Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the chance to be here again. I apologize for the early hour, but I must say you all look fantastic underneath the Fathers of Confederation who are watching us all.
I'm delighted to be here today to present my department's main estimates for the fiscal year 2015-16, which is already upon us, obviously. I want to focus on some of the notable allocations contained therein that will help our department meet its goals.
I am very pleased to report that CIC's main estimates have an overall increase of $79.3 million from the previous year. As you know, immigration plays a key role in Canada's long term prosperity and our competitiveness on the international stage. Without strong and targeted immigration, we would not be the Canada we are today, and we would not have all of the opportunities and economic growth we enjoy.
The government is continuing to manage Canada's immigration system in an efficient and responsible way—making it faster, more flexible and more responsive to our country's changing needs, while protecting the safety and security of Canadians. This year we expect to introduce new measures aimed at making the system even faster and more flexible.
To ensure our immigration system is meeting the needs of Canada's current business landscape, as you know, this past year we introduced a new immigrant investor venture capital pilot program. The introduction of this program also required the elimination of the long-standing backlog of applications in the federal immigrant investor and federal entrepreneur programs, legacy programs we've had since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
Eliminating this backlog of applications will allow the department to focus resources on immigration programs bringing maximum benefit to our economy, but to refund the balance of approximately 9,000 fees for returned applications, we are requesting $16.5 million in additional funding. I think this literally reflects the fact that we're able to refund faster than was initially anticipated.
Of course, a crucial part of our immigration system was rolled out this past January with the successful launch of the new Express Entry system. Express Entry is already proving to provide significant benefits for our country and newcomers. That is because we are only selecting immigrants who are best positioned to succeed, instead of those who are first in line with their application.
For the first time we have the opportunity of comparing immigration candidates before even receiving and processing their application. Also, employers can now meet their labour needs directly via this system, when there are no available Canadians or permanent residents already in Canada to do the job.
Let me underline that point. For employers who have sought recruits across Canada, who have tried to find someone for a specialized job across Canada and who cannot find that person in the country, there is the possibility to get a labour market impact assessment free of charge without the $1,000 fee and to use that labour market impact assessment in the context of express entry to ensure an immigrant is recruited to do that job. Some employers have already taken advantage of this.
Applicants invited to apply for permanent residence under the new system can expect processing times of just six months in the majority of cases. This is a significant improvement over the former system, of course, which took several years in many cases to process applications. We've started to see the impact of express entry in very concrete form. In April, the first three landed permanent residents to Canada through express entry joined some of us in Toronto to share their experience. Two of them had been students in Canada and gone through the Canadian experience class; the other came through the federal skilled work program.
Just last week two more express entry permanent residents in British Columbia were part of an event that we did at a very exciting business in Gastown, in Vancouver. One of them was the first landed permanent resident to be nominated under the provincial nomination stream. I pay particular tribute to British Columbia in this respect, because they've started to use provincial nominations with an express entry more than any other province so far, although Nova Scotia is doing quite well for their size too. It's clear that express entry is successful in serving labour market needs of employers and provinces alike.
To continue the success, our main estimates request funding of $5.7 million in 2015-16 to ensure we can meet our six months or less service standard for processing applications. Zoe, the Irish woman who was with us in Vancouver, a software engineer, had been processed in two weeks. That is an extraordinary record that I don't think we expect to imitate in every case, but we really do want 80% or more of express entry candidates to be processed in six months or less. This funding will let us achieve that.
The department's main estimates for this year also include an increase of $15 million for the electronic travel authorization, eTA, which we're implementing under the Canada-United States perimeter security and economic competitiveness action plan.
As you know, Canada's electronic travel authorization, or eTA program, will require citizens from countries who do not normally need a visa to obtain an online authorization before applying to Canada. Of course, our neighbours in the United States—who have already successfully implemented a similar system in their country—will be exempt from this new eTA requirement.
Canada is making every effort to ensure that eTA does not inconvenience affected travellers. On the contrary, we want it to facilitate more legitimate travel by tourists, visitors, families. Applications for eTA will be made online through the CIC website. The eTA application process is quick and easy, at a low cost of only $7 Canadian, and will often be granted within minutes. It will also be valid for up to five years. As we prepare to launch eTA, this funding will help support program integrity measures, communications to prospective visitors, and implementation support to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.
To further help facilitate travel and trade to Canada through the eTA, our budget this year, economic action plan 2015, is allocating $12.4 million over five years and $1.1 million in ongoing funding. With this new funding we will work to expand eTA eligibility to low-risk travellers from Brazil, Mexico, Romania, and Bulgaria, to be launched after the initial eTA initiative has been fully implemented in March of next year.
What does that mean? We're proposing to extend eTA not just to those countries outside of North America that already are free of the visa requirement, but also to some very large countries—Brazil, Mexico—as well as our two remaining partners in Europe who are not yet visa free: Romania and Bulgaria.
The entry/exit initiative is another commitment with the United States under the perimeter security and economic competitiveness action plan. Under this initiative Canada is developing a system to exchange land traveller information with the U.S. to establish a record of land entry into one country as a record of exit from the other.
It seems common sense that we would record entry into North America in the United States and have that record of entry and exit shared between partners that are as close as we are with our main economic partners, but to date we haven't had this system, so entry/exit is extremely important. This increase of $1.4 million, mostly reprofiled funds since 2013-14, will be used for IT system requirements and to develop reporting tools and governance with our partners. Funding will also be used for upfront residency checks, analysis, ongoing reporting, and corporate support.
The passport program was transferred, as you know, to Citizenship and Immigration in July 2013. Our main estimates are increasing by $52 million due to changes in the planned volume of passports as well as adjustments to the passport business plan. Because the amount is going up, I think it means the number of passports is going down slightly.
In the 2013 Speech From the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to contributing to the success of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan American Games that will be held in Toronto this summer.
CIC's role is to ensure the applications for entry into Canada by athletes and spectators are processed in a timely manner while we continue to uphold the safety and security of Canadians. I can confirm that our work in this regard is very advanced.
Our commitment is to waive the application fees for athletes who require visas or temporary resident permits, which will result in approximately 7,780 multiple entry visas. Our main estimates are increasing by $1.6 million to process these applications.
Finally, there is an allocation for $20.6 million in additional funding to meet our obligations under the Canada-Quebec Accord on Immigration. As you know, this accord gives the Government of Quebec responsibility to administer settlement and integration services, with an annual grant from the Government of Canada.
Mr. Chair, our government is committed to improving the immigration system by reducing backlogs, improving processing times and meeting labour market needs.
I am happy to answer any question the committee may have.