That's fine. Thank you very much, Chair. It's good to be here today.
As you know, the Government of Canada is committed to making necessary efforts to achieve a sustainable and prosperous economic recovery, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be doing that by supporting a balanced approach in immigration and refugee matters.
In the coming year we will be upholding Canada's long tradition of welcoming newcomers from other countries, while continuing to promote measures to increase economic immigration and to make the immigration system more streamlined and efficient.
In formulating our plans and priorities for this year, CIC is aiming to foster a more flexible immigration system that is reflective of modern labour market realities and of Canada's evolving economic needs. An important reflection of this commitment to economic immigration is our plan to welcome between 55,000 and 57,000 federal skilled workers to Canada in 2012. Altogether we anticipate welcoming about 157,000 immigrants under our various economic streams. That represents almost 62% of all projected admissions for the year.
In collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners, we're working to implement, as early as this fall, a multi-year approach to planning for the number of immigrants we will welcome into the country. This will increase the flexibility of Canada's immigration system and improve its responsiveness to changing economic conditions.
We will be modernizing our points system for federal skilled workers in order to place more emphasis on criteria that best predict success for newcomers to Canada, such as official language ability, youth, and educational qualifications independently assessed as comparable to standards in Canada. We'll also make improvements to the Canadian experience class to improve its responsiveness to labour market needs. Currently, to be eligible to apply, applicants under the temporary worker stream of the CEC must have 24 months of Canadian work experience. Under proposed regulatory changes, we will be reducing that requirement to 12 months.
We will continue to modernize our operations, and make them more efficient. As members of this committee are weIl aware, one of the main areas of focus in this regard will continue to be the reduction of backlogs that lead to long wait times and make it more difficult to implement needed improvements.
For the immigration system in general, and especially for the federal skilled worker program, one of the greatest challenges comes from the large backlog of applications that have accumulated in the system. The reason they've accumulated is that, very simply, in some programs the number of applications we receive each year far surpasses the number that can be processed within the annual levels plan. Not only this, but prior to legislative amendments made in 2008 under the action plan for faster immigration, the law required us to process every single application we received. The 2008 action plan helped us to reduce the backlog of pre-2008 applications by half, and we moved to limit the number of new applications we accept.
The fact is we still have a backlog of nearly 300,000 old federal skilled worker applications. The government, as you know, recently introduced legislation that will eliminate this large backlog of pre-2008 federal skilled worker applications that has afflicted our immigration system.
Going forward, Minister Kenney has spoken in recent months of the need to do more in future than just passively accept immigration applications, and instead, actively recruit people to come to Canada to fill specific skills shortages.
Like us, New Zealand legislated an end to its backlog in 2003 and put in place a system where prospective applicants with needed skills, experience and education can be selected from a pool. We want to explore with provinces, territories and employers approaches to developing a similar pool of skilIed workers who are ready to begin employment in Canada.
Another example of CIC's efforts in the area of backlog reduction is the new action plan for faster family reunification. By the end of next year, this plan will reduce the backlog of parents and grandparents by about 50% and speed up the process of reuniting family members in Canada.
The new multiple-entry super visa, as you know, allows parents and grandparents living overseas to more easily make extended visits with their Canadian family members. We plan to have a new and sustainable program for parents and grandparents in place by fall 2013. Our redesigned program will be designed to avoid the problem of future backlogs, while being sensitive to fiscal sustainability, bearing in mind Canada's generous taxpayer-funded health care system and other social benefits.
We will also prepare to collect biometric information from certain visa applicants as part of our temporary resident program. We will begin collecting this information in 2013. The use of biometrics in the process represents an historic development in security screening. While it helps to improve the integrity of our immigration system, it will bring our operations in line with those of many other countries. As we move forward on these initiatives, we are always aware of the need to uphold Canada's international obligations and humanitarian traditions.
Once implemented, refugee reforms tabled this past February as part of Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, will build on the reforms passed in the 2010 Balanced Refugee Reform Act and ensure that these refugee claimants who need Canada's help will get it even faster, while those who only seek to abuse the system will be sent home quickly. We will also toughen penalties against anyone involved in international human smuggling.
Mr. Chair, our settlement program helps newcomers maximize their potential and integrate into the economic, social, and civic life of the country as smoothly as possible. We will undertake a review of this program with the goal of strengthening our settlement processes. We will also continue to work collaboratively and cooperatively with other levels of government and with community organizations that deliver front-line settlement services in order to make the program more efficient and better coordinated among different stakeholders. This will ensure comparable outcomes for newcomers across the country.
Protecting and strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship remains one of the central concerns of the department, and we'll continue our efforts to crack down on citizenship fraud, to look for ways to improve the integrity of the citizenship program, to streamline case processing and to ensure that the legislation reflects the value of Canadian citizenship. We will also strengthen the language assessment of citizenship applicants to make certain that new citizens have the language skills that will ensure their successful integration into Canadian society.
Building on the introduction of a new citizenship certificate, CIC will work with our partners to further extend electronic validation of citizenship status. Also, a number of special diamond jubilee citizenship ceremonies have already taken place and will continue to take place throughout 2012, to mark Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's 60th anniversary as Canada's monarch.
Mr. Chair, through our Multiculturalism Program, we will continue to work with our many partners to celebrate Canada' s diversity and to address racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism.
Through our Inter-Action program, we will help fund initiatives that promote inter-cultural and inter-faith understanding, encourage civic engagement in young people, and work to remove barriers for Canadians of all origins.
Canada will also assume the Chair of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in 2013.
I'm certain that our plans in the coming years will contribute to an even stronger and a more cohesive society, a sustainable economy, and in short a better Canada.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.