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Evidence of meeting #46 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 program.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Amipal Manchanda  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Neil Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We will convene in open session.

This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting number 46, Thursday, May 31, 2012. The meeting is televised. For the first hour we are meeting pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), on main estimates. In the second hour we'll have a report on plans and priorities.

Mr. Yeates, I might advise that we've changed the rules somewhat. I don't know whether you've been advised or not. The minister will be here for the first hour to talk about the main estimates, and then he will retire if he wishes. We will then continue on for the second hour to deal with the combined supplementary estimates and the report on plans and priorities. I have no idea how we're going to do that, but I am sure it will all fall into place.

We have before us the Honourable Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. We also have the deputy minister, Neil Yeates, and other staff.

Mr. Minister, I will let you introduce your colleagues and then you can proceed with your presentation to the committee.

Thank you for coming. You have the floor, sir.

3:35 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Thank you, Chairman.

It's good to be back, colleagues.

I'm joined as well by Claudette Deschênes, who is stalwart. You've seen her here dozens of times. She is, I'm sad to say, our outgoing assistant deputy minister for operations.

Is this your last committee appearance, Claudette?

3:35 p.m.

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

Well, I'm hoping.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

You don't seem too eager.

Actually, I would seriously like to pay homage to Madame Deschênes for her--she's still very young--over three decades of public service, particularly as a very core member of the immigration team. She's been a visa officer, run major operations abroad, and for the past few years has been in charge of our entire operation of what is the largest immigration program in the world per capita.

Colleagues, on your behalf and on behalf of Canadians, I'd like to commend Madame Deschênes for her public service. Thank you very much. She's going to be sorely missed.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm also joined by Amipal Manchanda, who is the chief financial officer for CIC; and Catrina Tapley, the associate assistant deputy minister.

Colleagues, these are the main estimates, of course. I know those have been tabled and you've had a chance to review them in summary. We propose a parliamentary appropriation of $1.54 billion in the main estimates, which is broken down between $524 million in vote 1, which is essentially operating expenditures, and $963 million in vote 5, which are grants and contributions, the largest portion of which is funding for settlement services, either through transfers to provinces like Quebec, Manitoba, and B.C., or direct contribution agreements with settlement service organizations, plus grants and contributions in programs like multiculturalism.

One thing I might point out that should be of interest to Canadians is that we don't recruit the funds that we spend on operations through the fees that we charge. We spend over $500 million on operations, that is to say largely running our network of visa offices both internally and overseas, where we have visa officers making decisions or IT systems to support that, all of those operational costs. We do, of course, charge fees for visitor visas and permanent residency visas, as well as citizenship proofs and grants, but those fees don't come anywhere close to recouping the operational costs for the department.

In fact, Amipal, I think our total fee revenue is in the range of $250 million--is that so?

May 31st, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

Amipal Manchanda Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

The total fee revenue?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Amipal Manchanda

It's closer to $448 million.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

But for all of our business lines, essentially, we spend more than we generate in revenues.

3:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Amipal Manchanda

Absolutely, significantly more.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Maybe it's something the committee wants to look at in the future. That is, a better alignment between the fee revenues that we bring in and the cost of delivering these programs. I personally don't think that the Canadian taxpayer should have to subsidize the operations of the department, which are essentially providing a benefit to both our visitors and our immigrants. I know those people are prepared to pay the actual cost of processing their applications for the privilege of visiting or immigrating to Canada. That's something I would underscore.

Let me just say, Chairman, that we have launched a kind of initiative of what I would call transformational reform in our immigration policies, the objective of which is to achieve much better economic outcomes through immigration. For too long we have seen too many immigrants dropped into the Canadian labour market to sink or swim, with too many of them, quite frankly, struggling to keep their heads above water. We have a rate of unemployment among newcomers that is substantially higher than that of the general population.

We have noticed that immigrants with a university diploma experience a rate of unemployment that is approximately four times higher than in the general population here in Canada. Furthermore, unemployment among new Canadians is more than 10%. In an economy where there are labour shortages, that's paradoxical. We accept more than a quarter million immigrants each year in an economy where we are experiencing labour shortages. And yet many of these immigrants, including economic immigrants who are chosen based on their human capital, are underemployed in our economy.

There are several reasons for that. The purpose of our reforms is to improve economic opportunities for new Canadians so that, to the greatest extent possible, they can arrange to have employment prior to arriving in Canada. We want to increase the percentage of economic immigrants who already have a job before they come here. Through our recent analysis of the Federal Skilled Workers Program, we noted that those who have already secured a job before arriving in Canada have average earnings of $80,000 after their third year in the country. That is twice as much family income as for immigrants who arrive without an arranged job.

To improve economic outcomes for immigrants, what is needed is a system which is quick, flexible and efficient—one that allows us to be proactive in recruiting and selecting immigrants. The system we inherited and that we have been managing for a number of years now is somewhat rigid and very slow. It has a backlog and application processing times are unacceptable. That is why we have been focussing on speeding up the system.

