Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all of the members of this committee for allowing me my first opportunity to come and address you.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we gather today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I'm pleased to make my first appearance before this committee as the Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
As a result of Canada's history of immigration, today more than one in five Canadians were born outside of Canada. This is a strength for our country and a source of great pride. Canada's commitment to diversity and inclusion is essential to making our nation and this world a better place.
That is why the Government of Canada is focused on building an inclusive society with a sense of belonging, trust, and shared values throughout our country.
We know that immigrants make important contributions to Canada, both economically and through cultural diversity. Our government will continue to defend immigration in this country. Our aim is to further improve Canada's immigration system for the benefit of all Canadians and newcomers. This is no small task.
The Prime Minister has given me a very important mandate, one that is vital to our future economic prosperity and one that is absolutely essential to who we are. I have already begun this work in earnest.
As you know, in recent years our government has moved to a multi-year levels plan. This approach allows us to work more effectively with our partners all across the country as we make responsible increases to immigration. My department will soon table its annual report to Parliament on immigration, which will include Canada's multi-year levels plan for the years 2020 to 2022.
Immigration builds vibrant and dynamic communities. It gives Canadian businesses the skills they need to thrive in global markets and to create good-paying middle-class jobs. Our government is working with our counterparts to ensure that these benefits are distributed right across the country, particularly in this period where several regions have been affected by labour shortages.
We live in an increasingly competitive world and we must seize the opportunity to work together to ensure that Canada remains a world leader.
I've travelled to Geneva and to Germany where Canada has been recognized as a world leader and a shining example for the rest of the world on immigration. In fact, recently Germany invited us to share the lessons we have learned together over many years. These lessons have strengthened our system, which has been hailed by the OECD as the “benchmark for other countries” when it comes to integration.
To seize the opportunity and to stay in that position as a world leader, we are working on various initiatives to enhance economic immigration everywhere in Canada. Let's take the Atlantic immigration pilot for example, which has been a tremendous success. We are building on it to attract even more skilled immigrants to live and work in Atlantic Canada and we are taking the next steps to making this pilot a permanent part of our framework.
In addition, our rural and northern immigration pilot is rolling out in partnership with 11 communities from northern Ontario to British Columbia.
We're also looking at developing a new municipal nominee program to allow local communities, chambers of commerce and labour councils the opportunity to directly sponsor the workers they need.
Similarly, the express entry program is the fast lane for immigrants who have the skills and experience to hit the ground running. It's getting results. Under this stream, 95% of the participants have a job, with 83% of them in their main occupation, and 20% earn more than the principal applicants who are coming in under streams other than the express entry.
We're also maintaining our commitment to family reunification. We will continue to play a leadership role in refugee resettlement by introducing a dedicated refugee stream for journalists and humanitarian workers at risk, with a target of helping to resettle as many as 250 people per year.
To help all newcomers and their families integrate, our government will continue to deliver innovative settlement programming and to further invest in research, support and employment projects for visible minority newcomer women. Newcomers, whether refugees or from family reunification, give back to their host country by participating in the economic development of their communities. I know you will be as familiar with their successes as I am.
Supporting positive outcomes—not only for the newcomers who come to Canada, but for our communities across the country—is critical, and my cabinet colleagues and I are working diligently with partners and stakeholders across the country to achieve this.
A timely and efficient immigration system is of critical importance in attracting the world's most talented individuals. Canadians continue to view immigration as key to filling labour gaps and as a tool for addressing the challenges of an aging working population. But, while Canadians continue to express strong support for immigration, we cannot be complacent. We know that Canadians' continued support for immigration goes hand in hand with our ability to manage the system in an orderly and principled way and one that is beneficial to our country.
While Canada is open and generous towards the world's most vulnerable, we must also remain vigilant in the enforcement of our borders, while ensuring our asylum system remains open for those who truly need it.
To that end, I am working with my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, and I will continue to advance reforms and investments in the capacity of the asylum system to ensure it is efficient, while meeting Canada's international legal obligations.
We're also improving our immigration system for all of our clients. This means we must also endeavour to protect them from fraud and from falling prey to immigration and citizenship consultants who are unscrupulous and take advantage of vulnerable people. To that end, my department will implement the new professional governance regime for immigration and citizenship consultants under the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act, which will bring strengthened government oversight and a new and stronger compliance and enforcement regime.
The protection of our official languages is very important and that is why we want to put in place measures to strengthen the capacity of francophone communities across the country.
We want to increase francophone immigration between now and 2023 and support the integration and retention of French-speaking newcomers outside Quebec.
Canadian citizenship is the hallmark of a newcomer's full integration into Canada. I have attended a few citizenship ceremonies since I took office and I can tell you, there is no greater pride than the pride that can be seen on the faces of newcomers on this significant day.
There is nothing like seeing a smile on the face of somebody who has just been welcomed to the family of Canadians.
Becoming a citizen is a key of an immigrant's journey, and 86% of newcomers go on to become Canadians. This is one of the highest naturalization rates in the world and something we should celebrate. In fact, more than 200,000 took the oath of citizenship and became citizens in 2018-19.
Through our shared citizenship, we are building a stronger Canada and promoting equality and diversity. To encourage even more newcomers to take the full path to citizenship, our government will bring forward a plan to eliminate fees for citizenship for those who have fulfilled the requirements to obtain it, and I look forward to advancing that work.
I will also say that I'm pleased to have recently tabled Bill C-6, which will amend the oath of citizenship to reflect reconciliation and to reflect our essential relationship with indigenous peoples in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action.
Madam Chair, in conclusion I believe that Canadians should have the utmost respect for the people who want to rebuild their lives in Canada and make contributions to our country. I know that everyone around this table shares the same goals of seeing how we can depend and rely on immigration not only to improve our country, but to make the world a better place.
For example, I want to commend this committee's study of labour shortages. I look forward to collaborating with you on that important work. Together, I know that we can generate and shape the ideas that will drive Canada's long-term prosperity, and I look forward to that work with you as well.
Thank you very much.