Canadian Immigration and Illness—Does the Welfare of the Healthcare System Matter More?


Nestor Ovalle, an HIV-positive Panamanian foreign national, has been prohibited from permanent residency status in Canada on the grounds that his medical expenses could hypothetically constitute an unjustifiably large financial burden upon the Canadian health-care system. A chartered accountant with an arranged offer of employment secured at a Toronto firm, Ovalle qualified for a permanent resident permit under Canada’s Federal Skilled Worker program.

Unfortunately, medication for HIV is far from cheap. To finance the purchase of his anti-retroviral drugs, Ovalle must spend around $18,000 a year. Nevertheless, by grace of US charity AIDS international, his medication has been paid for since 2009. As the philanthropic organization has expressed willingness to continue providing for his treatment if he attains permanent residency status, this would mitigate the strain upon Ontario taxpayers.  Citing that the first Immigration Canada officer overlooked this important detail, Ovalle is permitted to present his case before another officer.

Whereas the Canadian Immigration legislation regarding criminal inadmissibility is relatively clear—specifying different courses of action that are contingent upon factors such as the nature of the individual’s offense and the applicant’s residency status—the law regarding inadmissibility on medical grounds remains ambiguous. Foreigners whose medical treatment costs exceed the Canadian average of about $6,100 a year are prohibited from entry; however Canadian Immigration officers are urged to consider the immigrant’s ability to finance these expenses on their own.   What is problematic is that there no clear enforcement mechanism to monitor the stability of immigrants’ cost-mitigation plans. The government is also skeptical as to whether immigrants to Canada will remain firm in their commitments to provide for their own private healthcare once they are gravely ill, especially since the Canadian government offers its residents access to publically-funded resources.

Nevertheless opponents to the government insist that Canada’s immigrants must at least be given a fighting chance to demonstrate that they are capable of offsetting any outstanding medical costs privately. Ottawa’s valuation of an immigrant should not emphasize the extent of their burden upon Canada’s social service system, but rather their contributions to furthering the country’s position as an economically competitive and socially-inclusive multiethnic society.

FWCanada’s website is host to a wealth of resources concerning Canadian Immigration law. Follow us on twitter or refer back to our news and articles section for the latest updates concerning changes and debates about Canadian Immigration legislation. 

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