Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, members of the committee. I'm very pleased today to appear before the standing committee for the first time. It's a great honour and privilege to serve as Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and I look forward to working with all committee members on fulfilling this important responsibility entrusted to me.
As someone who has gone through the immigration system, this file has a very personal significance to me. I'm extremely proud of our country's history as a place of freedom and asylum. In the Prime Minister's mandate letter to me, he indicated that our immigration and refugee policy should reflect the “open, accepting, and generous” qualities of Canadians. I want to assure committee members that I take this commitment very seriously.
As I fulfill my duties in welcoming those who want to contribute to our country's success, I promise to also uphold our proud tradition of openness. In doing so, we will remain a compassionate society, and immigration will continue to play a meaningful role in our country's prosperity and future success.
In recognition of immigration's important role in our country's economic growth and future, one of the priorities identified in my mandate letter is to “Ensure the effective implementation of Canada's increased annual immigration levels.” In achieving these immigration levels, it is also a priority in my mandate letter to reduce application processing times and improve the department's services to our clients. In doing so, we aim to make application processes less complicated and more timely for all applicants.
The government appreciates the standing committee's work in this regard. I wish to thank the committee members for their study on client service. The government will take into consideration its recommendations as we work to improve our services for our clients.
As the committee members are aware, our immigration plan for 2017 will maintain the historically high levels from the previous year. At a target of 300,000 new permanent residents, this represents the highest number of projected admissions put forth by the Government of Canada in modern times.
Following Canada's response to the Syrian refugee crisis, another priority identified in my mandate letter is the important work in resettling the Syrian refugee population. To date, since our initial commitment to resettle these refugees in December 2015, Canada has resettled more than 40,000 Syrian refugees.
Our continued focus is on helping these Syrian refugees integrate and succeed in Canada. The government will continue to work with provinces and territories, service providers, community groups, and partners to help these newcomers improve their official language skills, find employment, build a social network, and establish other vital connections in order to participate in all facets of Canadian life.
Indeed, the government wants to ensure that all newcomers—not just refugees—are given the best possible chance to succeed and to become fully participating members of our society. That is why another key priority in my mandate is to work with provinces and territories to renew our focus on delivering high-quality settlement services. We will employ a rigorous approach to our data to accurately measure newcomer outcomes. This will help us to determine whether our settlement services are responding effectively to the needs of newcomers and will enable us to make improvements accordingly.
The government is also committed to advancing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which include changes to the Citizenship Act and the oath of citizenship. To that end, I will work with my colleague, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and expect to bring forward legislation to modify the oath in the coming months.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate this opportunity to outline some of the priorities identified in my department's mandate letter. As I've said, I look forward to working with the committee members as we fulfill these commitments and support our ultimate shared goal, which is to ensure that our immigration system best supports newcomers and Canadians.
In support of our commitments, I am pleased to present to the committee today some of the highlights of my department's supplementary estimates (C) for 2016 and 2017 and the main estimates for 2017-18.
With respect to supplementary estimates (C), the most significant allocation is the $33.2 million for the Canada-Quebec accord on immigration, which is an increase compared with previous years.
As this committee is aware, under this accord the Government of Quebec maintains responsibility for immigrant settlement and integration services in return for an annual grant. The grant amount is calculated using a year-over-year escalator that has two variables: the total increase in federal expenditures and the number of non-francophone immigrants who settle in Quebec.
Another increase in these estimates is the $10 million in additional funding for the interim federal health program, which was fully reinstated on April 1, 2016. As you know, the interim federal health program provides limited, temporary health coverage to resettled refugees, asylum seekers, and other groups until they are eligible for provincial or territorial health care plans. One of the primary cost drivers of the program is the number of asylum claimants that enter Canada each year, which is simply not foreseeable.
The department is also seeking $6.9 million in additional funding to support our increased levels for immigration. This funding will enable us to ramp up our operations here at home and abroad in order to meet the new admissions target of 300,000 immigrants in 2017.
For 2017-18 our department's main estimates amount of $1.6 billion represents a net decrease of $3.9 million from the previous year. This decrease is mainly due to the sunsetting of several projects as well as program transfers to other departments. For example, as this committee is well aware, Canada's response to the Syrian refugee crisis was an exceptional circumstance that required a designated level of funding. This resulted in an $80.1-million decrease in our annual budget for 2017-18.
Among other decreases for this year is the funding for the electronic travel authorization. As the eTA was successfully implemented in November 2016, this resulted in another $8.7-million reduction in our annual budget.
With respect to our funding increases for 2017-18, among the largest allocations are the following. We will require $33.5 million in 2017-18 to resettle 10,000 additional government-supported Syrian refugees. Under the Canada-Quebec accord, the Government of Canada will require $33.2 million for this fiscal year. We will also require $18.1 million to support an increase in the immigration levels plan related to the settlement program.
Mr. Chair, since I already spoke to many of these initiatives, I would now like to focus on some of the remaining initiatives in our main estimates. As you know, biometrics are an important tool to verify the identity of individuals. They strengthen Canada's immigration system in the process. Building on the success of the temporary resident biometrics project to expand biometrics screening to all visa-required travellers, this year IRCC will require a $15.4-million increase in funding.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is also seeking $4.4 million in 2017-18 to support the removal of the visa requirement for citizens of Mexico. The government is very pleased that the visa-lifting has already resulted in more Mexican travellers to Canada since we removed the visa on December 1, 2016. Within the first month of the visa-lifting, the number of trips to Canada by Mexicans almost tripled. The December volumes represent almost double those seen in December 2015.
While this is good for our bilateral relations with Mexico and our country's economy, we also recognize that there is some level of risk involved, as is the case with any visa lift. This is why we continue to monitor migration trends, including the number of asylum claims from Mexico.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring the success of our immigration system. We want to make sure our immigration system meets the needs of newcomers and best serves the interests of all Canadians. We must be welcoming to those who wish to help build our country and help us succeed. At the same time, we must ensure the safety, security, and health of all Canadians, that this remains paramount, and that we maintain the integrity of our immigration system. The estimates we are discussing today will help us to meet these goals.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I would now be happy to answer any questions the committee members may have.