Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
Je vous remercie, monsieur le president et honorables députés.
Today I have the honour of placing before the committee my department's main estimates and supplementary estimates (A), both for the fiscal year 2008-09, for which I seek the committee's approval.
I propose to cover only some of the major items in my remarks, and address any areas of particular interest to the committee in the time allotted for questions. But before I proceed, I would like to put our commitments in the main and supplementary estimates in context.
Our government is committed to helping newcomers build a better life for themselves and their families. Our vision is to ensure that the people who have gone through so much to get here can get the jobs they need to succeed, because their success is our success.
That's why in 2006 we began investing an additional $1.4 billion over five years for settlement funding, for programs that help newcomers find jobs and get settled in their new communities.
We also made it more affordable for immigrant families to come here. We did this by cutting in half the right of permanent residence fee, saving a family of four almost $2,000.
We're lifting caps on the provincial nominee programs because we want to make it easier for provinces to bring in the people with the right skills, the right education, and the right work experience for local needs. Lifting these caps will also help us to overcome regional differences when it comes to access to skilled labour.
We are also allowing foreign post-secondary students to work off-campus now for the first time ever.
The interest in this change has been immediate. In 2005 there were just under 1,200 such students who worked off campus, and last year that number had exploded to more than 17,000.
Just recently, I was proud to announce a major expansion of the post-graduation work permit program. International students will no longer be required to work in an area directly related to their program of study or to obtain a job offer prior to being issued a work permit. In addition, the duration of the work permit has been extended to up to three years across the country. Previously, the program allowed international students to work for only one or two years, depending on the location.
This expansion of the program is great news for foreign students, and it's great news for Canada. Foreign students will now be able to get a work permit and then get a job. This will help to increase their independence and will give them much needed Canadian work experience. And it will give Canada an immediate source of talented Canadian-credentialled workers.
We have also kept our commitment to create a foreign credentials referrals office. This office helps would-be immigrants find out where and how to get their foreign credentials evaluated before they even get to Canada. It also provides a wealth of information about local labour markets, including current job postings and suggestions of related professions.
By identifying any gaps between the immigrants' credentials and Canadian standards, would-be newcomers can get to work upgrading their skills before they even get here, especially with the wide range of international partnerships that our post-secondary institutions are developing around the world. And that's good for all of us.
This information is also available to immigrants who are already here, through the website and the 320 Service Canada locations across the country. Since its launch less than a year ago, credentials.gc.ca has had over 250,000 hits, and by far the majority of those have been from overseas. So it's working.
On top of that, we've expanded pilot orientation programs started in India, China, and the Philippines by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. These programs not only help immigrants check out their credentials, but also help them know what to expect when they get here, right down to how to buy a house or which bus to take to get their social insurance number.
So, Mr. Chair, our actions have shown our commitment to newcomers and their families.
With respect to the main estimates before us, the committee will note that the total main estimates for 2008-09 are just over $1.3 billion, an increase of just over $132 million, or 11%, from the previous year. This is due primarily to additional funding approved for three key initiatives: first, continued support of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement and additional settlement funding for other provinces, totalling just over $156 million;
second, enhancements to the temporary foreign worker program, totalling $5.2 million.
and finally, the establishment of and operating funds for the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, totalling $2.4 million.
Mr. Chairman, I realize this is earlier in the year than you normally review supplementary estimates, but, as the President of the Treasury Board recently noted, by tabling these estimates earlier, the government is taking another step to enable Parliament to review the numbers earlier in the year and ensure the timely processing of budgetary commitments.
With respect to the supplementary estimates, I'd like to draw your attention to the following items in the estimates, which reflect appropriations totalling just over $21 million.
First, I wish to note that the department is requesting authority for an amount of approximately $8 million to provide first-year funding to modernize the immigration system and manage the backlog. This will allow the department to implement various administrative and efficiency measures.
Second, the department is requesting authority for an amount of $7.1 million to provide first-year funding for CIC to begin planning the implementation of biometrics in the temporary visa stream.
Third, CIC requests authority for an amount of $3.9 million to hire and train additional officers to properly assess complex caseloads stemming from new operational requirements on CIC as a result of the implementation of Bill C-3, dealing with security certificates.
Finally, Mr. Chair, the department requests transferring operating funds of $2.3 million from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to cover the costs of the increase in applications from foreign participants in the international youth program. Through a network of bilateral and multilateral arrangements administered by DFAIT, this program provides young Canadians with an opportunity to gain work experience in other countries, and it enables international youth to gain work experience in Canada.
These are some of the major items.
I understand that the committee may wish clarification or explanation of the many other items in the main and supplementary estimates I have presented. My officials and I would be happy to respond to any questions the committee may have in this regard.
My officials and I would now be happy to respond to any questions the committee may have in this regard.