Liberals consider covering all refugees' travel costs as 1st budget nears
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Privately sponsored refugees from Syria have to start paying their own airfare now that government-organized flights out of the Middle East have ceased, but Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government is considering paying the travel costs of all refugees Canada will resettle in the future.

The last government flights arrived in Canada on Monday marking the end of the first phase in a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees — a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees — by the end of February. The Liberals have pledged to resettle another 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.

Canada has been providing refugees and other newcomers with loans to help them pay for the costs of making their way here and required medical exams, but that decades-old practice could be changed by the upcoming budget.

McCallum, who has been reviewing the Immigration Loan Program, said that cancelling the loans is one of the options the Liberals are considering ahead of their first budget on March 22.

"There are many things that we, as a government, want to do in the budget," McCallum said in a phone interview with CBC News on Tuesday. "So whether the full amount of that money is included remains to be seen, but that is certainly one option."

According to a 2015 government analysis, some $13 million immigration loans are issued on average each year, with newcomers receiving an average loan of $3,090. The Immigration Loan Program is funded through an advance of $110 million from the government's Consolidated Revenue Fund.

"The extreme option would be for the government to pay for all travel in the future," McCallum said. "Of course, that's the most expensive option." "I think that will be in the budget one way or another," he said.

The most recent forecast shows larger than expected deficits of $18.4 billion in 2016-17 and $15.5 billion in 2017-18, even before adding billions in promised spending.

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Source: CBC