Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be speaking before committee members again today.
We are committed to assisting the committee and its work on family reunification. I will make a few short remarks on the topic, following which my colleagues and I will be very pleased to answer any follow-up questions that committee members have on the information we have provided to you.
Although the majority of newcomer admissions to the country go through economic immigration programs, the goal of reuniting families has long been an important part of the history of Canada's immigration system and remains one of its fundamental aspects. Family reunification is a top priority for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Many of the follow-up questions that committee members have had throughout your study on family reunification have been focused on processing times and wait times. I would like to discuss the elements that allow us to address these issues: level space, funding, and efficiency.
As you know, Mr. Chair, we have announced that we are expecting some 84,000 admissions under the family class.
That includes about 64,000 spouses, partners, and children, and 20,000 parents and grandparents.
That represents an increase of about 5% in family class admissions from the previous year's levels plan.
During these hearings, the committee has heard people express their concerns about lengthy processing times. 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.
Because we are admitting more family class applicants, we expect fewer delays related to level space, which will allow for faster processing times for family sponsorships.
We announced in December that we were cutting processing times for spousal sponsorships from an average of 18-26 months to 12 months, which will help to notably reduce the backlog of these cases.
In other words, most families awaiting a decision about their sponsorship application to plan their future together will receive a response no later than the end of December 2017.
More than 64,000 applicants will benefit from these changes in the first year alone. In the case of the parent and grandparent program, we have increased the number of entry applications that will be accepted annually. For this program, we have tried to strike the difficult balance between accepting new applications and working to reduce the backlog.
We put a cap on new applications to control growth in the backlog, but beginning last year, the number of applications accepted for intake is 10,000, doubling the previous cap of 5,000 applications, and because our admissions exceed the intake of new applicants, we are able to continue reducing the backlog of inventory in this program.
Mr. Chair, in terms of funding, we are also using the $25 million allocated in the 2016 budget by working to reduce processing times in the family class.
We are also working to improve the efficiency with which IRCC treats applications. We're doing so in part by learning from the experience of processing temporary resident applications, which includes those who wish to come to Canada as workers, students, and visitors.
We processed more than two million temporary resident applications and extensions in 2015, an almost 4% increase in one year and a 19% increase over three years. This was accomplished via a combination of innovative measures and some permanent innovative funding.
If we can transfer the lessons learned from our management of the significant increases in the volume of temporary residence applications and the expedited processing of family reunification claims, we will make steady progress in this regard.
Mr. Chair, my department is also working on other initiatives that will help unite families more quickly. For example, we will be providing more opportunities for applicants who have Canadian siblings by giving additional points under the express entry system, and we are raising the maximum age for dependent children from 19 to 22.
In support of the committee's questions on these issues, we've provided follow-up responses when the committee has requested them. I'm happy to have the opportunity to clarify any of these responses today, should committee members wish to ask about them.
IRCC appreciates the important work the committee carries out and its valuable contributions. We are committed to seeking better communications with the committee through appropriate channels as we move forward.
In closing, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee once again. I would be pleased to respond to any of your further questions today.
Thank you very much.