Evidence of meeting #97 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was number.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marta Morgan  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Paul MacKinnon  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Dawn Edlund  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Harpreet Kochhar  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Noon

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.)) Liberal Rob Oliphant

Good morning, and welcome to the 97th meeting in this Parliament of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

We welcome the minister with us. We're very pleased that you were able to come for an annual consideration of the immigration levels plan.

Before I turn it over to the minister to talk, I want to survey the committee members with respect to our meeting of Tuesday, February 27, which is normally scheduled for 11 o'clock. That is budget day, and the afternoon meetings of committees are being cancelled; however, the morning meetings are up to the committees. I want to survey whether you want to go ahead with the meeting or whether you have a desire to be in a lock-up situation. I just want to check on that.

We have work to do, so I would like to continue with the work, but I won't do so if there are members of the committee who want to avail themselves of the option.

Ms. Rempel.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I propose that we table this discussion to the end of the second hour of this meeting.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Okay. It will cut into our second hour, that's all.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

We have the minister here.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Okay. We'll do it later. There are two other items I want to bring up as well.

We will, then, continue with the minister.

Welcome. You have about 10 minutes.

Noon

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen LiberalMinister of Immigration

Thank you.

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.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much, Minister. I want to take a moment to also welcome the deputy minister. Ms. Morgan, thank you for being here and for bringing assistant deputies and associate assistant deputies with you. Most of you are no strangers to our committee, so thank you for being here to support the committee in its questions.

We open our questioning with Mr. Sarai for seven minutes.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you for coming, Minister, and always making time for us.

When we were elected, the wait times specifically for spousal applications and live-in caregivers were egregious at best. We have finally decreased them to decent time periods.

What impact will this plan have on wait times and backlogs in the various streams?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

I agree with you that the wait times and the backlogs in both those programs were unacceptable. They kept families apart and ensured that loved ones were unnecessarily kept apart. We made it a priority to tackle the spousal sponsorship system initially by promising two things: that we would make a lot of progress on the backlog and that 80% of the applications would be able to be processed in 12 months or less.

I'm proud to update this committee, as I updated all Canadians yesterday, that we have done both. We have reduced the backlog in the spousal program from 75,000 cases to 15,000, and we have achieved the processing time target of 12 months or less for more than 80% of the cases.

When we looked at the applications from December 2016 and examined those applications on December 31, 2017, we saw that over 80% of them were processed in under 12 months.

February 15th, 2018 / 12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you.

Minister, Canada is home to almost 300,000 international students. Thousands are in Surrey and specifically my riding of Surrey Centre; all of whom now have a pathway to citizenship. Most of these students will probably end up applying for permanent residency under express entry or other economic categories, following the completion of their studies and during their three-year post-graduate work permit phase.

Are you considering their numbers in future plans, as the number may be substantial? I assume 60,000 to 70,000 of them may apply for permanent residency. I don't want the situation of live-in caregivers to happen with students where a five-, six-, seven-year backlog is then imposed on getting permanent residency.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

We welcome international students. It's an area in which I feel, and my colleague ministers agree with me, we can do better as a country. We keep attracting more and more international students every year. I think we can be even more ambitious because I believe international students add a lot to our country economically but also add their perspectives to different institutions and to our research ecosystem.

We want as many as possible to stay. Part of our push for higher levels but also for multi-year planning is to do exactly that, to have more space for international students and other skilled individuals who would like to live in Canada permanently, and to be able to land them.

We are cognizant of the levels needed for that. We feel that the levels plan we've introduced will accommodate some of those increases over the next three years, including this year. I may also defer to my deputy to answer any specific questions on that.

12:15 p.m.

Marta Morgan Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

There are a number of pathways for students to become permanent residents of Canada. Through the express entry program students who have studied in Canada receive extra points for Canadian education, for their education level, as well as other human capital they bring to Canada. Also there's the provincial nominee program, which is quite sensitive to local labour market needs. Once they finish their education, there are a number of different pathways for students both to have temporary work permits and also then to have permanent residence.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you.

I'm very pleased, by the way, with this ambitious plan and the gradual increases in future years. It's best to see a forward-looking plan.

Surrey Centre absorbs a lot of new immigrants, and it's probably one of the fastest growing electoral districts in the country. A lot of them are not accustomed to English or French, and it's very important to ensure that immigrants have the support to help them learn those languages to find jobs and ultimately become successful Canadians.

Are there plans to increase these newcomer supports in proportion to the increase in the number of people we're welcoming? What kind of impact will this plan have on wait times and backlogs in various second language training programs?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

You've asked me two questions there. I'll start with the first one. Absolutely, any increase we make in the immigration levels plan is accompanied by adequate funding to do that, because otherwise it would be irresponsible for the government to increase levels without having the funding to absorb these newcomers. There is money budgeted for these increases, and you will see the details in budget 2018 when it comes out.

Second, in terms of language training specifically, that's part of our settlement funding anyway. It's about 36% I believe, so you can rest assured that any increases in the levels this year or in the next two years will have a corresponding increase in the amount of money we dedicate towards settlement services, so these newcomers can be settled and absorbed into Canada.

I must say, though, look at our track record as well. Since we have come into government, settlement spending has increased every single year to deal with the higher levels. We are now spending record amounts of money on settlement services. When you include money we provide to Quebec under the separate Canada-Quebec Accord, it's over $1 billion. That is a significant settlement, because we believe that equipping newcomers to succeed faster and to integrate is of benefit to all of us.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

I am probably pressed for time. What will the plan do to improve family reunification, specifically outside of the spouses, parents, and grandparents? Is that being considered?

Along with that, just quickly, last year there were 10,000 applications. Were all 10,000 applications processed?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm afraid I'm going to have to hold that question. Keep it in your mind, and someone else might want to raise it and give you a chance to speak to it.

Ms. Rempel.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, you've introduced the concept of budgeting, both in your remarks as well as in your response to my colleague, where you just made the statement that you have adequate funding to absorb these newcomers.

Last week, Quebec Minister of Immigration David Heurtel said he is going to send the social assistance bill for refugee claimants to Ottawa. Quebec paid more than $50 million to asylum seekers in 2017, which is double what they spent in 2016. Is that figure included in your budget estimates for 2018?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

First of all, I haven't received—

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm just going to interrupt you for one moment, Minister. The question will be allowed. The tie-in was to the levels, but just be very careful that we keep them tied in to the levels. We will have an opportunity to discuss the supplementary (C)s and interim estimates before they are deemed heard from our committee on March 21, so we'll have the minister again for an opportunity on the budget, but you did tie it in.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Just as a point of clarification, Mr. Chair, the minister introduced in his remarks the projected cost of the levels. Therefore I would argue that your ruling is perhaps slightly—

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I've said it's okay. I'm just offering guidance to make sure we stick as close to the levels. This one is tangentially related to levels. The budget the minister referred to was actually the budget related to the newcomers that are part of his budget. It's tangential. I'll allow it, but I just caution—

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I have just a point of clarification. When my colleague asked about settlement services funding, a similar point wasn't made, so I would hope similar latitude would be made on my question line.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I think that was directly related to his remarks. It's indirect.

Go ahead. I just wanted to caution that we don't go too far down the budget line.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

If I may re-emphasize my comment, the Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness from Quebec paid almost double to asylum seekers. Many of them were people who entered the country illegally.

Is the $50 million he is asking for included in your $440 million figure?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

I haven't received that letter officially. If and when I receive that letter, I will respond to it accordingly, but just to provide the best answer I can right now, we have responded to Quebec's need to deal with the potential pressures on its social programs by responding positively to their request for us to expedite work permits for asylum seekers—