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

May 31st, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, thank you once again for joining us today, and thanks to all the officials who are here.

Madame Deschênes, let me just add my voice to a big thank you for your years of service, and I certainly wish you every success in your future endeavours.

Minister, I have a few questions I'd like to ask you, but first of all I'd like to start on the point of the money that is being refunded for the backlog of the federal skilled workers that we have. I'd like to hear your comments on that action.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Menegakis.

I heard Mr. Lamoureux say that I've never taken credit for increases in the backlogs since we came to office. I'd like to say I think he raises a very legitimate point. I do take responsibility for that, both for my tenure as minister and for that period of six years in which our government has been in office when we have seen the overall backlog increase from 850,000 to just over one million—1,010,000 at the end of last year. So it has gone up by about 150,000 over that time.

I think that underscores the fact that we should have acted faster. Mr. Lamoureux is absolutely correct in his criticism. We should have taken these measures earlier in our government.

Frankly, it took us a while to fully understand the dynamic of these backlogs, the relentless mathematical logic of them, and to understand the policy remedies to start turning the corner on the backlogs.

Frankly, in the first five years of our government we were in a minority situation, where we had all three opposition parties opposed to any measure that we put on the table to control, let alone reduce, the backlogs.

So I will remind Mr. Lamoureux that he wasn't here at the time but I'm sure he's well aware of the issues: that in 2008 my predecessor, Madam Finley, proposed amendments to IRPA through the budget, creating the power of ministerial instructions, which you well know, after your backlog study, were essential in allowing the government to begin controlling the intake of new applications and therefore to start getting a handle on the backlogs.

That provision was not only opposed by all three opposition parties, but some of them characterized it as racist, as anti-immigrant, and they used some of the vilest and most irresponsible language possible in the immigration debate to characterize that sensible and moderate effort to control the growth of backlogs.

Here is the bottom line. Had we not brought in the power of ministerial instructions and the action plan for faster immigration through those 2008 amendments, the total skilled worker backlog would have gone from 640,000 up to one million by now, instead of having gone down to 320,000. So it would have doubled rather than been cut in half. We estimate that the overall immigration backlog today would be about 1.5 million, as opposed to one million.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Time's up, Mr. Minister. I'm sorry.

That concludes the seven-minute rounds.

Ms. Sims.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

My question is about the temporary foreign worker program and the changes you have announced there recently whereby employers can now hire and bring in foreign workers at a much faster pace without ensuring that Canadians are available for that work. While you are doing that, over one million Canadians are out of work, and youth unemployment is at 14%.

These changes will also allow employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15% less than the fair market wage. When you couple this with the restricted access to EI for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing EI, the result is clear: wages will be driven down across the board.

As I look through the Conservative platform, I would like to know where in this document I can find the section where your party promises changes to the temporary foreign worker program and EI that would drive down wages for Canadians.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

You won't find such a provision in the Conservative platform because that is a complete mischaracterization of the government's policy.

You will find that the consistent theme of the Conservative platform is economic growth, and it does speak to challenges in our labour market. I will have to get you the precise citations.

Here's the bizarre thing. You are absolutely right, Madam Sims, to point out how absurd it is that we are facing 14% youth unemployment and 7.2% unemployment overall in an economy where employers report an estimated 250,000 unfilled jobs. Every demographer, every economic think-tank I've seen, estimates that by the end of this decade, based on current demographic patterns, we will be looking at between 750,000 and one million unfilled jobs in our economy.

So business groups, whether it's the CFIB or the chambers of commerce or individual employers, will tell you in most parts of the country, not just the prairies, that the single biggest problem they are facing is labour shortages.

Now, the whole—

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Minister, if I may, getting back to the platform, I realize what is in your platform—I've read that—but I was looking for where it was referenced specifically, and I didn't find it there, nor did I find raising the age of eligibility for the old age security pension.

I have a follow-up question now on the live-in caregiver program, which has been plagued with problems, even though you made “significant improvements” to the program in 2010. You told caregivers a few years ago they would receive quicker access to permanent residency, but we now know permanent residency is taking much longer. You also told them that you predicted the program would be growing, and we know that the program is declining. Caregivers are waiting longer and longer again for their open work permits, as a recent article in the Toronto Star highlighted.

