Mr. Chair, it's a pleasure to appear once again before this committee.
As you know, in the coming years, immigration will play an increasingly important role in the economic growth and prosperity of our country.
One of the greatest challenges Canada will soon face, along with many other industrialized countries, will be labour shortages linked to our aging population. While immigration is certainly not a solution on its own to our demographic challenges, it plays an important role in helping us to address those challenges. Now more than ever, it's important that we have a robust immigration system in place that can meet our current and future economic and demographic needs.
Canada has a tremendous opportunity to leverage our well-managed immigration system in support of our country's future.
That is why the government appreciates the committee's interest in this issue. As Canadians, we all have a vested interest in this very important topic.
To provide a bit more context, in 1971 there were 6.6 people of working age for each senior. By 2012, the worker-to-retiree ratio had dropped to 4.2 to 1. The projection is for a ratio of 2:1 by 2036, less than 20 years from now. Five million Canadians are set to retire by then, and in two decades almost 100% of Canada's net annual population growth will be through immigration. It already accounts for 65% of the growth today.
While Canadian workers are among the most educated and skilled in the world, in order to maintain our strong economic position globally it is crucial for Canada to attract more talented individuals with the skills our economy needs. Immigration, therefore, will ensure that we are able to continue increasing the size of our labour force and grow our economy.
Immigration will also help to support our much-cherished health care system, public pensions, and other social programs in the decades to come.
Our need for increased immigration is supported by the government's research as well as by independent research conducted by various organizations. The most recent census revealed that immigration is a driving force in meeting Canada's demographic and labour market challenges. In 2016 labour force growth was in large part due to increased immigration, with immigrants accounting for nearly one-quarter of Canada's labour force. Similarly, between 2006 and 2016 about two-thirds of Canada's population growth was the result of immigration.
Several observers have also called for significant increases in immigration to support Canada's long-term prosperity. For example, according to the Conference Board of Canada, in order to sustain a healthy level of economic growth across the country, we will need to bump our immigration levels up to 1% of our population within the next two decades.
The government agrees that investing in immigration will pay off for Canada. That is why I presented to Parliament an historic multi-year immigration levels plan.
First and foremost, the multi-year aspect of this plan is key.
Increasing our immigration levels responds to recommendations made by this committee and this approach is strongly supported by the provinces and by settlement service providers. That is because it allows governments and partner organizations to better plan for increases and to ensure there's the capacity to successfully bring in these newcomers and support their successful integration. As we increase our immigration levels over the next few years, we'll also continue to ensure that our immigration system remains well managed and operates with the safety and security of Canadians as its top priority. Under this plan, we will responsibly grow the number of permanent residents that Canada welcomes each year. Over the next three years, we'll increase our immigration levels from approximately 0.8% of the population to 0.9% of the population by 2020.
In terms of the actual admissions, this will see level increases of 310,000 in 2018, 330,000 in 2019, and 340,000 in 2020. These are the highest admissions in more than 100 years, and relative to the population, this is also the highest percentage of immigration in more than 40 years. To respond to our current and future economic needs, 60% of the growth that I spoke about over the next three years will come through our economic programs. Prominent among these programs is our provincial nominee program, which helps meet regional labour market needs and distributes the real benefits of immigration all across the country.
As well, the number of skilled immigrants we select through our express entry system will grow over this time frame, which will mean more highly skilled talent for our labour market. At the same time we recognize the importance of non-economic immigration as well. That is why we are also allocating more space each year for sponsored family members so that we can reunite more families with their loved ones in Canada.
We'll also continue to uphold our humanitarian traditions and maintain Canada's role as a global leader in offering protection to individuals in need. Refugee admissions will also increase in each of the next three years.
As you know, our settlement services, such as language training, employment services, and newcomer orientation, are linked to newcomers' success. As mentioned, the adoption of a multi-year plan approach helps us, but also our partners, better plan to meet the challenges and opportunities of immigration growth. Instead of planning admissions one year at a time, as has been the norm for the last 15 years, planning admissions over three years will ensure that the government and our service provider partners are in a better position to plan for newcomer-specific settlement needs.
The increased immigration levels under this plan are projected to cost approximately $440 million over the next three years, and this will be detailed further in budget 2018. With these additional resources, we will be able to address the increased demands placed on our global processing network and our settlement programs. This additional funding will enable my department and its partners to process and screen more applications for permanent residency in a timely manner, while we continue to provide high-quality settlement and integration services to newcomers.
We expect that higher immigration levels will help us improve the operations of our immigration system, reduce application backlogs, and improve processing times for our clients. This is because level increases in certain categories will create more admission spaces. This will also allow the department to process more applications each year and admit more people, thereby reducing backlogs and wait times. In particular, we expect to see real progress in reducing processing times in family, caregiver, and refugee programs.
Faster processing also ensures that employers can more quickly and effectively get the talent they need. With the multi-year levels plan, the government is positioning our immigration system to best serve our country's current and future economic needs. It represents a major investment in our country's prosperity and will also ensure that immigration continues to contribute to our diversity and our nation's strong cultural fabric.
For all the reasons I've described today, our historic multi-year immigration levels plan will ultimately benefit all Canadians, now and into the future.
Thank you very much.
I look forward to answering your questions.