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This 13-Year-Old Boy With Down Syndrome Is Being Denied Residency In Canada

Nico's family want to see a change to Canada's immigration law.

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A Costa Rican family living in Canada says the country's immigration authorities won't grant their 13-year-old son permanent residency because he was born with Down syndrome.


Felipe Montoya moved his family to Canada three years ago to accept a teaching job at York University in Toronto. He said he was warned early on by someone at the university that his son Nico's condition might present a problem with immigration, but he didn't believe it.

"I thought I had misheard," he told BuzzFeed Canada.

Montoya and his wife Alejandra Garcia-Prieto applied for permanent residency as soon as they came to Canada, and went through a series of medical exams to assess their health.

"We all came out perfectly healthy, including Nico," he said. "After that we started receiving requests from [the immigration department] for further exams of Nico. And that's when we realized that indeed what we had been warned [about] was actually occurring."

Immigration officials told the family that Nico would present an undue burden on Canadian taxpayers, and was therefore ineligible for permanent residency.

Felipe Montoya

Under Canada's immigration law, someone can be deemed inadmissible "if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services."

Montoya was outraged when he learned of the decision by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (formerly known as Citizenship and Immigration Canada). He says his son's genetic condition is not a disease, and shouldn't be treated as such.

The option his family was offered was to shoulder the full costs of Nico's health, education, and other expenses, in return for being allowed to stay in the country.

"Their reasoning for us to assume all these costs is to protect the Canadian taxpayer. But we in fact are just as taxed as any other Canadian," Montoya said. "We're immigrant workers and we are paying taxes."

Montoya has written to his Member of Parliament demanding a change to the health exemption in the immigration law. He says it goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises equal treatment without discrimination based on disability.

Felipe Montoya

A IRCC spokesperson told BuzzFeed Canada the department is aware of the family's case but could not comment on it due to privacy concerns.

"Canada’s immigration law does not discriminate against those with illness or disability," the department said in an email. "It does strive, however, to find the appropriate balance between those wanting to immigrate to Canada, and the limited medical resources that are paid for by Canadian taxpayers."

IRCC also stressed that there is no blanket prohibition on people with Down syndrome or any other condition. "Each applicant is assessed on an individual basis," the department said.

Montoya hasn't seen "anything concrete" from immigration authorities, so he's appealing to the public.

Felipe Montoya

He says Canadians are appalled when they hear about the health exemption clause, and he's hoping more public awareness will push the government to revise the immigration law.

"People with disabilities are categorized as unhealthy people," he said. "That's discrimination and it's not based on fact."

According to IRCC policy, people deemed medically inadmissible can "provide a credible plan" for how they will "mitigate the health and social care costs" to Canadian social services. That plan is then reviewed by the department before a final decision is made on whether someone gets residency.

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at

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