This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #7 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

Martin Collacott  Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual
Roger Bhatti  Immigration Lawyer, As an Individual
Justin Taylor  Vice-President, Labour and Supply, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association
Arthur Sweetman  Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual
Felix Zhang  Coordinator, Sponsor our Parents
Dan Bohbot  President, Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association (AQAADI)

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Good morning. This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting seven, on Tuesday, November 1, 2011. This is a televised meeting.

Our orders of the day, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), are to continue our study of the immigration application backlogs in light of the action plan for faster immigration. The meeting will be shorter because of our meeting in camera for the first 15 minutes.

We have two witnesses who are present here in Ottawa.

Martin Collacott is the spokesperson for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform.

Good morning, sir.

11:15 a.m.

Martin Collacott Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Good morning.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You appeared for Bill C-11 in the past, and we appreciate your coming again.

We have Mr. Justin Taylor, who is the vice-president of labour and supply for the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

We also have, via teleconference from Burnaby, British Columbia, at the other end of the country, Mr. Roger Bhatti.

11:15 a.m.

A voice

It's not working.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

It's not working.

Well, hopefully by the time we proceed with the first two presenters, the video conference from Burnaby will be working.

Each of you has up to eight minutes to make a presentation, and then members of the committee will have questions of you.

Mr. Collacott, you may go first. You have up to eight minutes. Thank you for coming, sir.

11:15 a.m.

Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Martin Collacott

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As I haven't had a chance to speak to most of the members of the committee before—I think only you and Mr. Dykstra have been in previous meetings that I've been at—I'd like to give a quick background on my interest in immigration and my connection with it.

I was involved some years ago in programs for immigrants when I was the citizenship adviser for the Ontario government. I was responsible for services for English and citizenship classes, and teachers throughout the province. After that, I was sent by the Canadian International Development Agency to the Malaysian state of Sabah, where I spent five years training English teachers in Chinese schools. That gave me some exposure to the immigrant experience in other countries.

Later, when I worked for Foreign Affairs, I served as Canadian High Commissioner and ambassador in a number of countries where there were high flows of immigrants and refugees to Canada. For the last 10 years, I've been a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. Then last year we formed a new group, the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, to try to raise public awareness of immigration and refugee issues, and encourage informed public debate on these topics. I'm the spokesperson and chair of the advisory board.

Finally, on a personal level, I would mention that my parents are both immigrants. They're from Britain. My wife is an immigrant from Asia, and some of my in-laws are boat people from Vietnam, which gives me an interesting refugee perspective on issues.

I'll make some comments about the backlog in general, as well as the backlog of sponsored parents and grandparents in particular, since the latter is perhaps the most sensitive from a political perspective. With respect to the overall backlog, the problem has been developing for some years. Until recently, Canada had established annual target levels but not annual caps, which meant that the number of people applying to come here who could meet the requirements were often much greater than what we needed or could absorb.

In contrast, the U.S. puts an annual limit on how many people it will admit, and applicants are under no illusion that they may have to wait quite a long time to come in if they don't make the cut for the current year.

As Minister Kenney has pointed out, there's no shortage of people who want to immigrate to Canada. In 2008, the government wisely took action that gave priority to the applications of those who were most likely to succeed in Canada and benefit Canadians.

I would question the solution proposed by some that we raise our immigration levels in order to admit all those who are currently in the queue. There's abundant evidence that we're already bringing in far more people than we need.

I'm not going to have time to go through all the reasons why levels are much higher than they should be. I'll just mention a few.

To begin with, the prosperity of a country doesn't depend on a constantly growing population or workforce. Our prosperity depends on having sound economic policies that stimulate increases in productivity and make the best use of our existing workforce, including women, aboriginals, immigrants who already here, and older people.

Some claim that high levels of immigration are necessary if we're to meet our anticipated labour shortages. The fact is that we already have potential labour forces and the educational infrastructure required to meet all such shortages.

One figure that has been given, by Professor Marcel Mérette of Ottawa University, who's a demographer, is that if you raise the average age of current retirement of Canadians by one year, from 61.2 to 62.2 years, that's the equivalent of bringing in an extra 65,000 high-qualified immigrants. If you raise it to 65, you have a tremendous impact. There's evidence that people are already starting to retire later. That began long before the recession, but it's accelerating.

