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Evidence of meeting #27 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 system.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the minister and the officials for being here with us today. This is not my regular committee. I'm filling in for my colleague, Roxanne James, today.

I'm happy to see you here today, Minister—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

But you're not completely unfamiliar with immigration matters—

March 13th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

No, absolutely not. As you know, in my riding of Brampton—Springdale, immigration is a huge issue. Demand is very high.

I do want to take this opportunity, Minister, to thank you and congratulate you for some of the decisions you've made since becoming Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

We all agree, I think, that the immigration system overall was broken. There was a huge backlog, which the Conservative government inherited from the Liberals. Some of those changes may not necessarily be popular politically, but you've made the decision, which is the right decision, and I'm getting a lot of feedback, not just from my riding of Brampton—Springdale, but from other parts of the country as well, on things such as the super visa.

On the super visa, I know there was a release issued or a statement made about a week or so ago on the 77% approval rate, which is huge. I know that my colleague opposite mentioned the $4,000 figure for the insurance that individuals have to purchase, possibly, if they want to bring their parents or grandparents over on this super visa, which is not true: the premiums are far less. That was the myth that was initially there when this program was launched, but I'm now finding out—

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chairperson—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We have a point of order.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Stop the clock.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

On a point of order, Mr. Chairperson, with all due respect, I've had both the minister and the member say $4,000 for an individual; I have clearly said $4,000 for a couple. That would mean $2,000 on average for an individual.

Thank you.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Just carry on.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

I would also like to acknowledge some of the other changes, Minister, that you're working on and that you've made, such as cracking down on crooked consultants, the refugee reforms, and also recently announcing the five-year ban on newly sponsored spouses in regard to stopping them from getting married and sponsoring a spouse again. There was an earlier limitation that was imposed on the sponsor, but now it's also on the sponsored spouse. That was also very well received in my riding. I got a lot of positive feedback.

Moving on to the questions, one of my questions, if you're able to answer it, is, why are we paying the provincial Government of Quebec an additional $24.7 million? Why was this not budgeted in the original funding allocation?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

When we prepare the original budget and estimates, we have to literally estimate how much some of these programs are going to cost. I explained earlier the formula for the Canada-Quebec immigration accord transfers. In that case, I suppose we underestimated what the level of federal spending would be, so we've had to go back and add an additional $25 million.

What does really concern me is that we've made some really tough decisions. First of all, when we came to office, we tripled settlement funding across Canada so that we could get settlement funding levels up to where Quebec was, more or less, but then the formulas kept increasing in Quebec, and we can't afford that, quite frankly, everywhere else. So I'm really concerned about an inequity building into the system. This is raised with me by other provinces: by Ontario, by provinces in the west, and by provinces on the east coast. So it's something that I think we need to discuss.

I do know that the Government of Quebec spends a lot less than what we send to them on settlement services. So I think a reasonable question should be asked: how are they using the funds that we transfer for settlement services? Are they actually going 100% to language training and integration services? And if not, where's that money going?

Also, Mr. Gill, you mentioned—

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Go ahead.

You have about 30 seconds, so either one of you can take it.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

You mentioned the super visa, Mr. Gill. I should have mentioned that we have, as of March 5, processed more than a thousand of those. And here's great news: 80% of them were processed to a final decision within 41 calendar days, well below the target of eight weeks.

As for the old program that Mr. Lamoureux's party had established, with the seven- to eight-year wait times, well, people could make an application and wait for eight years on a decision for permanent residency. Now they're able to get a decision on a super visa in a few weeks for a ten-year multiple-entry visa.

In terms of being able to afford it, my question is, what responsible senior would travel overseas for up to ten years without health care insurance? Do any Canadians go to the United States or Mexico for a month without ensuring that they have travel insurance? Why would we expect any foreign national to come into Canada for years, especially if they're elderly, without acquiring health insurance?

It seems to me that we're simply asking people to be responsible.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. Sitsabaiesan.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all of you for being here with us today.

Minister, you mentioned that biometrics has already been researched. You're in the policy-writing stage right now at the department, and the policies have been developed over the last three or four years.

So why is it that we're studying now, in this committee, as to whether we should have introduced biometrics into our immigration system? Why is it that the government proposed that we study biometrics when clearly it's already been done for the last many years?

What does that say about the witnesses who have come in and said, you know, we should or we shouldn't, maybe or maybe not?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Well, first of all, the committee is the master of its own business. I don't dictate what studies the committee chooses to do.

Secondly, my understanding is that the committee has decided to study immigration security broadly speaking, and not just the question of biometrics.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Absolutely.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thirdly, I think this does give the committee an opportunity to understand better what biometrics means and to offer comments. We haven't started the new system. We've been working on the policy framework for about three years. If the committee has suggestions about certain things it would like to see, I would imagine that this report would be a good opportunity to express those.

But there are a lot of non-biometrics-related security issues that need to be addressed.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Absolutely, and we have been bringing those up as well throughout our study.

I'd like to ask you, if I may, about the phased rollout that you spoke of with the biometric visa. You said that you'd be phasing in the rollout starting from “high-risk countries”, if I may quote you.

Which are these high-risk countries, and how are they being identified? Perhaps you could provide the committee with the criteria used to identify the high-risk countries, and also the list of the actual high-risk countries.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

We don't yet have a final list to share, but I can tell you that we look at criteria such as the rate of....

Okay, here we are. We look at multiple factors, including patterns in immigration volumes, refugee claims, deportations, and risks of identity fraud. For example, if a country is known to be a more problematic source of fraudulent travel documents, that would be one of the criteria. If we have one country to which we end up deporting a lot more people and that's a source, perhaps a disproportionately high source, of inadmissible individuals or foreign criminal convictions, that would be another one of the criteria.

It would be criteria of that nature that we'd look at across the globe.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Is it possible to have it sent to the clerk, if it's publicly available, so that we can actually see the wording of the criteria used?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'd be happy to send a letter summarizing that, yes.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Fabulous. Thank you very much.

I have a question that goes right to my constituents. I'm sure many of us are facing the same thing.

We hear from witnesses and constituents regarding unfair and arbitrary visitor visa denials. The constituents are frustrated with form-letter denials that provide absolutely no detail as to why they're being denied. When my office, or MPs' offices, follow up, we're told that it's because they don't believe the person will return to their country. This is even after the person provides numerous documents showing their attachment to the country, leaving their spouse and two children behind, or two homes, or whatever it may be.

You mentioned that with biometrics you expect to have a higher rate of acceptance. Could you explain how?

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Let me explain that the legal basis for decisions on temporary resident visa applications is established in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It's known in plain language as the bona fide test: whether to the visa officer someone has demonstrated in the balance of probabilities the likelihood of their returning to the country of origin at the end of their authorized stay. The officers are trained to look at such criteria as assets, employment, income, family connections, and so on in their country of origin. Do those outweigh the pull factors that might cause them to overstay in Canada? That's basically the system we've always had.

I should say that last year, I believe, we approved 82% of temporary resident visa applications. There were 920,000 applications, which was up from 800,000 in 2005. We're issuing more temporary resident visas with a slightly higher acceptance rate.

I'm simply saying that I think biometrics will give visa officers a little bit more certainty that they know for sure the person is who they claim to be and that they do not represent a possible risk in terms of inadmissibility or criminality. That should result in greater confidence in approval decisions. That, I believe, is the department's view.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Minister Kenney and your colleagues. We appreciate you coming.

We were going to have another hour, but we'll have to blame the House leaders.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm happy to stay, Mr. Chair.