Mr. Chair, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before this committee as you continue this family reunification study.
You will recall that the minister appeared before this committee last month at the beginning of the process. At that time, he provided you with a broad overview of our family reunification program and some of the recent developments in our policies and practices as they relate to the program.
The minister pointed out that although economic immigration programs are responsible for the majority of newcomers who are welcomed to this country, the long-standing goal of reuniting families has been an important part of the history of Canada's immigration system, and it remains fundamental to that system.
He also identified, among other things, three areas allowing us to move forward to reduce processing times. They are increased levels space, increased funding, and greater efficiencies.
We know that family reunification helps immigrants to build successful lives in Canada, and that when families are able to reunite and stay together, their integration into our country, their economic outcome, and their ability to contribute to their communities, and to the broader Canadian society, greatly improve.
For example, sponsored spouses and partners do relatively well in the Canadian job market. Many of them report incomes and earnings that compare favourably to those of spouses and partners of immigrants chosen to come to Canada for their skills.
As well, the presence of parents and grandparents can improve economic outcomes for entire immigrant families.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada believes that unified families can help manage the task of child care more efficiently and as a result individual family members can more easily meet their work or academic obligations. This in turn can improve their chances of economic success in this country. In that sense, when Canadian citizens and permanent residents sponsor family members to join them in Canada, it not only benefits the members of those families, but also it contributes to our country's social, cultural, and economic development.
As we foster an increasingly diverse society, with more and more Canadians with spouses from abroad or with families that began abroad, we must ensure that our immigration system serves our country and Canadian families.
To that end, the department is particularly focused on reuniting close family members, who, in many cases, are kept apart by processing times that can be shortened.
As you know, Mr. Chair, we have announced that we are planning for about 80,000 admissions in the family class in 2016, including about 60,000 spouses, partners, and children, and 20,000 parents and grandparents. This represents an increase of about 12,000 family class admissions from the 2015 levels plan.
One of the reasons we are increasing admissions of sponsored family members is to help reduce inventories and processing times that keep families separated for extended periods of time. We're admitting more family class applicants, and we expect fewer delays related to levels space, which in turn will allow faster processing times for family sponsorships.
In the case of the parent and grandparent program, we have formally increased the number of entry applications that will be accepted annually. Beginning this year, the number of applications accepted for intake is 10,000, doubling the previous cap of 5,000 applications. We have also continued efforts to reduce the backlog inventory in this program.
We estimate that the parents and grandparents inventory will be reduced to 46,000 by the end of 2016, which is down from a peak of more than 165,000 in 2011.
To continually improve efficiency, we are learning from our experience in dealing with a huge growth in the temporary resident program. We have had success in this program by a combination of innovative measures and some permanent additional funding.
In order to make continued progress in that area, we are transferring the lessons learned from handling great increases in our volume of temporary resident applications, and from dealing more quickly with the processing of family class applications. The department is also working on other initiatives that will help unite families more quickly.
As the minister announced recently, we will be providing more opportunities for applicants who have Canadian siblings by giving additional points under the express entry system.
We are proposing to restore the maximum age for dependent children to under 22, from under 19, allowing more Canadians and permanent residents to bring their children to Canada. The proposed change was pre-published in the Canada Gazette last month.
We are also examining the current conditional permanent residence measure applied to some sponsored spouses and partners entering Canada.
The government is proposing to remove the conditional permanent residence requirement. This proposed change has also been pre-published in the Canada Gazette. Removing the condition is in line with the government's commitment to reunite families and make it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada.
Mr. Chair, thank you once again for the opportunity to speak to the committee on this important topic. Again, I can assure you that family reunification is a key priority for the department.