The Economic Council of Canada's landmark study of the social and economic impacts of immigration, which was done ten years ago, concluded that immigration was not justified in today's Canada, on either economic or demographic grounds. The study pointed out that almost all labour shortages could be met domestically if wages were allowed to rise, and more Canadians were attracted by the higher pay and acquired the training necessary to fill the gaps.

The head of the economics department of the University of British Columbia, Professor David Green, made the same points earlier this year. He told the annual Metropolis Conference that natural market responses to labour shortages, such as pay hikes, can be obstructed when immigration increases the supply of workers and thus reduces wages. If you're looking at immigration as a major driver of economic growth, you're looking in the wrong place. David Green, by the way, is also a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Just last week, a committee of the Labor government in Australia issued a report saying there was little evidence to support claims that immigration was an important driver of per capita economic growth or that it could alleviate the problems of an aging population. Similar conclusions were reached in a House of Lords report in the United Kingdom, in 2008, and in the bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress, in 1997.

I mention these points to underline that while immigration has played a major role in Canada's development at various times in our history--and Canadians are justified in viewing it positively--there is nevertheless strong evidence that current immigration levels are far higher than what we really need and are very costly for Canadians. The cost was touched on by previous witnesses who pointed out that it could be as much as $16 billion to $23 billion a year. Not only should the intake of skilled workers be significantly reduced and more emphasis put on the training and employment of Canadians, but other programs should either be reduced or eliminated completely.

The live-in care program as a path to permanent residence, for example, is particularly ill-conceived and should be eliminated with a minimum of delay.

Neither the investor nor entrepreneur programs have much to justify them and the government has already begun some moves on that.

There should be concern over the rapid expansion of the provincial nominee programs. It's important that the provinces be consulted on immigration issues that affect them, but far too much authority has been delegated to them.

As for what to do with the backlog, the action the government has taken to date to deal with it makes a good deal of sense--give priority to those most likely to be a success and contribute to the economy--although I would qualify this by referring to my earlier statement to the effect that we're still taking in far too many immigrants, whether well-qualified federal skilled workers or not.

What I'd suggest is that given the unexpected length of time many in the queue will have to wait to get their visas, they at least be given the opportunity to cancel their applications and receive a full refund for the fees they have paid. There is a legal obligation to process the applications that have been made to date, but we never guarantee the particular timeframe for letting people in. I think the government is quite right in concentrating on those whom we need the most.

I'll conclude my remarks with a few comments on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents.

I think it's quite understandable that newcomers would like to bring their parents and grandparents with them, but bringing them into Canada is very costly for Canadian taxpayers, particularly with regard to health care. Based on data summarizing the average health care costs of different age groups in a study released by the C.D. Howe Institute earlier this year, the health care costs of the sponsored parents and grandparents who have come here since 1990 could amount to as much as $84.4 billion.

If you include all those who have come since 1980, the costs rise to over $103 billion.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Perhaps you could wind up soon, Mr. Collacott. You have about 30 seconds.

11:25 a.m.

Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Martin Collacott

Okay.

These costs don't include old age security or the guaranteed income supplement.

One final comment on parents is that when Australia introduced tougher measures for bringing in parents, it was predicted that good immigrants wouldn't apply because they couldn't bring their parents with them. That simply wasn't true and they got just as many applications. If you can bring your parents and grandparents with you, that's a bonus. If you can't, that's hardly going to be the deciding factor on whether you immigrate to another country. So that is a bogus argument.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you very much, sir.

Mr. Bhatti, can you hear us out in Burnaby, British Columbia?

11:25 a.m.

Roger Bhatti Immigration Lawyer, As an Individual

Yes I can, Mr. Chairman.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

That's good. I will speak to you in a moment.

First, though, we will hear from Mr. Taylor, who is with the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

We thank you for coming, sir. You have up to eight minutes.

11:25 a.m.

Justin Taylor Vice-President, Labour and Supply, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Thank you for inviting me here today.

I'd like to start by acknowledging the many steps that the government has taken to respond to labour shortages in this country, in particular the decision to maintain immigration levels at their current levels throughout the recession, while many other countries chose to reduce numbers significantly.

The restaurant sector considers itself to be the unsung hero of the Canadian economy. We represent $63 billion in annual sales and 4% of Canada's GDP. Unlike other sectors, our industry is present not only in every province and territory but in just about every single community across the country. Over one million full-time jobs exist in our sector, and we're the fourth-largest private sector employer in Canada. We're among the top three tourist attractions in the country, and Canadians visit our establishments 18 million times a day. We're at the heart of ethnic communities across the country. Often the way you can tell you're in an ethnic community is the high concentration of restaurants in that neighbourhood.

