Spaces in the first-come, first-served immigration program to which people must apply to bring their parents or grandparents to Canada are at such a premium that some applicants are paying hundreds of dollars to ensure the government considers their cases first.

Immigration analyst like Rehman M say demand for the program far outstrips the available spots, and that planned reforms by the new Liberal government may not go far enough.

Since the former Conservative government imposed a quota in 2014, the parent-and-grandparent sponsorship program has accepted just 5,000 new applications a year, cutting off intake after that number has been reached. The paperwork must be submitted to a single government processing centre in Mississauga by mail or registered courier, and applications are considered in the order in which they arrive.

This year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced it had stopped taking applications on Jan. 7 — just three days after the program opened because it had already received 14,000 submissions. Those who missed the cut-off will have to wait another year to apply.

Applicants who are anxious to be reunited with loved ones are now turning to local couriers who offer special sponsorship services and guarantees their clients’ applications will be among the first to land in government hands. The companies charge up to $400, according to The Canadian Press.

Asked whether the government had any concerns about applicants using the courier companies, a spokeswoman for the immigration department said “IRCC makes every effort to make the process as fair and transparent as possible.”

“Courier fees are charged by private courier companies, who determine their own rates for services. Neither IRCC nor the Government of Canada has control over these private business practices. The decision to use couriers rests with individual applicants,” Faith St-John wrote in an email. More than 40 couriers waiting when the centre opened at 8 a.m. Some showed up with what appeared to be bags full of hundreds of applications, according to photographs obtained by The Canadian Press.

Calgary resident Maggie Li is trying to bring her parents over from China. She said she paid a private company $120 fee, and the cost was worth it to know her application would be delivered early on the first day.

But she said if she hadn’t stumbled across the courier company on an online immigration forum, she fears the chances of getting her application in under the quota would have been “really low.” Li said the system is biased against people who live far from the processing centre, because they’re not likely to know about the specialized couriers in the GTA.

“I think the people living in the Toronto area, they have really an advantage over us,” she said.

Neeraj Sappal, who is hoping to bring his parents from India, said he wasn’t aware of the smaller companies when he decided to send his application via regular courier for $55. It didn’t arrive until mid-morning.

Had he known there were firms that would guarantee getting it there earlier, he might well have paid whatever they were asking, he said.

“Next year it will just be worse,” Sappal said. “Everyone will know about the small companies and they’ll end up charging $1,000 and just deliver all the applications.”

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