Evidence of meeting #10 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was backlog.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Good morning, everyone. This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting number 10, on Thursday, November 17, 2011.

The orders of the day, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), are the study of immigration application backlogs in light of the action plan for faster immigration.

We have two witnesses, who have been here before many times and who have been here on this issue. On behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome you again. We have heard some testimony from different witnesses giving their observations as to what we should or should not do. You may or may not have heard that testimony or read it in Hansard. I expect members of the committee may ask for your observations about those recommendations. They may not.

Once again, I think it is fair for committee members to ask questions on testimony that has been given by witnesses, but I don't think it's fair to ask these two guests about issues of policy, as to whether the government is or is not doing the right thing. Those questions should be directed toward....

Mr. Dykstra, on a point of order.

11 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

As always, I respect your observations, your rulings, even when they don't go in my favour, sir, but the witnesses we have here today are able to speak to policy.

I wonder if what you're trying to avoid is getting into a political discussion versus a policy discussion.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

This point of order normally comes from Mr. Davies. There's always a surprise in this committee.

I'll do whatever the committee wishes, but I don't want criticism of the government and government policies. Those questions should be directed toward the minister as opposed to these witnesses. I think it is fair for these witnesses to explain policy, maybe how it came about, but I don't want them to get into it from either side, either the government side....

But you're experienced witnesses. I'm sure you'll be able to handle yourselves.

I've spent enough time on that.

Welcome, again. Mr. Linklater, you may proceed. You have up to eight minutes, sir.

11:05 a.m.

Les Linklater Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to appear before you once again on this issue, as you begin to wrap up your study on the backlog of immigration applications.

Joining me again today is Claudette Deschênes, Assistant Deputy Minister for Operations.

When we appeared before this committee a couple of weeks ago, we explained how we ended up with such a large backlog of applications. As the minister has said, the backlog is essentially a problem of math. Every year we receive far more applications than we can process, since our annual levels plan ultimately determines how many people we will admit.

As you know, the minister tabled the levels plans for 2012 since our last appearance. Next year, we will increase the number of parents and grandparents we admit by 60%. We plan to admit 25,000 parents and grandparents, which is significantly higher than the 15,324 we admitted last year. The reason for this increase is to help us begin to tackle the large backlog of parent and grandparent applications.

When we were last here, we discussed the large backlog of 165,000 parents and grandparents. Without any change, new applicants could have expected to wait at least eight years before a decision was reached on their application.

To reduce the backlog and improve wait times, Minister Kenney announced the action plan for faster family reunification last week. The first part of this plan involves increasing the number of parent and grandparent admissions.

As of November 5, we also began a temporary pause of up to 24 months on the acceptance of new sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents. To tackle the backlog of applications, we must prevent it from continuing to grow. This part of the action plan is absolutely critical.

As you know, thanks to similar changes we implemented in 2008, we were able to cut the pre-2008 backlog of 640,000 federal skilled workers by more than 50%. This is because we were able to control and reduce the number of new applicants, while maintaining or increasing the number of people admitted.

While we work on reducing the backlog of parents and grandparents, we want to ensure that Canadians and permanent residents can continue to reunite with their families. To accompany this temporary measure, part of the action plan also involves the creation of a new parent and grandparent super visa.

Starting December 1, parents and grandparents will be able to obtain 10-year multiple-entry visas to Canada within, on average, eight weeks of application. They will be able to stay here for a period of up to two years under those visas without renewing their status.

As you know, parents and grandparents are already eligible for visitor visas that allow them to enter Canada. But these visas need to be renewed frequently and are often not ideal for parents and grandparents who want to spend more time in Canada. Under the new super visa, parents and grandparents will be able to stay with their families for extended periods.

These measures will provide us with the necessary time to tackle the backlog of parents and grandparents and reduce wait times.

I will now turn the floor over to my colleague, Claudette Deschênes, who will speak in more detail about how we plan to do this from an operational standpoint.

11:05 a.m.

Claudette Deschênes Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.

As my colleague mentioned, most years CIC receives many more applications than can be processed. And this has resulted in a large backlog of parents and grandparents sponsored as part of the family class.

Under the action plan for faster family reunification, we are now in a position to tackle the backlog of applications. The two-year pause on new sponsorship applications will provide us the necessary time to process applications while preventing a backlog from continuing to grow. With the increase in parent and grandparent admissions next year, this will help us do this sooner. As Les mentioned, in 2012 we plan to admit 25,000 parents and grandparents.

