Evidence of meeting #46 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

  • Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Amipal Manchanda  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Neil Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We will convene in open session.

This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting number 46, Thursday, May 31, 2012. The meeting is televised. For the first hour we are meeting pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), on main estimates. In the second hour we'll have a report on plans and priorities.

Mr. Yeates, I might advise that we've changed the rules somewhat. I don't know whether you've been advised or not. The minister will be here for the first hour to talk about the main estimates, and then he will retire if he wishes. We will then continue on for the second hour to deal with the combined supplementary estimates and the report on plans and priorities. I have no idea how we're going to do that, but I am sure it will all fall into place.

We have before us the Honourable Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. We also have the deputy minister, Neil Yeates, and other staff.

Mr. Minister, I will let you introduce your colleagues and then you can proceed with your presentation to the committee.

Thank you for coming. You have the floor, sir.

3:35 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Thank you, Chairman.

It's good to be back, colleagues.

I'm joined as well by Claudette Deschênes, who is stalwart. You've seen her here dozens of times. She is, I'm sad to say, our outgoing assistant deputy minister for operations.

Is this your last committee appearance, Claudette?

May 31st, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.

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

Well, I'm hoping.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

You don't seem too eager.

Actually, I would seriously like to pay homage to Madame Deschênes for her--she's still very young--over three decades of public service, particularly as a very core member of the immigration team. She's been a visa officer, run major operations abroad, and for the past few years has been in charge of our entire operation of what is the largest immigration program in the world per capita.

Colleagues, on your behalf and on behalf of Canadians, I'd like to commend Madame Deschênes for her public service. Thank you very much. She's going to be sorely missed.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm also joined by Amipal Manchanda, who is the chief financial officer for CIC; and Catrina Tapley, the associate assistant deputy minister.

Colleagues, these are the main estimates, of course. I know those have been tabled and you've had a chance to review them in summary. We propose a parliamentary appropriation of $1.54 billion in the main estimates, which is broken down between $524 million in vote 1, which is essentially operating expenditures, and $963 million in vote 5, which are grants and contributions, the largest portion of which is funding for settlement services, either through transfers to provinces like Quebec, Manitoba, and B.C., or direct contribution agreements with settlement service organizations, plus grants and contributions in programs like multiculturalism.

One thing I might point out that should be of interest to Canadians is that we don't recruit the funds that we spend on operations through the fees that we charge. We spend over $500 million on operations, that is to say largely running our network of visa offices both internally and overseas, where we have visa officers making decisions or IT systems to support that, all of those operational costs. We do, of course, charge fees for visitor visas and permanent residency visas, as well as citizenship proofs and grants, but those fees don't come anywhere close to recouping the operational costs for the department.

In fact, Amipal, I think our total fee revenue is in the range of $250 million--is that so?

3:40 p.m.

Amipal Manchanda Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

The total fee revenue?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Amipal Manchanda

It's closer to $448 million.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

But for all of our business lines, essentially, we spend more than we generate in revenues.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Amipal Manchanda

Absolutely, significantly more.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Maybe it's something the committee wants to look at in the future. That is, a better alignment between the fee revenues that we bring in and the cost of delivering these programs. I personally don't think that the Canadian taxpayer should have to subsidize the operations of the department, which are essentially providing a benefit to both our visitors and our immigrants. I know those people are prepared to pay the actual cost of processing their applications for the privilege of visiting or immigrating to Canada. That's something I would underscore.

Let me just say, Chairman, that we have launched a kind of initiative of what I would call transformational reform in our immigration policies, the objective of which is to achieve much better economic outcomes through immigration. For too long we have seen too many immigrants dropped into the Canadian labour market to sink or swim, with too many of them, quite frankly, struggling to keep their heads above water. We have a rate of unemployment among newcomers that is substantially higher than that of the general population.

We have noticed that immigrants with a university diploma experience a rate of unemployment that is approximately four times higher than in the general population here in Canada. Furthermore, unemployment among new Canadians is more than 10%. In an economy where there are labour shortages, that's paradoxical. We accept more than a quarter million immigrants each year in an economy where we are experiencing labour shortages. And yet many of these immigrants, including economic immigrants who are chosen based on their human capital, are underemployed in our economy.

There are several reasons for that. The purpose of our reforms is to improve economic opportunities for new Canadians so that, to the greatest extent possible, they can arrange to have employment prior to arriving in Canada. We want to increase the percentage of economic immigrants who already have a job before they come here. Through our recent analysis of the Federal Skilled Workers Program, we noted that those who have already secured a job before arriving in Canada have average earnings of $80,000 after their third year in the country. That is twice as much family income as for immigrants who arrive without an arranged job.

