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Evidence of meeting #11 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

Neil Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Daniel Paquette  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, very much so.

Look, as I've said, there's no realistic way that we can address projected future labour shortages through immigration alone. So we must do a much better job of maximizing our domestic labour market potential.

That means addressing regions and populations within Canada that have historically high levels of unemployment. It means, for example, aboriginal Canadians in western Canada, where there are significant labour shortages often close to first nations communities, with 80% to 90% unemployment. It means asking the question, why is it that in certain parts of eastern Canada, where we have double-digit unemployment, employers aren't able to get people to apply for work and we have to bring in temporary foreign workers? To me, it's inexplicable.

It means a greater focus on apprenticeship and training in the skilled trades, and our government has been trying to facilitate that through the apprenticeship tax credit and the tradesperson tool deduction and so forth. But it also means provinces must continue investing more in our trade and vocational schools.

It means more flexibility within the Canadian labour market. It means greater productivity. All of these things together must be part of addressing future labour shortages.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

The departmental officials were here last week, and Ms. Deschênes, I believe, actually made a link between the bigger the backlog, the longer the wait time, and the greater chance the application is going to have inaccuracies, which in turn create inefficiencies in the system and are really a waste of productivity in getting things done.

I wanted to confirm whether you agree with this, that if something is in the queue for eight years, by the time it gets to the actual processing stage it's going to have inaccuracies, and by reducing the backlog we're going to improve the efficiencies of the system overall.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes. Very often members of the public or members of Parliament will present cases to me involving visa refusals by our officers, which they think are unreasonable. Then we look at the case and find out that applications were incomplete or unhelpful, applicants didn't provide the reason for travel or they didn't indicate whether they had relatives in Canada, or they didn't provide evidence of a history of travel. The best way that people can ensure they get a positive answer on a visa application is to provide complete information and a perfect application, and to be very careful about hiring an unlicensed consultant overseas to file their application for them.

We have a big problem overseas with an industry of what I call bottom feeders, who will guarantee people a visa in Canada. They will often intimate that they know someone in the Canadian consulate or immigration bureau and that if they are paid, in India, five lakhs or something, they will be guaranteed the visa. In fact, they don't know anyone; they don't have any inside track. Very frequently they will then submit a sloppy application on behalf of their client, often supported by fraudulent and counterfeit documents, which are often easily identified by our visa officers, which lead to a refusal. Then the client is upset because they think they didn't get a fair shot at this. Part of this is caveat emptor, buyer beware, which is why we have made available advertising, YouTube videos, warnings in 17 languages, both here and abroad, about the risks of engaging an unlicensed, unscrupulous immigration agent.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Weston.

Noon

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for coming back, along with your very worthy staff. Congratulations on being voted yet again the hardest working parliamentarian.

Our constituents have said time and again that jobs and growth are their major priority, so they're delighted the Conservative government has echoed that in overarching policy. You have made that a theme as well in trying to improve our immigration. You said this morning that the focus in immigration must be on Canada's prosperity because of our aging population and our shrinking workforce. You talked about making it more flexible through the provincial nominee program and the Canadian experience class.

Can you elaborate and answer the question that is on Canadians' minds when it comes to immigration? How are we promoting our immigration policy and making sure jobs go to Canadians first and ensuring that immigration complements the labour force rather than displaces it?

Noon

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

That's a very good question, and I would invite members to look at the public comment boards. Whenever I see a story on immigration on one of these media websites, I'll often go and do an online consultation, looking at the comments that have been entered. It's always amazing to me how many people ask why we are maintaining such high levels of immigration when there are Canadians who are unemployed. Why are we giving jobs away to immigrants that Canadians could be taking?

I don't think we should be dismissive. I think we need to explain to those Canadians that in fact there are significant labour shortages in certain industries and regions, as Mr. Davies has pointed out, but we should also be mindful that they do have a reasonable concern in a period of economic uncertainty.

