for 20-30% of new immigrants annually, allows citizens or permanent residents to sponsor certain family members for permanent residency. Yet there has been very little research on experiences of this policy. Family reunification immigration, located at the intersection of the personal and the political, has been marginalized by masculinized policy disciplines that focus on macro-trends in immigration and render the family invisible, and by feminized disciplines that focus on the family and individual in immigration while rendering policy invisible.
This dissertation fills that gap in the literature, using a critical policy studies approach informed by aspects of Critical Theory, intersectionality and Foucauldian interpretations of power. I explore the lived experiences of families as they apply to reunite through the family class stream, and of families who would like to apply to reunite but cannot. I used mixed methods—qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys—to collect data from 169 families, and 100 key informants who support applicant families, including lawyers, consultants, settlement workers and constituency office caseworkers.
This approach and research design allowed me to expose and develop a deep knowledge of families’ experiences that have until now been marginalized. Findings show that, though the decision on an immigration application is important, a sole focus on that decision both excludes applicants’ vastly different experiences during the process and renders invisible those who cannot even apply. Diversity in experiences was closely related to interactions between different aspects of social location, and policy design and implementation. Applicants exercised many forms of initiative and agency, but were ultimately constrained by policy structures.
The new Government has recently made promising changes, but we must ensure these changes are effective and continue to advocate for further improvements that would mitigate applicants’ negative experiences. Finally, more research needs to be done, most importantly on family reunification through immigration streams that were excluded from this study.