Evidence of meeting #5 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was back.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Harpreet Kochhar  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Catrina Tapley  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Chiu, you have five minutes.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Kenny Chiu Conservative Steveston—Richmond East, BC

One of the new priorities in the new minister's mandate is to introduce a dedicated refugee stream to provide safe haven for human rights advocates, journalists and humanitarian workers at risk, with a target of helping resettle as many as 250 people a year, as he also mentioned in his report in his introduction provided to the committee earlier. Why is this target number for such an important stream so low? How was it determined in the first place? Around the world, as we have seen, there are many advocates for human rights and journalists being persecuted. The number definitely has far exceeded 250. Perhaps it's 10 times more, which Canada could actually be helping.

10:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

We're in the process of determining how best to implement this priority and the advice we give to the minister. The number 250 might sound like a very small number, but it's quite high when we look at our overall picture of how many refugees we resettle and what Canada does in that regard in terms of protected places.

We will be assessing that number. Once we get a program established and we look at the criteria around that, we'll continue to assess what the needs are.

From our point of view —although the member is certainly correct that the need is great—we think 250 is actually a significant number for what we do.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Kenny Chiu Conservative Steveston—Richmond East, BC

In my humble opinion, I think that's a misplacement of resources. We have had to allocate so many resources to dealing with illegal, irregular immigrants and asylum seekers who have a very low chance of staying in the country. There are people around the world who require our help and we are not able to help them because of a lack of resources.

My second question is that as a local MP, I have frequently received requests for help where the sponsorship of visitors was denied due to financial concerns. With a few constituents, for example, some are quite established and prominent business owners in the greater Vancouver area. They have even sent their banking information to IRCC to show that they have considerable financial capacity as a guarantor.

Why are their requests still being refused for financial reasons?

10:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

I think we'll take this question in two parts.

The first is that, when the application comes through, the visa officer looks at whether people have sufficient resources for their stay in Canada and what that looks like.

The second part to this is continuing to be clear with people in refusal letters about the reasons why this happened and what documents we want to look at.

Dr. Kochhar, do you want to add to that?

10:20 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar

Certainly.

The aspect of sponsorship, which is somebody who is putting in a sponsorship that there is enough money once they land here, is one aspect that is taken into consideration by the visa officers. The other aspects we take into consideration are what their standing is over there, their ability to come back after they visit, their travel history, their ability to provide that documentary proof so that the visa officer is convinced that the purpose for which the person is travelling is fulfilled.

There are a multitude of factors that are taken into consideration before a refusal is made.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kenny Chiu Conservative Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Doctor, I appreciate that explanation. However, in the cases I have provided assistance for, they are both prominent businessmen in Canada, and the visitors being sponsored are prominent business people in India. The department still turned down their requests, even though the sponsorship side provided a guarantee to the department.

It bothers me that there is a sense of being difficult to many of our applicants. If you can provide us as members of Parliament with how we could help to advocate cases like that, it would be much appreciated.

My third question that I have is—

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

You have seven seconds.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kenny Chiu Conservative Steveston—Richmond East, BC

I can read very fast, but not in seven seconds.

Thank you.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Regan, you have five minutes.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Thank you, Madam Chair. Seven seconds is rather challenging, that's for sure.

I have a couple of short questions, and then I think my colleague Mr. Sorbara may have some.

I asked the minister earlier about the helping travellers visit Canada program, which has $2.46 million in the estimates. He only had a moment to reply.

Maybe you could provide me with more information about what impact the coronavirus will have on this kind of a program, as well as on immigration and refugee policy and your practices generally. What are you having to adjust?

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

COVID-19 or coronavirus is obviously having an impact on travellers coming to Canada.

We'll start with China. As you know, we use visa application centres in China to help facilitate the arrival, particularly of temporary residents. At the end of January, around Chinese New Year, the Chinese government closed a number of businesses. Those visa application centres were closed. They have just this week started to reopen 10 of the 11 visa application centres we have in China, on a very limited closed-hours basis. We anticipate that we will see a pretty great impact on temporary resident volumes, particularly out of China.

We'll continue to look closely at the rest of the regions there, but I can't imagine that this will not have a big impact.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

That hasn't happened in Italy, for example.

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

In Italy, we have one visa application centre. As you know, Italy has visa-free travel to Canada. What's required is an electronic travel authorization, but we do have one visa application centre that's helpful in collecting biometrics. That's in Rome. Because of the actions of the Italian government, that visa application centre is currently closed, and we'll watch carefully what happens with that.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Two of my colleagues addressed the issue of francophone immigration. I am talking about the situation outside Quebec. I hear about it from time to time. We need immigrants who speak both official languages to fill various types of jobs in Nova Scotia and, in my opinion, to support the francophone community and try to expand it.

