Evidence of meeting #11 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 immigration.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Neil Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Daniel Paquette  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

And perhaps the skilled trade stream as well.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Kellway, you have up to five minutes.

November 24th, 2011 / 12:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and through you, thank you, Minister, for coming today.

I was struck when you came a few weeks ago by the premise that I think you set out for us, for this study, in your presentation. I wanted to get a comment from you on the premise of this study because I think the testimony we've heard has contradicted the premise you set out.

They are related. The first one is that this isn't a resource issue. Our backlog in the current system really stems from the requirement to process applications. I think as an illustration you showed us a plane and so many seats, etc.

What we've heard consistently through particularly the department folks who have been witnesses for us, either implicitly or explicitly, is the suggestion that the resources are really determined by the targets that are set. I was wondering if you could give me a brief comment on that.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, of course they are.

Last year we admitted 280,000 permanent residents, the highest number in 56 years, the second highest number in the history of Canada. We have the resources, but we have practical limits to how many people we think Canada can integrate and how many jobs are available for newcomers. That's the point.

Sure, I could say to the department, as Mr. Davies does, that we want 340,000, plus admit 140,000 temporary foreign workers, so we'd go to 480,000 next year. And let's say I could go to the Minister of Finance and get the funds to double the number of visa officers. So what? If we're getting 600,000 applications that year, the backlog will grow. As long as the number of applications exceeds the number of admissions, the backlog will grow.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

That's very helpful, and I appreciate that.

The second premise, then, that I think your response leads us to, is this notion that immigration is a zero-sum equation. You set out in the consultation you had in the summer around the backlog and for us in the presentation a few weeks ago that this is really a matter of balancing streams of immigration as opposed to the issue of how much immigration we accept. Effectively, the limit on how many people we can let in is set.

Yet we know—and my colleague, Mr. Davies, touched on this earlier, I understand—there are labour shortages existing or certainly looming in this country. Between what the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association testified and what we heard from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the building trades, they're talking about another 150,000, related only to their industries in one part of the country. That's 300,000 jobs identified as not being filled. I know there are a number of policy prescriptions that can deal with these sorts of things, but certainly immigration has to be one of them.

What struck me about the testimony we've heard is that what's missing here with respect to the economic stream is any kind of study that looks at the labour market and labour market plans going out over a significant time horizon, maybe five years, maybe ten years. In fact, some of our witnesses actually commented on the absence of such studies.

My question is, how do we do immigration policy without the benefit of labour market planning and labour market studies to identify shortages? How do we know that there's a limit to the economic stream that we can let into this country?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

I don't accept the premise of the question that we do immigration planning without labour market information or studies. In fact, we pay very close attention to all of the available labour market data. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has an occupational projection. They are in fact putting in place even more robust information on labour markets that will be useful to us.

Every year when we do our annual immigration levels plan, we consult with provinces, industry, sector groups, labour unions, and others, to identify what the projected future economic needs are and what the labour market situation is. Indeed, it's our intention next year to move to a multi-year levels plan so that we can, apropos of your point, do a little more mid-term to long-term planning, as opposed to short-term annual immigration plans. So we do take all of that into account.

Perhaps I could briefly say I'm very encouraged to hear your line of questioning and that of Mr. Davies. You're focused on economic immigration, and it is a tool to address labour shortages. Typically what we hear from your party, frankly, is that you want higher levels of family reunification and higher levels of humanitarian immigration, and right now only two out of every ten immigrants to Canada are primary economic immigrants. So to the question of mix within programs, if you want to address those labour shortages, then we should be getting more out of the immigrants we receive, in terms of people who are employable.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I'm sorry, Mr. Kellway, you're way over time.

Ms. James.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We're now back to seven-minute rounds, you'll be pleased to know, Monsieur Coderre.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Last week departmental officials were here, and there was some discussion on the federal skilled worker program and the fact that the government has been able to reduce that backlog considerably. I think I asked a question, if I remember correctly, and the answer was that the actual backlog could be eliminated within the next few years, which is truly remarkable considering the size of it back in 2008.

I think the results of what our government has done over the last couple of years with regard to the federal skilled worker backlog and the intake of the actual applications shows it's an important tool that we need to carry on to make sure that backlogs are certainly not developed or increased in the future.

Minister Kenney, would you agree with that statement? And do you think we could apply that same management of intake of applications to other immigration streams?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, and actually we have. Not only have we applied the tool of ministerial instructions through our action plan for faster immigration to reduce the old skilled worker backlog by more than half, but we have applied the same tool, for example, to the immigrant investor program.

We now have a backlog of nearly 30,000 cases in the investor immigrant program, which is why I announced this summer that we would accept only 700 new applications this year. The other several thousand investor immigrants we admit will come out of the backlog for several years until we can get the IIP backlog down to what we would call “a working inventory”. Then we could expand the number of new applications we'll receive in the future.

Similarly we've applied the same tool to the privately sponsored refugee program. We had sponsorship agreement holders in that program, irresponsibly, I think, submitting thousands of applications—well beyond our ability to admit people—so we have ended up with a large wait list. In some regions, such as Nairobi, it is as long as 10 years because of the huge numbers of applications. We are now working with the sponsorship agreement holders to reasonably limit the number of new applications until we can draw down on the backlog.

Finally, we would encourage the provinces to be mindful of the need to avoid the development of backlogs in their provincial nominee program.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

I noticed in your speech, and also in the hard copy I have here, that you have listed a number of things that have come out of our committee's work on backlogs. Some of the suggestions include minimum income threshold for sponsors, balance of family test, and also an upfront bond of an incremental amount of what we've heard to be up to $75,000.

My colleague, Mr. Opitz, touched on the points system, and a few of the witnesses suggested the government take that action. There has been a real focus on making sure the ability to speak English or French, one of our two official languages, be part of that points system.

I am wondering whether you could comment on that. Is that something you would consider as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes. In 2001, the previous Liberal government adopted a new grid for the skilled worker program that allocated higher points for higher levels of language proficiency. It was controversial at the time, but in retrospect it was the right thing to do. Since 2006 we've seen those people getting admitted under the current points grid and we've seen much better results.

As I mentioned, we've gone from a 25-year decline in income and employment rates for skilled workers...and we've turned the corner. We're seeing higher levels of employment and income, we believe in large measure thanks to the higher levels of language proficiency.

This is based on data. The data tell us, employers tell us, that economic immigrants with higher levels of official language proficiency do better faster. That is not to say, by the way, that people cannot succeed without high levels of language proficiency; they're just more likely to succeed with high levels of English or French. So we are looking at reinforcing language proficiency in the new points grid that we hope to unveil in a few months' time.

Let me add a caveat. I think we need a flexible immigration system, and that is where we've been headed. For example, one of the big areas for future labour shortages is in the skilled trades: construction trades, welders, boilermakers, etc. These people would never be able to get in through the skilled worker programs because they typically don't have university degrees or high levels of language proficiency. But upon arrival, especially if they have arranged employment offers, they can go straight to work making very good money. A welder or boilermaker in western Canada could be making $70,000, $80,000, or $90,000 a year upon arrival.

What we are looking at is perhaps a more flexible system that doesn't impose the high level of language requirement on skilled trades people, for example. That's essentially what we have now in the provincial nominee program.

Basically what I'm saying is that for those people who need strong English or French, require it before they get into the country; for those who don't, be a little bit more flexible.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you. May I ask how much time I have?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

One minute.