The only way we can get to a faster and more flexible system is to deal decisively with the huge backlogs that the current government inherited. I know the committee did a very helpful report on backlogs. You understand the issue well. This explains the context of the powers that are proposed in Bill C-38, including returning some 100,000 pre-2008 applications in the skilled worker program inventory. That will allow us to go from processing times of several years to processing times of a few months, meaning that employers, provinces, and others will be able to go abroad and actively recruit people who have the skills to be able to work at their skill level upon arrival, with the confidence that they will be admitted in Canada, if they're qualified, within a matter of months.

This summer we're also looking at pre-publishing a new points grid for the federal skilled worker program based on our extensive consultations. The revised grid is likely to place greater emphasis on the youth of immigrants because younger immigrants tend to do better, and on higher levels of language proficiency for those who want to work as licensed professionals, for example. We'll certainly privilege those with pre-arranged employment in Canada, moving them to the front of the line.

We also hope to create a new skilled trades stream, a very exciting innovation. In the past many years, skilled tradespeople effectively could not make it through the skilled worker program because it required high levels of post-secondary education and advanced language proficiency. But the new skilled trades stream will allow the welders and advanced construction workers and so forth, who have those skills that we need in our economy, to come here at a lower level of language proficiency. There will be a dedicated stream carved out for them to complement what's really happening in the success of the provincial nominee programs.

Moreover, with the powers proposed in Bill C-38 to move towards the creation of a pool of pre-qualified applicants, which can be drawn down from by employers and perhaps provinces through their provincial nominee programs, they will be able to identify critical labour shortages, go into that pool of pre-qualified applicants, figure out who meets their criteria, and bring them in as much as possible with pre-arranged employment.

We will also, of course, be moving towards a pre-assessment of the relevance of the education of applicants for immigration to our labour market, so we no longer bring people in whose degrees and diplomas are unlikely to be recognized by Canadian professional licensing bodies or employers.

Eventually we hope to get to a situation similar to that of Australia, where we're able to do a pre-assessment of credentials for licensed professionals that might be administered by the national bodies representing the

provincial regulatory bodies.

Finally, we have already launched consultations with a view to reforming immigrant investor programs. As I said many times, I don't think Canada realizes what huge potential it has as a destination for immigrant investors. We are now looking at ways to attract people who are able to make much more significant investments in the Canadian economy. And we are open to any ideas the committee may have as to how to carry out this reform.

I'll close with this, Mr. Chairman. These are just some of the many reforms we're making to improve the economic outcomes of immigration, to make the experience of immigrating to Canada better for newcomers and better for Canada. We are determined to get to that fast, flexible, and more efficient system as soon as we can.

I want to commend my officials for working sometimes quite literally overnight on both the policy reforms and the operational changes necessary to get there.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Madam Deschênes, on behalf of the committee, I too would like to thank you for your many hours of service to this committee and to the department. We've appreciated all the assistance you've given, certainly to this particular committee and I can speak for some of the other committees as well. So thank you very much, and we wish you well in your next stage of life.

We have some questions.

Ms. James.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, of course, to Minister Kenney for being here today to answer some of the questions.

I listened to your speech and I applaud the changes you're proposing for the skilled trades stream and so on, but I want to speak about something different, which I didn't hear you mention, and that has to do with the crooked consultants.

As a member of Parliament, like I'm sure many of us here and all of the colleagues around this table, I've had the experience of dealing with people who themselves have been victims of crooked representatives, crooked consultants who give the impression that they can legally provide immigration services to these people. That's part of the question I'm going to ask.

The second part is that, besides having victims, we also have those who are basically using crooked consultants to gain citizenship themselves. They're almost as crooked as the crooked consultants. So we have victims and we have people who are abusing these types of services here in Canada.

I know you recently made an announcement that will further strengthen the ability of the organizations that accredit these types of organizations to crack down on the crooked representatives. Can you please tell us exactly what was announced and how it will help the victims who unknowingly use crooked consultants, and also the people who are actually abusing it knowingly?

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you very much, Madam James.

This is an issue that this committee spent a great deal of time studying in previous Parliaments. When I became minister, I became aware of the great anxiety of many newcomers who had been exploited by crooked and often fake immigration consultants, people I'm now referring to as criminals posing as immigration consultants.

I heard stories about people who had given sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in cash to people essentially posing as credible immigration consultants with often the promise of a guaranteed visa, only to find that the person closed up their shop and walked away with the money, with no service delivered. There are undoubtedly thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of victims of these scamsters both here and abroad, which is why I've made it one of my key priorities as minister, with the support of the department, to combat this global industry of immigration profiteers.

We've made enormous strides, first of all, through the adoption of the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, which came into effect in June 2011, which made it a criminal offence to provide assistance on an immigration application or a visitor visa application at any stage of the process without being a licensed member in good standing of either the designated regulatory body for consultants or the provincial law societies. This addressed the problem of the ghost consultants. Now anyone who provides advice or assistance, or advertises to do so, promises to do so, must be a registered member of the licensing body.