How does the department encourage this immigration? I do not believe that outside Quebec, points are granted for that. Is that correct?

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

Thank you for your question.

Francophone immigration outside Quebec is very important to the department, as you mentioned. I would like to make three points regarding our strategy to increase the number of francophone immigrants in Canada.

First, there's recruiting.

Destination Canada is our marquee event that we use in Europe and the Maghreb. I want to continue to invest in Destination Canada.

The second is continuing to invest in appropriate francophone settlement services for people once they arrive, recognizing how important that is.

The third, I'd underline, is being able to use tools well, like express entry, to make sure we are able to take good quality francophone applicants outside of Quebec and to make sure they've got a good pathway into Canada.

Maybe a fourth—I know I said three—would be to continue to work with provinces, particularly the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have really augmented their efforts to attract francophone immigrants to their province and to work closely with them.

March 12th, 2020 / 10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

My first question is on the immigration front. Granting of visitor visas is so important, and obviously the coronavirus is impacting many events, including the Collision conference in Toronto. It was supposed to happen in June, which would have brought 30,000 people to the city of Toronto. That has been cancelled, which is quite unfortunate. I obviously hope this resolves itself.

I want to say thank you more than anything to the people who work at IRCC. Our office deals with them and the individuals coming through. For the most part it's seamless, so I thank you and all your employees for all your efforts and work.

My question relates to the interaction between the federal government and the provincial government, specifically in Ontario through the Ontario immigrant nominee program, OINP. How is that interaction? How is that level of co-operation between the two levels?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm going to have to cut you off there. Maybe you can have another opportunity to get your answer, because your time is up.

Mr. Kent, you have five minutes.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Deputy, before I pose my questions, I'll give full disclosure. My wife and I are private sponsors of three Syrian refugees. My questions are informed by fairly close experience with a number of sponsorship agreement holders.

One of the minister's first public appearances was a speech in Europe in which, among other things, he praised the private sponsorship programs for resettling refugees in situations across the country—as we have over the decades going back to the Vietnamese boat people—and fulfilling the reality that in 2018, Canada surpassed the United States in terms of becoming a world leader in refugee settlement.

I know that you are aware that a number of sponsorship agreement holders, SAHs were greatly disturbed and concerned a year ago when you changed the obligations of sponsors, which at least one of the SAHs characterizes as going from humanitarian support and resettlement of refugees to a spreadsheet obligation. I know that this spreadsheet obligation was explained to the SAHs in terms of trying to establish equivalency in the way your department processes government-sponsored refugees and allocates the costs assigned to them. I just want you to know, and I hope that you've informed the minister, that this new program has imposed spreadsheet obligations when many very compassionate private-sponsor groups simply don't have the capacity to abide by your new rules. I know that the department on its website talks about sponsorship agreement holders as religious, ethnic community or humanitarian organizations. Many are considering dropping future private sponsorships because they simply cannot cope.

I wonder if you can respond to that continuing concern and criticism, and whether the minister has been advised to reconsider and get back to some of the in-kind support that very often makes a difference. Going back to the Vietnamese boat people example, people were taken into homes and provided not necessarily with the cash—they were committed to giving an equivalent, but they also were not required to actually meet those cash obligations or the accounting procedures to confirm that support.

10:30 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

A personal thank you for your support of resettled refugees in the Syria movement.

You're right. We have had a number of conversations with the minister about sponsorship agreement holders, and we want to make sure that we maintain that appropriate balance. We've continued to work closely with sponsorship agreement holders. I am dismayed to hear your take that some would back away from sponsoring refugees in the future.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

So I am told.

10:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

What we want to do is to continue to work. We've redoubled our efforts on this. I think we can probably invest in some capacity building here as well, to make sure that sponsorship agreement holders are in really good stead.

The second part is to really focus on the needs of the resettled refugees themselves, to make sure we have the right balance with in-kind support, but also to make sure that the refugees themselves have the funds necessary to be able to get established and to feel independent in the community so that when that support ends after the first year, they're able to establish themselves well.

That's a balance we want to look at really carefully. Where we've moved a little in one direction, we want to be able to correct that. We want to be able to continue to uphold that proud humanitarian tradition.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Do you recognize, and have you informed the minister, that there's a very real difference between government-sponsored refugees and the support that they may not get in the same way that they do from private sponsors, ethnic communities, religious organizations and so forth, and that very often the in-kind support continues for years beyond that original, formal, one-year obligation?

10:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Catrina Tapley

I can absolutely assure the honourable member that those are discussions we have had with the minister.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Your time is up. Thank you.

We will now move on to Mr. Tabbara for five minutes.