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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

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Do I still have some time left?

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thirty seconds.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Very quickly, Minister, previous witnesses have suggested that the government update the point system to attune it more closely to what Canada's changing demographic situation is on an annual basis. Could you comment on what kind of change that would mean? And is it something we would consider?

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

We've done consultations, online and elsewhere, on prospective changes to the skilled worker points grid. I'm taking those public comments into consideration and working with our officials with an intention to announce a revised skilled worker points grid in mid-2012, which will, as I have said publicly, likely place more emphasis on higher language proficiency for those seeking to work in licensed professions.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We'll have to finish this in another round.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

And perhaps the skilled trade stream as well.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Kellway, you have up to five minutes.

November 24th, 2011 / 12:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and through you, thank you, Minister, for coming today.

I was struck when you came a few weeks ago by the premise that I think you set out for us, for this study, in your presentation. I wanted to get a comment from you on the premise of this study because I think the testimony we've heard has contradicted the premise you set out.

They are related. The first one is that this isn't a resource issue. Our backlog in the current system really stems from the requirement to process applications. I think as an illustration you showed us a plane and so many seats, etc.

What we've heard consistently through particularly the department folks who have been witnesses for us, either implicitly or explicitly, is the suggestion that the resources are really determined by the targets that are set. I was wondering if you could give me a brief comment on that.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, of course they are.

Last year we admitted 280,000 permanent residents, the highest number in 56 years, the second highest number in the history of Canada. We have the resources, but we have practical limits to how many people we think Canada can integrate and how many jobs are available for newcomers. That's the point.

Sure, I could say to the department, as Mr. Davies does, that we want 340,000, plus admit 140,000 temporary foreign workers, so we'd go to 480,000 next year. And let's say I could go to the Minister of Finance and get the funds to double the number of visa officers. So what? If we're getting 600,000 applications that year, the backlog will grow. As long as the number of applications exceeds the number of admissions, the backlog will grow.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

That's very helpful, and I appreciate that.

The second premise, then, that I think your response leads us to, is this notion that immigration is a zero-sum equation. You set out in the consultation you had in the summer around the backlog and for us in the presentation a few weeks ago that this is really a matter of balancing streams of immigration as opposed to the issue of how much immigration we accept. Effectively, the limit on how many people we can let in is set.

Yet we know—and my colleague, Mr. Davies, touched on this earlier, I understand—there are labour shortages existing or certainly looming in this country. Between what the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association testified and what we heard from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the building trades, they're talking about another 150,000, related only to their industries in one part of the country. That's 300,000 jobs identified as not being filled. I know there are a number of policy prescriptions that can deal with these sorts of things, but certainly immigration has to be one of them.

What struck me about the testimony we've heard is that what's missing here with respect to the economic stream is any kind of study that looks at the labour market and labour market plans going out over a significant time horizon, maybe five years, maybe ten years. In fact, some of our witnesses actually commented on the absence of such studies.

My question is, how do we do immigration policy without the benefit of labour market planning and labour market studies to identify shortages? How do we know that there's a limit to the economic stream that we can let into this country?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I don't accept the premise of the question that we do immigration planning without labour market information or studies. In fact, we pay very close attention to all of the available labour market data. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has an occupational projection. They are in fact putting in place even more robust information on labour markets that will be useful to us.

Every year when we do our annual immigration levels plan, we consult with provinces, industry, sector groups, labour unions, and others, to identify what the projected future economic needs are and what the labour market situation is. Indeed, it's our intention next year to move to a multi-year levels plan so that we can, apropos of your point, do a little more mid-term to long-term planning, as opposed to short-term annual immigration plans. So we do take all of that into account.

Perhaps I could briefly say I'm very encouraged to hear your line of questioning and that of Mr. Davies. You're focused on economic immigration, and it is a tool to address labour shortages. Typically what we hear from your party, frankly, is that you want higher levels of family reunification and higher levels of humanitarian immigration, and right now only two out of every ten immigrants to Canada are primary economic immigrants. So to the question of mix within programs, if you want to address those labour shortages, then we should be getting more out of the immigrants we receive, in terms of people who are employable.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

I'm sorry, Mr. Kellway, you're way over time.

Ms. James.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We're now back to seven-minute rounds, you'll be pleased to know, Monsieur Coderre.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Last week departmental officials were here, and there was some discussion on the federal skilled worker program and the fact that the government has been able to reduce that backlog considerably. I think I asked a question, if I remember correctly, and the answer was that the actual backlog could be eliminated within the next few years, which is truly remarkable considering the size of it back in 2008.

I think the results of what our government has done over the last couple of years with regard to the federal skilled worker backlog and the intake of the actual applications shows it's an important tool that we need to carry on to make sure that backlogs are certainly not developed or increased in the future.

Minister Kenney, would you agree with that statement? And do you think we could apply that same management of intake of applications to other immigration streams?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, and actually we have. Not only have we applied the tool of ministerial instructions through our action plan for faster immigration to reduce the old skilled worker backlog by more than half, but we have applied the same tool, for example, to the immigrant investor program.

We now have a backlog of nearly 30,000 cases in the investor immigrant program, which is why I announced this summer that we would accept only 700 new applications this year. The other several thousand investor immigrants we admit will come out of the backlog for several years until we can get the IIP backlog down to what we would call “a working inventory”. Then we could expand the number of new applications we'll receive in the future.

Similarly we've applied the same tool to the privately sponsored refugee program. We had sponsorship agreement holders in that program, irresponsibly, I think, submitting thousands of applications—well beyond our ability to admit people—so we have ended up with a large wait list. In some regions, such as Nairobi, it is as long as 10 years because of the huge numbers of applications. We are now working with the sponsorship agreement holders to reasonably limit the number of new applications until we can draw down on the backlog.