I am pleased to report today that we will begin work to reduce the backlog right away. I will explain how we plan to do this in a moment. First please allow me to backtrack for a moment.

When CIC first receives an application for processing, we must verify whether it is completed properly and that all the information is up to date. Sometimes the information on the form is incomplete and we find that the applicant forgot to attach the necessary documentation.

But, given that the backlog contains applications that are as old as seven years or more, what we find most often is that the applicant's personal circumstances have changed. Many people have since changed their address without notifying us; they get married or divorced; or they have since moved on and no longer wish to submit their application. Anyone of these factors can further prolong the time required to process an application. But a lot of our time can be spent just trying to locate an applicant.

Once we manage to contact them, we notify the applicant that we are in the process of completing their application. They are given 180 days to provide us with the necessary information or outstanding document--for example, their birth certificate. It is only at that time, once we receive all of the missing and updated information, that we can actually begin to process their application.

To overcome this hurdle and meet our admission target of 25,000 parents and grandparents next year, we will soon begin a letter campaign to obtain the information needed to complete applications in the backlog. Later this month we will begin to mail out letters to 24,000 individuals who represent the oldest applications in the backlog. In addition to providing us with missing and updated information, CIC will strongly recommend to applicants that they provide up front the documents and fees we normally request later in the process, such as the police certificate from the country of origin and the right of permanent residence fee.

In order to provide reasonable processing times in the future, we must first reduce and eliminate the backlog of applications. We would like to make our way through the backlog of parents and grandparents as quickly as possible. This letter campaign will enable us to process applications in the parents and grandparents backlog much faster than normal. We want to improve wait times and results for parents and grandparents, as well as their family members who sponsor them in Canada. With the introduction of the action plan, we are well on our way to achieving this goal. We are actually printing these form letters now.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We are now ready to take any questions that honourable members may have.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Opitz.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

After hearing the witnesses, including you and the minister, it's become clear that the backlogs are a matter of numbers and that the applicants exceed the number of people we can take. That, I think, has been clear.

Would speeding up the processing help clear the backlog in any way?

11:10 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Claudette Deschênes

If you mean faster acquisition of the applications we process, the answer is yes. One of the problems we have is that we're going to have to go back and update all our information. By not accepting any more applications and focusing our efforts on what's in the backlog, we think we can achieve our results much more quickly and clear that backlog.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

You mentioned abandoned applications, and that's interesting for me. How many are there, and what kind of a burden do they impose on the system?

11:10 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Claudette Deschênes

We believe this happens more with the parents and grandparents. We have often spent significant time trying to contact the parents to get them to complete their applications, and often that involves a lot of back-and-forth. What we find out sometimes is that parents and grandparents aren't doing what they need to do because they are not really sure they want to immigrate, although they want to be able to come and visit the family. We don't know the total number in this group. We'd like to use our resources to deal with active files of people who are going to meet the requirements as quickly as possible.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Can you explain why the super visa requires proof of medical insurance?

11:10 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Les Linklater

As we look at ensuring that parents and grandparents have the opportunity to spend a longer time in Canada as visitors, rather than coming through as permanent residents, our feeling is that we would like to ensure that this movement does not pose an undue hardship on the Canadian taxpayer, with respect to health or social services. Currently, it's rare that a parent or grandparent, or any visitor, would be asked to provide proof of medical insurance for a stay in Canada. But when you're looking at the possibility of someone coming for as long as 24 months at a given time, our view is that we should have the information necessary to know that there will be no need for a call on medical resources in Canada, as the applicant or their family would be covering those costs through private insurance.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Ms. James.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to our guests. It's nice to see you back once again.

The last time you were here, I believe you talked about modernizing the application process. I'm wondering if you could give us an update on the progress that's been made towards modernizing the application process.

11:15 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Claudette Deschênes

In clearing this backlog, we are actually going to a modernized approach. We are going to be writing to the sponsor of the parent or grandparent and asking the sponsor to provide us with the application for their parent or grandparent. We'll be encouraging them to provide as many of the documents as possible, including the police certificate. Parents and grandparents who don't have dependent children are fairly low-risk. Once we have the birth certificate to prove the relationship, then the next step is a medical. We're going to try to do more of these from Canada. We will send to the missions only those cases where there may be questions about dependants. Are they the real dependants? Do they still go to school? We'll be testing our modernization vision.