Thank you, Mr. Chair.
In all its operations, CIC maintains very transparent and accountable service commitments to all of our clients, including—of course—everyone who applies for a TRV.
The department is committed to explain clearly to all applicants what they need to know and what they must do to apply for visas; to make decisions on eligibility and admissibility that are fair, reasonable and comprehensible; to treat all applicant with courtesy and respect; to protect everyone's personal information; to publish our processing times; and to respect our service standard, which is 14 days for visitor visas.
One important expression of our commitment to improve service to applicants and processing efficiency has been the roll-out of global online submission of applications for temporary residency applicants.
Since December, applicants for temporary resident visas, study permits, or work permits have been able to complete their entire application online from almost anywhere in the world. The online application process starts with our popular Come to Canada wizard, which has been on CIC's website since August 2011 and has been used by almost two million people to find out if they are eligible to come to Canada permanently or temporarily.
Temporary visitors can now use the Come to Canada wizard to fill out applications and to submit them online. This makes the entire process much more efficient, both for applicants and for our officials.
Another service improvement worth highlighting is the expansion of our global network of visa application centres or VACs. By increasing our number of VACs currently in operation around the world, we are facilitating the process of applying for visas and travelling to Canada. This in turn makes our country a more attractive destination for visitors and business travellers alike. VACs ensure that the visa applications are complete. This leads to more efficient processing by reducing the number of incomplete applications that are submitted to the visa office and that must be returned to the applicant.
They offer more points of service to applicants around the world who no longer have to spend time and money travelling to a visa office if they choose to use a VAC closer to their home. Visa application centres are also the critical, on-the-ground location for the collection of biometric information from applicants.
Les already mentioned the initiatives we have undertaken within the framework of beyond the border. Biometrics is one that should be highlighted in the context of our discussion of TRVs. Canada is now beginning to use biometric technology to screen visitors from certain countries whose citizens require visas to enter Canada. The use of biometrics, which measure unique physical characteristics such as fingerprints, facilitates legitimate travel to Canada by readily confirming the identity of people applying for visas. It brings our country in line with many others around the world, including all our partners in the five country conference, bolstering our ability to share information internationally.
Last December, we announced the 29 countries and one territory whose nationals will be subject to the new biometric requirement. We've begun to collect biometric information on a voluntary basis in two of those countries: Colombia and Jamaica. From September to December, we'll be phasing in the mandatory collection of biometric information from the nationals of all the identified countries. The collection of this information highlights the important role that our front-line immigration officers play in protecting the health and security of Canadians and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system. It is the duty of these officers to use their expertise and all available information to assess the admissibility of every individual from around the world who wishes to acquire a TRV and potentially visit our country.
Before issuing a visa to anyone, immigration officers must be satisfied that the applicants are in good health and do not pose a health risk, that they do not have a criminal record, that they don't pose a threat to Canada's security, and that they have not previously violated immigration legislation. Officers must also confirm that applicants have valid passports or travel documents, have enough money to support themselves while in Canada, have sufficient ties to their home country to indicate they will leave Canada when their visa expires, and are not admissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
It's a tremendous responsibility, which our officers around the world carry out with professionalism and with a dedication to service.
An ongoing challenge on the operation side is remaining vigilant about combatting immigration fraud, which in the context of our discussion today includes visa fraud. Fraudulent attempts to acquire visas divert our resources from processing legitimate applications. In doing so, this activity hurts genuine visitors and applicants who are prevented from coming to Canada in a timely fashion. Our immigration officers abroad are trained to prevent this kind of abuse of the system. In combatting fraudulent attempts to acquire Canadian TRVs, some of the things that our officers must be vigilant about include fake bank statements, false letters of employment, and fraudulent letters of acceptance from Canadian schools, among many others.
In recent years, we've undertaken a number of departmental initiatives to respond to individuals who perpetrate visa scams and application fraud, including unscrupulous consultants and other representatives who aid and abet such activities. They often exploit unwitting applicants and cheat them out of large sums of money. Our work in this area includes introducing tougher rules and carrying out public education campaigns.
In our anti-fraud work, we work closely with international partners both within the five country conference and outside it, including in countries where fraud takes place. For example, in recent months our immigration officials on the ground in Punjab, India, supported local officials in investigations that resulted in criminal charges being laid against three individuals for producing counterfeit Canadian visas and in a prosecution being initiated in Chandigarh of a suspect impersonating a Canadian visa officer.
It goes without saying that anti-fraud efforts remain a priority for us in our ongoing work to bolster program integrity.
Les and I would now be happy to talk in more detail about any aspect of our opening remarks, or anything else that committee members would like to ask us about this topic.
Thank you very much.