Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I want to thank the committee for inviting me back to speak.
I am joined by Dawn Edlund, acting associate assistant deputy minister of operations; and Heidi Smith, director of permanent resident policy and programs at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
I know you wish to hear about the progress we are making with family class and investor class processing, so I will focus my remarks on those themes.
As members are likely aware, the government's levels plan outlines the number of economic, family, and humanitarian immigrants we plan to admit in 2010. Canada plans to maintain immigration levels, welcoming between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents in 2010.
The slight increase in economic immigration—now at 64%, compared with 60% in 2009—is intended to support Canada's economy as it recovers from the recession. It will also allow us to further reduce the application backlog in the federal skilled worker category. It is well known that all labour market growth will soon come from immigration, so our plans for family class admissions have been adjusted accordingly. Although lower projected admissions in the family class reflect a decline in the number of applications in the spouse and dependent children category, family reunification, including parents and grandparents, continues to be a strong component of the levels plan.
The CIC has adopted greater flexibility so that parents and grandparents who wish to visit family in Canada may apply for a multiple-entry visa while waiting for their immigration application to be finalized. This flexibility allows them to enter Canada several times during the period their visa is valid. Spouses and partners make up roughly 90% of the family class applications, and these continue to be put in active processing as soon as they are received.
Because we have finite resources to distribute around our global visa office network, we work to ensure that those resources are strategically placed to maximize service for all our overseas applicants.
I'm pleased to report that between 2004 and 2009, there was improvement in processing times for 80% of family-class priority cases, including spouses, partners and children. For example, processing times went down in the following regions: Abidjan, from 28 months down to 10; Accra, from 31 months down to 21; Damascus, from 14 months down to 7; Tel Aviv, from 11 months down to 9; and Manilla, from 12 months down to 9.
As I indicated during my appearance last October, a high degree of fraud, civil unrest and political instability in some corners of the world have added time to the application process and to global processing times for family-class applicants.
Much of the increase in processing time was confined to a few offices, such as Colombo, Hong Kong, Nairobi, and Islamabad. This was due to a number of factors, including the need to prioritize and complete older and more challenging cases, to root out fraudulent applications and relationships of convenience, and to screen for security or criminal inadmissibility.
Processing times have increased over the past few years at the visa office in Nairobi due to various factors, including the challenge of serving 18 countries. Arranging interviews with applicants is made problematic by communications that are often unreliable, making it difficult to contact applicants; the complexity of arranging travel within the large geographic area managed by the office; and issues related to regional security. To improve processing, CIC is adding extra resources to missions, such as the one at Nairobi.
Turning now to immigrant investors, in 2007 we increased processing from 1,000 to 2,000 cases annually. In 2008, immigrants invested over $550 million in Canada. Processing times for this category, both federally and in Quebec, have generally improved in the past five years, going from an average of 43 months in 2004 down to 32 months in 2009. Between 2004 and 2009, processing times for 80 percent of federal and Quebec investors went down as follows: in Damascus, from 45 to 34 months; Beijing, from 47 to 30 months; London, from 30 to 25 months; and Buffalo, from 34 to 26 months.
The challenge we now face in some missions overseas is that the intake of federal investor applications more than doubled in 2008 and 2009. In Hong Kong, for example, the number jumped from 3,459 in 2004 to 11,244 in 2008.
We have responded to these increases by transferring some files between offices, where resources and space are available to process large inventories of applications.
Based on an earlier experiment in which skilled-worker files from Delhi were transferred to Warsaw for processing, we've recently begun to include applications from Damascus.
For the first six months of this year, 2010, we are transferring a limited number of files from Damascus to London in order to reduce processing times by taking advantage of the London office's processing capability and specialized expertise. This will help inform CIC of possible longer-term solutions to processing this complex but important movement.
Over the past 15 years, CIC has pursued a number of policy, program, service and operational initiatives aimed at transforming the way we do business.
These include a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the creation of case processing centres, the consolidation of regional call centres and the realignment of the CIC international service network. As I've already mentioned, we have experimented with moving files from one location to another, to balance workload issues or to access specialized expertise.
Beginning this summer, we plan to gradually phase out the largely outdated computer-assisted immigration processing system, CAIPS, as well as the immigration medical system, IMS, which are now operating in all of Canada's overseas missions. We will replace them with the global case management system, or GCMS.
Introduced in 2004, GCMS is being used today to process more than 200,000 applications a year for Canadian citizenship and proof of citizenship. Testing of the full system for immigration overseas is scheduled to be completed by April 6 of this year. GCMS release two will be introduced to visa offices overseas one at a time, starting at the end of June in Port of Spain.
As more visa offices are brought online, CIC users in Canada and overseas will have greater access to more complete applicant information in one place. We expect an international rollout of the entire system by March 2011.
Once GCMS is in place, we will have greater flexibility to balance our resources and workload in our overseas offices and to share information more easily with partners and security agencies. If a disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti were to strike a CIC office again, GCMS would allow us to quickly identify officers located in other offices to work off electronic files and to continue active processing.
GCMS will also better equip us to detect and prevent fraud. In fact, it has already been useful in helping us root out residency and workplace fraud.
As a fundamental component of CIC's service innovation agenda, GCMS is laying the foundation for future service enhancements.
As well, Mr. Chairman, as I mentioned last fall, since February 2009, students using e-services have been able to extend their study permits online. Building on the success and popularity of these online services, our so-called e-suite of services has now been expanded beyond students, allowing more in-Canada temporary residents, including workers and visitors, to apply online for work permits or for an extension of their visit in Canada. Later this year, CIC will also begin testing the use of e-services for student applications at selected missions overseas.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the use of biometrics will improve the quality of our immigration decisions and signal another important step in helping to reduce identity fraud and enhance the safety and security of Canadians.
Mr. Chairman, processing applications, including conducting proper medical and security checks, takes time and is linked to our yearly levels plan tabled in Parliament.
We are moving forward with a modernized, responsive immigration program that delivers on the government's commitment to supporting Canada's economy, reuniting families and protecting refugees.
Thank you. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions committee members might have.