You have said many times that your reforms to our immigration system are in part to help fill labour market shortages. Why is the program declining, even though we have a growing need for caregivers with Canada's aging population and with 73% of moms in the Canadian workforce? If there are problems in this program, what exactly are they, and why haven't you been able to fix them?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, we made a number of policy changes to the live-in caregiver program in 2009 to better protect caregivers. For example, we eliminated the requirement of a second medical, so if caregivers became medically inadmissible they would not be precluded from obtaining permanent residency. We created a new mandatory contract to clarify the rights and obligations of both employers and caregivers. We put in an obligation that the employers pay recruitment fees, travel costs, and health insurance premiums. We also did make it easier for caregivers to qualify for permanent residency by moving from a requirement that they work for three years to a calculation based on a number of days they work, which made it more flexible, so they could obtain permanent residency more quickly.

Now, in terms of the reduction, there is no reduction in the program. The program is a demand-driven program. When employers make a qualified application for a caregiver, that is eventually processed. From time to time there are variations in demand, and that's reflected in the intake of the program. But overall it's a huge program. Last year we admitted 11,500 permanent residents.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We're over. I always let you go over. That's it. I'm sorry, we have to move on.

Mr. Opitz.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, our government made a commitment to fix the broken program for parents and grandparents immigration, under which families were waiting up to eight years to be reunited. I think we all agree that's an unacceptable time to wait. We kept that commitment, and we introduced the action plan for faster family reunification, but I have a couple questions for you, sir.

One important part of this four-point plan was the introduction of the historic—and it was unprecedented, I think—parent and grandparent super visa, which allows those individuals to visit Canada for up to two years at a time. That visa stays in effect for up to ten years. I know that the feedback from my constituents has actually been very good on this.

First of all, can you give us a little bit of an update on the super visa? How many have been issued? What's the overall approval rate?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Thanks.

Since we introduced the super visa late last year, we have approved more than 3,500 applications, with an approval rate of 83%, which is very high, and with an average processing time of seven weeks, which is in keeping with the service standard we committed to of eight weeks or less.

I should point out that for those applicants who meet the minimum income requirement, the approval rate is actually close to 100%—it's over 98%. So we just encourage people to make sure before they put in their application that they do meet the LICO benchmark. In that case they're virtually guaranteed to get the visa, given the high approval rate.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

That's great. I know the feedback I'm getting from my riding is actually very good on that, so I'm pleased to hear that. However, also as part of that action plan, our government committed to consulting with Canadians about the future of the parent and grandparent immigration program. So in fact as part of that backlog reduction report our committee recommend that those consultations be wide and thorough.

Would you be able to tell us, sir, what sorts of consultations you've done to date on this and with whom, and can you give us some idea of what you've heard to date overall?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

You're quite right. This is the fourth element of the action plan for faster family reunification.

The first element, just to remind colleagues, was increasing by 60% the number of parents admitted into the country as permanent residents through the sponsorship program, going from about 15,000 to approximately 25,000 parents and grandparents this year and next. This was part of our immigration plan to draw those people out of the backlog.

The second point was about the temporary pause on new applications. We estimate that those two measures combined will allow us to cut the overall backlog in half by the time we reopen the program for new applications at the beginning of 2014.

The third part was the super visa.

The fourth part is redesigning the parameters of the permanent residency sponsorship program for parents and grandparents. The consultations that we've done have been online in part. We received 6,500 online responses, which are now being collated and presented to me. I've held round-table meetings with newcomers, settlement organizations, and others. And I've been doing informal consultations with immigrant communities all across the country. We invite written submissions from everyone.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

I will turn my time over to Mr. Weston.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you.

Minister, Mr. Lamoureux asked you about these “lost Canadians”. I'd like you to repeat what you said, because it's something that has been a big priority for you, and you've dealt with many of the difficult cases. Can you repeat and maybe expand on what you said about how that's been handled?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Backlogs?