Now I would point out to them that our data indicate that the vast majority of newcomers to Canada, particularly primary economic immigrants, do find employment. In the past three or four years we've seen a very encouraging upward turn in employment and income levels for immigrants generally. The data we have is up to 2008. I'm very eager to see the 2009-10 data, because of changes that were made to the skilled worker points grid by the previous government, which I would like to give credit for, focusing on higher levels of language proficiency, for example, and because of our expansion of the provincial nominee program, which is often based on an arranged employment offer. We have seen things improving. We've gone from a two-decade slide in economic results for immigrants to a three- or four-year turnaround. I think we're really headed in the right direction.

What I find exciting is the new Canadian experience class, which is growing, the new PhD stream, the better results we're getting from skilled workers who are now being selected and admitted, the fast good results for provincial nominees, plus other changes we're planning on doing. All of that adds up, for me, to much better economic results, higher levels of employment, and higher levels of income for those who come here.

Finally, the concern that you underscore, Mr. Weston, is often expressed in relation to the temporary foreign worker program. It's important to underscore that this program operates on a Canadian first basis. In order to hire temporary foreign workers, an employer must first obtain a labour market opinion from Service Canada, which they can only get if they have demonstrated that they have offered the job to Canadian residents or citizens at the prevailing regional wage rate.

So here's the weird thing. We actually have parts of eastern Canada, as I mentioned, with double-digit unemployment. Fish processing plants, a chocolate factory, Christmas tree farm operators, and other businesses tell me that in those regions they put ads in the paper and online to recruit local Canadians to take those jobs, which are often very good paying jobs, but Canadians don't apply. The business owners then say to me, “Minister, if you don't allow us to access the temporary foreign worker program, we're going to have to shut our doors and close down the business.”

I met recently with executives from a global pipeline manufacturing company that has an operation in Alberta. They are looking desperately to hire people who merely are high school graduates and pay them, if I'm not mistaken, $26 an hour on average to help them manufacture pipes. They cannot find Canadians to apply for those jobs. So now they're looking at possibly moving operations to Mexico.

How does that make any sense when we have, what is it, 14% youth unemployment?

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Minister, Mr. Weston.

Ms. Ayala, you have up to five minutes.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Good afternoon, Minister.

Several witnesses have said there are big differences in processing times between various Canadian embassies around the world. For example, Nigel Thomson, a colleague from the Canadian Migration Institute, commented on the differences in processing times in the cases of spouses and partners, which range from six months at some visa offices up to more than 27 months at others.

Now this program is one of the most—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Stop the clock, please, Madam Clerk.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

I am smelling smoke coming from the interpreters' booth. Could you slow it down a bit, please?

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you again for coming, Mr. Coderre. I appreciate it very much.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Well then, call the fire department!

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

I'm helping you.

12:05 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Several witnesses have said there are big differences in processing times between various Canadian embassies around the world. For example, Nigel Thomson, our colleague from the Canadian Migration Institute, commented on the differences in processing times in the case of spouses, partners, which range from six months at some visa offices up to more than 27 months at others, when this program is one of the priorities in the processing system for our communities.

Another person gave the example of a Nigerian woman who sponsored her husband. The visa office in Accra, Ghana, gave a wait time of two years. Those stories seem to be commonplace, and the situation seems to be getting worse.

And that is not to mention the visa issuance rates, which vary hugely from one country to another for no discernible reason. For example, 95% of visa applicants from Chile are accepted, while 30% of applications from Venezuela are rejected. And yet we are talking about countries that are comparable in economic terms.

I have two questions. Why is there such a huge difference in processing times and the criteria applied, from one country to another? Why do spousal sponsorships take so much time and what are you doing to rectify the situation?

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you for your question, Ms. Ayala.

Overall, we are trying to have similar processing times in all the countries where we offer our services. Sometimes, the differences occur for specific local reasons. Ms. Deschênes will give you more details.

12:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Claudette Deschênes

We are trying to keep processing times even throughout the world. In earlier appearances, we talked about modernization. That is why we want to move increasingly toward a process by which applications will be improved before being sent abroad. The delays are often partly attributable to the mail. It takes more time, for example, to get the results of medical examinations and to finalize that sort of thing. If we can make applications more complete in Canada or if the sponsor can help us to get this information rather than leaving it to the department to try to contact the spouse or the partner, we will be able to shorten the time, we think.

Obviously, there are higher risks in some applications. That can certainly cause more delays. With modernization, we are studying the possibility of doing things a little differently. At present, if an interview is needed, the spouse is asked to attend at the embassy for the interview, or they have to wait for us to travel to the region. We are currently testing certain models. For example, using Skype would let us do interviews faster.

You mentioned Chile and Venezuela and you said their economic situation is comparable. There are also other criteria. For example, sometimes analyses dealing with security, criminality and so on may take more time in one country or another. Our goal, however, is to try to arrive at a system where ordinarily the processing time would be comparable. We hope in part that our modernization is going to give us more tools. In the past, we had to have more officers in those countries to do more work. If we can ask the sponsor to give us more information, I think we are going to be able to reduce the variables that are based on communication problems.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Opitz.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

To our witnesses, welcome. Welcome, Minister. Thank you all for appearing once again.

Thank you, Minister, for all of your work. Having worked for you for the last two years, I know how hard you work, because you ran me off my feet in the endless hours of consultation coast to coast and with all the communities of Toronto. I know that's bearing fruit in everything you have done today. I know together we have also seen those “bottom feeders”, and the impact it has on individuals when their dreams are stolen. So that is absolutely tragic, and certainly something we want to avoid for everybody wanting to come to Canada in the future.

I'd just like to compliment Ms. Deschênes right now, too. The comment you made on the modernization of new technologies is tremendous. That's going to allow a lot of flexibility in being able to screen applicants and get them through the process faster. That shows a lot of innovation on the part of the department. So well done to all of you.

Minister, I know that recently you've been very busy and you've made some important announcements. For example, the federal skilled worker program—from which applicants have incredibly successful outcomes—is increasing compared to last year. I was pleased to see that the government announced a new initiative to admit up to 1,000 PhD students each year through the federal skilled worker program, and that the Canadian experience class has already welcomed it's 10,000th successful applicant. I know that's a tremendous program.

Can you elaborate a bit on how these are bringing Canada closer to an immigration system that attracts and quickly integrates the skilled workers that we truly require in our economy?

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Opitz.

In the past, we had this bizarre situation where Canada would welcome foreign students to come and pay high levels of tuition at our colleges and universities. They would get a Canadian education, they would improve or perfect their English or French language skills, they would have a degree that would be recognized by Canadian employers—which is typically not the case for skilled worker immigrants—and then we would say, “Great, you've got that Canadian education, you've got the language skills, now please leave the country, and if you'd like to immigrate here, get in the back of a seven-year-long queue.” It was just plain stupid.

That's why in 2008 we opened the new Canadian experience class, which allows foreign students—who have completed at least a two-year degree or diploma in Canada and who obtained at least one year of work experience using the open work permit suite we grant them—to apply for and obtain permanent residency from within Canada on a fast basis. Instead of going overseas and having to get in the back of the skilled worker queue and wait for six, seven, or eight years, we process these Canadian experience class applicants typically in a year or less.

As I say, these people are set for success. All of the research, not just by my ministry but by the think tanks who focus on immigration, tell us that the number one reason why employers don't hire immigrants to Canada, particularly in licensed professions, has to do with language proficiency. Language proficiency is an indicator of a whole suite of what we call soft social skills—understanding how to deal with Canadians in the work environment and so forth. These foreign students have obtained those soft social skills. They have high levels of official language proficiency. Most important, they have a degree that a Canadian employer will recognize on the face of it. That's why we opened up the program.