We do face some significant challenges with labour shortages. Our industry is traditionally youth-centric. Currently one in five jobs in Canada for youth is in our sector. While many other sectors are seriously concerned about the looming labour shortage, the demographic shift we're continuing to experience in Canada, with fewer youth and an aging population, has a very significant impact on our sector because of the high proportion of youths who traditionally work for us. According to the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, the restaurant sector will face significant labour shortages by 2025, with over 142,000 full-year jobs projected to go unfilled.

Currently under the ministerial instructions, chefs, cooks, and restaurant managers can enter Canada under the federal skilled-worker program. Our shortage will be in occupations requiring both a higher and lower degree of formal training. For example, we will be short 16,000 cooks and 47,000 food-counter attendants. Even now, in these precarious economic times, our third-quarter restaurant industry outlook indicated that 30% of restaurants are concerned about the shortage of qualified labour.

Specifically on immigration in our sector, we are the number one first-time job for Canadians. Seventy-nine per cent of Canadians agree that working in a restaurant teaches you how to be part of a team. Fifty-nine per cent agree that working in restaurants helps new Canadians develop crucial skills for life in Canada. Fifty-one per cent agree that the restaurant industry is a great industry for new Canadians to gain experience in.

Other sectors face significant challenges when immigrants come into the country and their credentials cannot be immediately recognized. Often foreign training and experience is highly valued in our sector. Immigrants from countries with strong hospitality or culinary culture thrive in our industry, and we have significantly lower problems with foreign credential recognition than other sectors. The explosion of ethnic cuisine in Canada means that foreign-trained chefs and cooks are in very high demand and are able to integrate into the labour force immediately. Because our industry will face shortages in occupations that require both a high and lower degree of formal education, immigration policies that allow workers with significant training and experience in our industry as well as those that encourage young families to come to our country are both important for our long-term success.

We note that there are some problems with backlogs in immigration currently, but many of those backlogs have been significantly reduced due to the reforms in 2008. The current delays mean that primary applicants and their families are not able to come to Canada immediately to fill the jobs that are waiting for them. Individuals who are eager to come to Canada are therefore often coming in as temporary foreign workers, and this is putting increasing pressure on provincial nominee programs with some unintended consequences.

For example, I recently was speaking to the head of human resources for a national chain, who was saying that they're experiencing major problems in Alberta where they're bringing in temporary foreign workers only to have those foreign workers leave Alberta immediately and move to Saskatchewan, where the PNP is more generous. Also, this is creating problems for the arranged employment stream of immigration. This is a stream of immigration that is not well understood by employers in our sector, and there is significant concern about the uncertainty for processing times. Backlogs mean that employers cannot count on those employees to arrive in the timeframe required, and often they'll have to fill those vacancies in other ways while waiting for those immigrants to arrive in Canada. We look forward to working with the government to help solve some of these problems and to increase awareness about this stream of immigration.

I also wanted to provide a few concrete examples of success stories in our industry that many immigrants have had. I had the opportunity recently to meet someone who came to Canada 10 years ago. Their first job was as a dishwasher in a Swiss Chalet restaurant. They are now the proud owner of two Swiss Chalet franchises.

I also had a bit of a different conversation with the operator of an Indian restaurant just north of Toronto, who was complaining that he brings in Indian chefs and after three years of working for him, they keep opening their own restaurants, creating more jobs in our industry.

In summary, the impending labour shortage means that Canadian restaurant operators are increasingly relying on a supply of new workers through steady immigration streams.

Thank you very much.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you very much, Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Bhatti, good morning to you. It's 8:30 out there. Have you had breakfast yet?

11:30 a.m.

Immigration Lawyer, As an Individual

Roger Bhatti

I have not yet.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Okay. Well, you will have to wait until after you speak.

You are an immigration lawyer, and you have up to eight minutes to make a presentation to the committee. We thank you very much for coming.

11:30 a.m.

Immigration Lawyer, As an Individual

Roger Bhatti

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm a lawyer who's been practising for 27 years now in Surrey, British Columbia. Surrey is unique in Canada. It's one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural parts of this country. The face of that community has been substantially changed by immigration.

While there have been the inevitable growing pains in Surrey, the greater Vancouver area really stands as a testimony to Canada's forward-looking immigration policies, including the principles of multiculturalism and family reunification. I find this time and time again when I'm meeting with clients.