Finally, we would encourage the provinces to be mindful of the need to avoid the development of backlogs in their provincial nominee program.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

I noticed in your speech, and also in the hard copy I have here, that you have listed a number of things that have come out of our committee's work on backlogs. Some of the suggestions include minimum income threshold for sponsors, balance of family test, and also an upfront bond of an incremental amount of what we've heard to be up to $75,000.

My colleague, Mr. Opitz, touched on the points system, and a few of the witnesses suggested the government take that action. There has been a real focus on making sure the ability to speak English or French, one of our two official languages, be part of that points system.

I am wondering whether you could comment on that. Is that something you would consider as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes. In 2001, the previous Liberal government adopted a new grid for the skilled worker program that allocated higher points for higher levels of language proficiency. It was controversial at the time, but in retrospect it was the right thing to do. Since 2006 we've seen those people getting admitted under the current points grid and we've seen much better results.

As I mentioned, we've gone from a 25-year decline in income and employment rates for skilled workers...and we've turned the corner. We're seeing higher levels of employment and income, we believe in large measure thanks to the higher levels of language proficiency.

This is based on data. The data tell us, employers tell us, that economic immigrants with higher levels of official language proficiency do better faster. That is not to say, by the way, that people cannot succeed without high levels of language proficiency; they're just more likely to succeed with high levels of English or French. So we are looking at reinforcing language proficiency in the new points grid that we hope to unveil in a few months' time.

Let me add a caveat. I think we need a flexible immigration system, and that is where we've been headed. For example, one of the big areas for future labour shortages is in the skilled trades: construction trades, welders, boilermakers, etc. These people would never be able to get in through the skilled worker programs because they typically don't have university degrees or high levels of language proficiency. But upon arrival, especially if they have arranged employment offers, they can go straight to work making very good money. A welder or boilermaker in western Canada could be making $70,000, $80,000, or $90,000 a year upon arrival.

What we are looking at is perhaps a more flexible system that doesn't impose the high level of language requirement on skilled trades people, for example. That's essentially what we have now in the provincial nominee program.

Basically what I'm saying is that for those people who need strong English or French, require it before they get into the country; for those who don't, be a little bit more flexible.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you. May I ask how much time I have?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

One minute.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Okay. I'm going to get this in quickly. It is important.

We continually hear from the opposition that simply increasing resources and letting more applicants into the country is going to resolve our backlog.

I know we have touched on it several times throughout questions in this last hour and a half, but I'm wondering whether you can comment further and explain why increasing resources is not the answer, and it's more that we need to look at a multitude of different things to improve our immigration system.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Backlogs arise when the number of applications exceeds the number of admissions. There is virtually an infinite number of people who would like to come to Canada. According to Ipsos Global, they estimate, based on their polling, that just among the OECD countries, two billion people would like to migrate here. If we included the other 175 countries of the world, we're probably talking about several billion people who would like to migrate here. It's a good problem to have.

Before we brought in the tool of ministerial instructions, we were often getting over 400,000 applications a year. If resources were the issue—sure, we could spend more money and hire more visa officers in order to process 400,000 to 500,000 immigrants a year. But Canadians would say that's ridiculous. We can't reasonably integrate that many people.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Davies.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you.

Mr. Minister, I don't think I got an answer as to where the trade-offs are in increasing the number of visas in a number of categories and where there will be categories that will see decreases in visas. But one program I do know about is the live-in caregiver program, because the numbers are out.

We've heard from witnesses before this committee that there is a backlog in the live-in caregiver program. One of the quotes was that “...visa offices face backlogs in...processing, notably in the live-in caregiver program”.

As you've said—and I think quite rightly—the program has been very successful, because thousands of Canadian families are in need of care for their children and their aging parents, with the latter becoming increasingly important as the Canadian public ages.

I want to quote you, Minister. You told caregivers at a conference in Toronto in March 2010 that you saw the LIC program as a “growing and important part of our immigration system”.

Now, the numbers have just come out: we issued 13,909 LIC visas in 2010. The range for 2011 was 12,000 to 16,000—we don't know the final numbers yet, of course—but in your levels plan that you tabled a few weeks ago for 2012 you cut the target to 9,000. That's a drop of anywhere between 25% and 43% from 2011, depending on whether you take the low range or the high range.

Minister, can you explain why you seem to have reversed your own words and the priority of this program, particularly when many Canadians need this program and there is a backlog?

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'd like to make a couple of points, Mr. Chairman.

When I said it's likely to be a growing program in the future, I meant that over the long run, there will likely be growing demand for in-home care with the aging of the population. I wasn't talking about our plan in any given year.

In every program that operates on a demand basis, there are going to be variations. For example, if we go back a few years, the number of work permits issued to caregivers—and then ultimately permanent residencies—was 4,000 to 6,000 a year. Then, a few years ago, we saw a significant increase where we were issuing up to about 12,000 work permits to incoming caregivers, and we saw that reflected at the back end of last year.

You see, there's a delay, a time lag. The front end is the first phase, where caregivers get the work permit. When we saw an increase in demand for caregivers a few years ago, that went up. Then there is a time lag until three or four years later, when they're admitted, which is what happened last year. Basically, what we see is that the projected number of admissions of caregivers as permanent residents tracks the number of work permits issued a few years before. That's why it will move up and down.

I will say, Mr. Chairman, that I recently learned of an operational problem, due to our implementation of the global case management system in processing open work permits for caregivers who have completed the requisite number of hours for permanent residency as they wait for final processing of their PR applications. I've worked with the department, which is trying to find a solution to speed up the processing.

Maybe, Claudette, could you—