Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Claudette Deschênes. I am the assistant deputy minister of operations at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
I am joined by Sandra Harder, who's the acting director general of the immigration branch at CIC.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak. Today I will provide you with an overview and update on the special immigration measures the department took in response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 of this year.
As members of the committee are aware, the Embassy of Canada suffered significant damage as a result of the earthquake. Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the disaster, on January 16, CIC announced special measures that would be available to those who self-identified as being directly and significantly affected by the earthquake.
Foremost among these measures, CIC and our federal partners developed and implemented an evacuation plan for Haitian children who were at an advanced stage in the process of being adopted by Canadian citizens or permanent residents. From the time of the earthquake until the end of February, almost as many adoptive children arrived in Canada as would normally have arrived in two years, that is, 237 for the years 2008 and 2009 combined.
Of the 250 adoptees identified for possible evacuation, 203 are now in Canada with their adoptive parents, pending finalization of their immigration or citizenship process, and it is possible that one or two more children will be able to come to Canada under the special immigration measures.
As the situation in Haiti has stabilized, specifically with the return of commercial flights, the families of these children have been informed to make their own travel arrangements.
After close review, some of the children did not have the required provincial-territorial government approval for adoption. In other cases, the prospective adoptees were over 18 and not eligible to be adopted, were not matched with a family in Canada before the earthquake struck, or the parents were unable to obtain provincial approval to adopt. But the children may be able to come to Canada at a later date through the regular adoption process if all requirements are met. All of the parents whose adoptive children were not able to come to Canada under the special immigration measures have been contacted.
It should be noted, Mr. Chairman, that the interest expressed by many Canadians to adopt children who lost their family and friends in this tragedy is a testament to their generosity and open spirit. But it is international policy and practice to try to first find homes for children who have been orphaned in their own country before placing them in a foreign country.
The processing of any new adoption application will depend on when the Government of Haiti re-establishes adoption procedures. Anyone interested in international adoption of a Haitian child is asked to contact their provincial government ministries or adoption agencies.
Other immigration measures necessitated our working quickly to establish criteria that would allow for the priority processing of new and existing family-class sponsorships, including spouses, common-law and conjugal partners, dependent or adoptive children, parents, grandparents and orphaned family members such as brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and other grandchildren under 18 years of age.
We also established priority processing for protected persons with family members in Haiti, and citizenship certificates.
I am pleased to report that although service at the Embassy of Canada in Haiti was limited, the Government of Canada evacuated more than 4,600 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, while ensuring that all applicants met standard admissibility requirements.
Our processing centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia conducted more than 928 verifications for people who had lost their documents and expedited 257 proofs of citizenship, for the period ending March 12, 2010.
In order to respond flexibly to the urgent need for help, Mr. Chairman, CIC temporarily exempted certain categories of foreign nationals from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa to transit Canada en route to Haiti. This meant that passengers on board non-commercial aircraft bringing aid to and evacuating people from Haiti, and making stops in or transiting through Canada, did not require a visa.
We also waived fees on applications for temporary residents for Haitian nationals in Port-au-Prince and for extensions of temporary residents within Canada. As of March 10, we have processed over 1,500 applications for temporary residence from Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo, of which the majority are Haitian nationals. In addition, 168 permanent resident visas have been issued to Haitian nationals by authorities in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo, and more visas will be issued in the coming weeks and months.
All removals to Haiti were temporarily halted, and although normally the Government of Canada does not deport people to Haiti except in limited circumstances, this rule applies in all cases. The visa office in Port-au-Prince has limited capacity to provide immigration programs and services to Haitians, so their services remain focused on Haitians affected by the earthquake.
To relieve pressure on the visa office in Port-au-Prince, we opened a new visa post in Santo Domingo to provide services to citizens and all others who were lawfully admitted to the Dominican Republic, including Haitians. With the exception of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, all other nationals of countries previously covered by Port-au-Prince must now submit their applications to the office in Port of Spain, Trinidad. We have also established a Haiti processing office here in Ottawa to support the ongoing activities of the mission in Port-au-Prince. This office has been designated to process all cases for those overseas who have self-identified as qualifying for the special immigration measures.
In response to overwhelming demand for information on the government's special immigration measures, CIC extended the hours of its call centres for three weeks, and out of concern for the fact that members of the Haitian Canadian community were being misled that paid immigration consultants could speed up the arrival of their loved ones, CIC also held information sessions across Canada. More than 3,200 people attended information sessions in Montreal, over 800 attended several sessions in Ontario, and one session was held for 45 people in Vancouver.
Given the return to normal processing, to the extent possible in Haiti, Mr. Chairman, CIC has lifted some of the fee exemptions that have been in place since January 16, 2010.
We will continue to waive fees for Haitians who are applying in Haiti, as well as Haitian nationals in Canada who are destitute and applying for a work permit. All other Haitian applicants, including those who are outside of Haiti, or who are in Canada but who are not destitute, will no longer benefit from the fee exemption.
CIC continues to process applications in the order that they are received, again to the extent possible in Haiti. Humanitarian and compassionate applications submitted in Canada prior to January 2012 are also receiving expedited processing.
Our highest priority will remain closest family members, as defined in the regulations, and urgent and exceptional cases. Other members of the family class will constitute our second priority, followed by applicants who meet the requirements of the Quebec special measures and who are not in the first two priorities.
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee might have.