It's with those principles in mind that I address you on the issue of immigration application backlogs. I know that the members of this committee have heard a lot of statistics, a lot of studies, and so forth. I'm going to give you a couple of very recent examples of what's happening in the spousal category.

Last week, a woman who was originally from Nigeria but is now a Canadian citizen came into my office. She told me that she wanted to sponsor her husband, whom she had recently married. She asked me what the processing time would be. I looked it up on the Immigration website. The processing time in Accra, Ghana, which is the central processing centre nearest to Nigeria, was 22 months. When you add the 70-day processing period in Canada for the sponsor, this Nigerian Canadian sponsor will be waiting a minimum of 23-plus months, just under two years, to sponsor her spouse.

She then asked me what the waiting time was in China. I told her it was four months. She asked me why Nigerians were treated so differently. I didn't have an answer for her.

To the members of the committee, this woman deserves an answer. We shouldn't be treating sponsors and applicants differently in these categories according to what country they come from. We need to fund our consulates and processing centres in a manner that treats the applicants equally. We shouldn't have situations where the wait for a Nigerian spousal applicant is six times the wait for a Chinese or an Indian spousal applicant. There is simply not enough justification for that. We have the resources. It's a matter of allocating them properly.

I have a second example. Yesterday, a client of many years called me. He had recently returned from Angola. Selso made a refugee claim in Canada several years ago. While Selso was waiting for his refugee claim to be adjudicated upon, the civil war in Angola ended.

Now, a noticeable change in the way we reference rejected refugee claimants seems to be particular to recent years where they are now being referred to, whether it be by the honourable minister or others, as “bogus” refugee claimants.

In this instance, this man was simply a victim of the civil war having ended and not a situation where his claim was not credible, but one in which it was no longer valid. In the meantime, Selso had been married to a Canadian woman and they'd had a child. Selso was deported back to Angola.

One of the changes that this administration has made that has added greatly to the delays in spousal sponsorships has been the handling of the authorization for re-entry to Canada, or the ARC. This is something that previously would add approximately 60 days, perhaps 90 days, to an application in order for the person to get special clearance from the minister or the minister's delegate to return to the country.

Selso phoned me yesterday to thank me for the work I had done for him. It had taken him three years to return to his wife and child, a child that he doesn't know any more, a wife who's not sure if they still have a relationship any more.

Certainly there are tangible things that can be done with respect to the allocation of funds and with respect to the handling of ARCs that can speed up this processing. Clearly, with respect to the situation for parents and grandparents, I would submit that the suggestion that a ten-year multiple-entry visa be granted to alleviate the difficulty for those waiting in the queue is an important consideration. It's a good suggestion. It's one that my clients definitely have a positive reaction to, and it is a positive step that would alleviate some of the distress that's been caused by the increase in the wait periods, which are now approaching seven years for most parents and grandparents.

I close in saying that in my community, the presence of grandparents, parents, and extended families has added greatly to the cultural mosaic in Surrey. It's a success story, and whereas it's been said in other presentations that we should be looking to what other countries in Europe are doing, in fact what you'll find, if you look at many of those studies, is that many of those countries are looking—and rightfully so—to this country, to what we've done and what we've done correctly, at a forward-looking immigration policy rather than simply a populist one.

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Bhatti, thank you very much.

We appreciate the contribution that the three of you made to the committee in its work on trying to solve this backlog problem.

Now members of the committee will have some time to ask questions. This segment of the meeting will end at 12:10, and so I will be strict on times. I may even cut you off in mid-sentence.

We'll go to Mr. Weston and then Ms. James, please.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to our guests today.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you especially, Mr. Collacott. I think we often meet with people who devote themselves to the betterment of Canada, and I know you've done that. Whether we disagree or agree with all of your opinions, you're constantly trying to make the country that you love better, so thank you for being here today.

I'm going to ask one question and then we can move on to my colleague.

Our immigration system, which was created in 2002, requires our government to process every application, no matter how many we receive.

Mr. Collacott, you pointed out that there's no shortage of people who are interested in moving to Canada. Does this make sense, given that legal obligation? If not, what would you do to change that?

11:40 a.m.

Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Martin Collacott

Thank you for the question, Mr. Weston.

I suggested that, at the moment, there is a legal obligation to process and that's why, in 2008, legislation was passed that said we can't possibly accommodate all these applications, so the minister has the right to simply not process some applications.