We were a bit disappointed at the beginning that it didn't have very high levels of take-up. Our first year we planned for I think 8,000 and we got 3,000 applicants or something. But this year, as you mentioned, we've just welcomed our 10,000th. This year we're planning for 7,000.

I should also mention that within the Canadian experience class we permit high-skilled temporary foreign workers who have completed two years of work in Canada on a work permit to also apply for that program. Again, it's the same kind of thing: they've got work experience, they've already got a job, they're in it, and they've improved their language skills. Why should we not welcome them as immigrants?

We did find, however, that the CEC was not working very well for foreign PhD students. The CEC is predicated on doing a diploma or a degree and then working for a year, whereas the PhD students are involved in a multi-year course of studies—four to eight years typically. But we want to keep them here, because their human capital is enormous. All of the data say that foreign students who obtain Canadian PhDs do extraordinarily well in the Canadian labour market. Their incomes are above the average income very quickly.

That's why we've opened up a special stream within the skilled worker program for up to 1,000 foreign PhD students who have done at least two years of their PhD studies in Canada.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

That's a tremendous program.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I have to say that I hope that the CEC in particular will grow and grow and grow.

Now, some of the foreign students have also been coming in through the provincial nominee programs. I would just add parenthetically that we say to the provinces, if you want to use more provincial nominee spots for economic immigrants, then don't be giving those allocations, those spots, to people who could get permanent residency through a federal program like the CEC. Send the foreign students, the kids graduating from Seneca College or UBC, through the Canadian experience class—that way the numbers will track up there—and use your provincial nominee allocation for skilled tradespeople and others.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

You and Mr. Dykstra have three minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I know that you've been active in meeting regularly with the live-in caregiver community in Canada and that the government has taken several actions to address the concerns of live-in caregivers. So I really have two questions for you.

Can you please tell us about some of the initiatives the government has introduced to address the concerns of live-in caregivers? And is the government open to taking additional actions, if warranted?

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, we did announce in December 2009 and implement in the summer of 2010 a number of significant changes to better protect live-in caregivers. This is a program that allows families that have particularly acute care needs—in the past, typically, young children with two working parents, and increasingly elderly or infirm relatives who need in-home care—to have access to people from abroad to help them at home. And here's the thing. When Canadian families advertise for live-in caregivers within Canada, Canadian residents and citizens don't apply for that work. So the only accessible labour pool for that unique and important position is from abroad.

Given the generosity of Canada, we provide a pathway to permanent residency for those live-in caregivers. There have been problems with the program in the past, which we addressed last year. For example, we have now instituted a mandatory contract that clarifies the rights of the caregiver, the obligations on the employer, and the obligations on the caregiver—to avoid disputes, to make their rights clear.

Secondly, we're providing more information on what their legal rights are in Canada. We're providing training to caregivers, for example, in the Philippines and written information on who they can call if there are problems with their employer.

Thirdly, we've negotiated information sharing agreements with the provinces so that if the labour departments of the provinces report that a caregiver's employer has been abusive or violated their rights, we can then blacklist that employer so they don't get access to a caregiver in the future.

We have moved the cost of recruitment fees and health insurance from the caregiver to the employer, and 50% of the travel costs, to make sure the employers are committed to that caregiver.

We've also effectively eliminated the requirement for a second medical check on the caregiver when she applies for her permanent residency. So if she's medically admissible on the temporary, initial phase of the program and becomes sick in the interim, she will not be penalized.

We've also expanded to four years the number of years during which the caregiver must obtain the requisite number of hours to qualify for permanent residency. So if a caregiver has to leave an abusive employer and transition to a better one, there's more flexible time for them to do so.

Let me say that some people say we should end the caregiver program; our approach has been to mend it. We'd like all of the stakeholders to work with us in implementing these significant changes as we go forward.