Secondly, we responded to widespread concerns about frankly the dysfunctionality of the former designated regulatory organization for consultants that was called CSIC. There were concerns about its lack of transparency, lack of accountability, lack of disciplinary action and a lot of other issues, which is why we went after a transparent process and selected a new and we think much more credible and accountable regulatory body, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, which I designated as the new regulator last year.

I just gave a status report on the good work being done by the ICCRC. They have already, for example, referred to the law enforcement agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency or the RCMP over 60 cases for referrals for criminal action. They have undertaken serious discipline. They have hired former RCMP officers to follow up and conduct investigations on complaints against members of their organization. They have done more in the past year to throw the book at crooked consultants than the CSIC did in the previous seven years. So there's been huge improvement.

Last week I announced the last piece of this, which was the recent coming into force of new regulations to support the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act. This allows my ministry, the RCMP, CSIS, and the Immigration and Refugee Board to share information on the conduct of ICCRC members with the council.

What this means, effectively, is that if a member of the IRB sees an asylum claim that apparently is filled with lies and fraud that has been facilitated by an ICCRC member or a provincial law society member, the IRB can then refer that to the regulatory body and suggest they might want to take disciplinary action. Similarly, if one of our visa officers abroad sees a spousal sponsorship application prepared by an ICCRC member or a lawyer that is filled with documentary fraud or misrepresentation, they can then send that now legally to the ICCRC for disciplinary measures.

This means we can crack down on the ghost consultants. The law enforcement agencies and the ministry can refer cases of fraud on the part of representatives to the licensing body, and the licensing body is now much more actively referring apparent criminal acts to the CBSA and the RCMP.

I have to say this is one of the things I'm proudest about that we've managed to achieve. There will continue to be people victimized, no doubt, and part of this has to be the overseas dimension, because much of this activity happens beyond the reach of Canadian law in the source countries of immigration, which is why I've made it a priority both for myself and our government to strongly encourage foreign governments to crack down on the same industry of crooked agents.

I've raised this issue personally with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, with President Aquino of the Philippines, with Prime Minister Gillani of Pakistan, with the public security minister of the People's Republic of China, with state and provincial authorities, and with police authorities in all of those countries, asking them to cooperate more actively with CIC and our partners in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., with what's called the Five Country Conference—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Perhaps you can conclude, Mr. Minister.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

—to crack down on the industry.

Sorry.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. James, I'm sorry, that concludes your time.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

No, you're doing an excellent job, Mr. Minister.

Ms. Sims.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you.

Welcome to the committee, Mr. Minister.

Minister, I have a question around health care coverage for refugees. As you know, asylum seekers, many of whom will end up being legitimate refugees, are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Many of them are fleeing violent persecution. Canada has always been a compassionate sanctuary, but it seems like those days are numbered under your government.

Last month you announced drastic cuts to health care coverage for vulnerable refugees, a move that has since been condemned by such radical groups as the Canadian Medical Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the Canadian Nurses Association. Some of those doctors in lab coats went so far as to engage in acts of civil disobedience to oppose these mean-spirited cuts.

At the time of the announcement, you said this was all about making sure that refugees are not given more medical coverage than the average Canadian citizen. But we now know that isn't completely true.

An article in Embassy a few weeks ago pointed out that a potentially legitimate refugee from a so-called safe country delivering a baby or undergoing emergency surgery for a heart attack at a Canadian hospital would have to pay for it out of pocket because of your changes to the interim federal health program for refugees. Your parliamentary secretary is quoted in this article, and essentially confirms that this will be the case. A doctor in the article is quoted as saying that people could die because of this.

The question is simple. Will you admit that once again you have acted in haste when proposing these reforms? Will you at the very least reconsider the part of your planned reform that would deny basic medical coverage from designated country-of-origin asylum seekers?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

No, I will not make such an admission, because I reject the premise of the questions, Madam Sims.

You've suggested, for example, that we'll deny basic health coverage for refugees. That is completely and categorically false. Under our reforms to the interim federal health program, anyone who is a refugee, whether a resettled refugee or a successful asylum claimant, will benefit from the same bundle of health care services that are available to Canadians.

This bundle of services will not include the supplementary benefits Canadians have to pay extra for, because we believe there is a problem in terms of fairness and equity that working Canadian taxpayers should not get health care benefits as generous as foreign nationals who come to this country. We think there is an important equity principle here that we are establishing by eliminating supplementary benefits coverage.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Minister—

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Having said that, the only people under the IFH program who will not receive the basic equivalent of provincial health care coverage are asylum claimants—not refugees, but claimants—coming from designated countries such as the ones from Europe, over 95% of whom don't even show up for their refugee hearings.

I would argue that they have no more of a right to receive publicly funded health insurance than a visitor from those countries.