To improve economic outcomes for immigrants, what is needed is a system which is quick, flexible and efficient—one that allows us to be proactive in recruiting and selecting immigrants. The system we inherited and that we have been managing for a number of years now is somewhat rigid and very slow. It has a backlog and application processing times are unacceptable. That is why we have been focussing on speeding up the system.

The only way we can get to a faster and more flexible system is to deal decisively with the huge backlogs that the current government inherited. I know the committee did a very helpful report on backlogs. You understand the issue well. This explains the context of the powers that are proposed in Bill C-38, including returning some 100,000 pre-2008 applications in the skilled worker program inventory. That will allow us to go from processing times of several years to processing times of a few months, meaning that employers, provinces, and others will be able to go abroad and actively recruit people who have the skills to be able to work at their skill level upon arrival, with the confidence that they will be admitted in Canada, if they're qualified, within a matter of months.

This summer we're also looking at pre-publishing a new points grid for the federal skilled worker program based on our extensive consultations. The revised grid is likely to place greater emphasis on the youth of immigrants because younger immigrants tend to do better, and on higher levels of language proficiency for those who want to work as licensed professionals, for example. We'll certainly privilege those with pre-arranged employment in Canada, moving them to the front of the line.

We also hope to create a new skilled trades stream, a very exciting innovation. In the past many years, skilled tradespeople effectively could not make it through the skilled worker program because it required high levels of post-secondary education and advanced language proficiency. But the new skilled trades stream will allow the welders and advanced construction workers and so forth, who have those skills that we need in our economy, to come here at a lower level of language proficiency. There will be a dedicated stream carved out for them to complement what's really happening in the success of the provincial nominee programs.

Moreover, with the powers proposed in Bill C-38 to move towards the creation of a pool of pre-qualified applicants, which can be drawn down from by employers and perhaps provinces through their provincial nominee programs, they will be able to identify critical labour shortages, go into that pool of pre-qualified applicants, figure out who meets their criteria, and bring them in as much as possible with pre-arranged employment.

We will also, of course, be moving towards a pre-assessment of the relevance of the education of applicants for immigration to our labour market, so we no longer bring people in whose degrees and diplomas are unlikely to be recognized by Canadian professional licensing bodies or employers.

Eventually we hope to get to a situation similar to that of Australia, where we're able to do a pre-assessment of credentials for licensed professionals that might be administered by the national bodies representing the

provincial regulatory bodies.

Finally, we have already launched consultations with a view to reforming immigrant investor programs. As I said many times, I don't think Canada realizes what huge potential it has as a destination for immigrant investors. We are now looking at ways to attract people who are able to make much more significant investments in the Canadian economy. And we are open to any ideas the committee may have as to how to carry out this reform.

I'll close with this, Mr. Chairman. These are just some of the many reforms we're making to improve the economic outcomes of immigration, to make the experience of immigrating to Canada better for newcomers and better for Canada. We are determined to get to that fast, flexible, and more efficient system as soon as we can.

I want to commend my officials for working sometimes quite literally overnight on both the policy reforms and the operational changes necessary to get there.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Madam Deschênes, on behalf of the committee, I too would like to thank you for your many hours of service to this committee and to the department. We've appreciated all the assistance you've given, certainly to this particular committee and I can speak for some of the other committees as well. So thank you very much, and we wish you well in your next stage of life.

We have some questions.

Ms. James.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, of course, to Minister Kenney for being here today to answer some of the questions.

I listened to your speech and I applaud the changes you're proposing for the skilled trades stream and so on, but I want to speak about something different, which I didn't hear you mention, and that has to do with the crooked consultants.

As a member of Parliament, like I'm sure many of us here and all of the colleagues around this table, I've had the experience of dealing with people who themselves have been victims of crooked representatives, crooked consultants who give the impression that they can legally provide immigration services to these people. That's part of the question I'm going to ask.

The second part is that, besides having victims, we also have those who are basically using crooked consultants to gain citizenship themselves. They're almost as crooked as the crooked consultants. So we have victims and we have people who are abusing these types of services here in Canada.

I know you recently made an announcement that will further strengthen the ability of the organizations that accredit these types of organizations to crack down on the crooked representatives. Can you please tell us exactly what was announced and how it will help the victims who unknowingly use crooked consultants, and also the people who are actually abusing it knowingly?

Thank you.