We do have this backlog under the old legislation that we're obligated--as far as I know, although the lawyers in CIC would know better--to process. But we can't possibly take in all these people without swamping the system, and I don't see that we have a legal obligation to actually issue their visas within a specific length of time. This is the problem, because we raised the expectations, probably, that they would be. But by the same token, we didn't anticipate getting all those applications. It's a problem for the government.

But I would simply have to say, okay, we'll process your application, but you won't necessarily get your visa, because we have hundreds of thousands of other people trying to come in here; if you want to withdraw your application, we'll give you your money back--“with interest”, someone suggested, which I don't take exception to.

This is the only sensible way to handle it. We're never going to bring in all of those parents and grandparents. Why not give them their money back if they'll take it? Otherwise, they can just wait. Unfortunately, many of them will probably be dead before they get their visas.

We've just had 35,000 more applications for parents and grandparents last year. Just about everyone would like to bring their parents and grandparents. It's a great boon. I mentioned that it could be up to $100 billion in their health care costs, so why not bring in your parents and grandparents?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is to Mr. Collacott as well. I'm just going to kind of go on with what my colleague John Weston mentioned.

If you could think of three recommendations for this government to help reduce the backlog, what would those three be? Actually, a previous witness and colleague of yours stated that the federal government had lost control of immigration and that urgent reforms were needed. I think we can all agree with that statement. That's the reason we're here studying backlogs.

I'm just wondering if you could give me three recommendations that you think would help this situation the most for Canada. I know that you touched on several of them before. Could you talk about the three top recommendations?

11:40 a.m.

Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Martin Collacott

There are concerns in different areas. I didn't mention our humanitarian program, but I think we need a total revisit of our refugee program and our humanitarian program.

We should definitely establish annual levels so that we're not misleading applicants. They know that if they don't fit in to the current quota, they won't have expectations that they're going to come in quickly. I think we should have done that years ago, and I don't know why we didn't.

Certainly in the case of parents, that program should really be revisited. The Liberals, in fact, looked at it back in 2004, and they realized that it was costing us a mint. They reduced the intake to one-third. There was pressure from immigrant communities, and the next year the levels shot right back up. They knew that something had to be done, but they got cold feet. I hope that after much discussion and after getting everyone's input, this government hangs in there. This is a program that is hugely costly.

I think refugee policy needs to be looked at.

I think overall levels have to be looked at. There is no reason why we have among the highest net per capita immigration levels in the world. In terms of the backlog, we just have to bite the bullet and say that there are a lot of people in that backlog we can't accommodate, and they should have to accept it. Now, there will be terrific opposition from immigration lawyers and immigration advocacy groups, and there should be a public debate on this. I think the facts, as far as I can make out, are quite clear as to what we need to do.

I don't know if I gave you three, three and a half, or four recommendations.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

I think you got at least three, so that's good. Thank you.

You made mention that obviously we have an immigration backlog problem. It's a million-plus at this point in time. You mentioned the United States. I believe you said there were caps per year. I'm just wondering whether you can kind of make mention of what other countries are doing, such as the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. How are they dealing with immigration, and how are they dealing with their backlog situation, if they have any?

11:45 a.m.

Spokesperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, As an Individual

Martin Collacott

I'm not sure what their backlogs are, but they've certainly tightened up in certain areas.

The U.K. has. Australia, in fact, passed legislation back in the 1990s in terms of backlogs of parents, because they were getting huge numbers of applicants. They said basically two things. One was that if you want to bring your parents in, you pay for the medical costs, because they're considerable. The other interesting thing was that they said that they would operate on the balance of family. That is, if the program is based on the reunification of families and bringing them back together, it doesn't make sense if most of the parents' children are somewhere else. So at least half the children have to be in Australia or in some other country than where they're coming from. That cut down the numbers rather dramatically.

Under our system, if you're a sponsored parent, you can bring all the sponsored siblings with you without their having to meet any requirements but health and security. That makes it a very attractive proposition for someone who has four or five siblings. They can come in, and in some cases they can get engaged to someone from back home whose family will pay up to $50,000 to marry a Canadian, and then they can bring in their parents, and you begin a whole new chain.

One of the things the Aussies did was to say balance the family; you can't bring your parents in unless at least half their kids are already...or you're splitting the family up, you're not bringing back--

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Collacott. I'm afraid the time has expired.

We'll go to Mr. Davies.