Mr. Speaker, with respect to Human Resources Development Canada, since provincial governments administer social programs, it is difficult to ascertain, with any degree of certainty, the impact of the family reunification class of immigration.
Among immigrant families that have been in Canada for 10 to 15 years, the incidence of poverty, defined as the percentage falling below the low income cut off, is comparable to that for Canadian-born families: 13% for immigrant families v. 14% for Canadian-born families in 1997.
However, immigrants tend to have a higher level of education and skills than other Canadians. In 1999, 57% of working-age immigrants at landing had a post-secondary degree, compared to about 42% of the Canadian working age population. Moreover, research shows that once immigrants adapt to Canada and the demands of the labour market, the average income of immigrant families exceeds that of Canadian families.
There are a number of reasons why immigrants may experience problems integrating successfully into the labour market. For example, individuals trained in a foreign country often encounter obstacles having their education, experience, skills, training and credentials assessed or recognised in Canada. This is why the January 2001 Speech from the Throne outlined the need to attract skilled workers to Canada, and the government's intent to work in co-operation with the provinces and territories to secure better recognition of the foreign credentials of immigrants and to ease their integration into Canadian society.
It is important to note, however, that the share of immigrants in the family class has actually been declining. Immigrants are divided into three main groups: economic class, family class and refugees. Between 1980 and 1999, the share of immigrants coming to Canada in the family class fell from 34% to 29%, while the share of immigrants in the economic class rose from 32% to 56%. Accounting for more than one-half of all immigrants in 1999, the economic class is much less likely to need to use social programs, relative to the family class or refugees.
Human Resources Development Canada is unable to provide an assessment of the net impact over the last 10 years of the family reunification class of immigration on Canada's old age security, OAS, program and the Canada pension plan, CPP, as statistics are not collected on immigrants who come to Canada to join family members already established in Canada.
However, newcomers to Canada must earn the right to benefits just like any other Canadian. Social security agreements with other countries can help people to qualify for OAS and CPP benefits.
Eligibility for the OAS pension is based on age and residence in Canada. Newcomers to Canada have never been eligible for full OAS benefits immediately upon arrival. Most individuals must live in Canada at least 10 years after age 18 in order to get a partial OAS pension. However, people who move from one country to another to live or work can qualify in less than 10 years for Canadian pension benefits through the application of international social security agreements. These agreements co-ordinate the operation of the OAS program with comparable programs in other countries, and enable individuals to maintain continuity in their social security coverage. Through these agreements, an individual may qualify for a partial OAS pension by adding together periods of residence in Canada and periods of residence and/or coverage, credits, under the programs(s) of another country to meet the minimum residence requirement.
In March 1996 the rules applicable to some immigrants from countries with social security agreements with Canada were modified in two ways. First, sponsored immigrants from a country with which Canada has an international agreement are not eligible for the guaranteed income supplement or allowance benefits during their sponsorship period, up to a maximum of 10 years, except in specific circumstances. The supplement and the allowance are income tested benefits provided to people who are largely dependent on the OAS pension. This change recognizes the responsibility of sponsors to support immigrants during that time. Second, non-sponsored immigrants from these same countries can earn the supplement or allowance benefit at a rate of 1/10 for each year of residence in Canada after age 18.
Eligibility for CPP benefits is based on participation in the Canadian workforce. The CPP is designed to replace a portion of the earnings from employment or self-employment that are no longer available to contributors and their families due to retirement, disability, or death. To qualify for a CPP retirement pension, a person has to have made at least one valid contribution to the CPP. However, the pension would be very small. A newcomer to Canada would have to contribute for several years to qualify for a CPP disability benefit. A person has to have made contributions for at least four years in the last six years. Survivors benefits are based on the contributions of the deceased. Social security agreements can help people who come from countries with social programs comparable to the CPP to qualify for disability and survivors benefits. Each country pays in proportion to the number of years or credits built up in the respective plans.
With respect to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, no data is available as to the net impact of family reunification on Canada's medical system and social programs. Although it is difficult to quantify their contribution to Canada, family class immigrants do contribute to Canada's economy. Parents and grandparents may serve as caregivers to working parents, and other family class members may assist in family operated businesses which creates employment for all Canadians.
Countries are made up of individual families and this reality is enshrined in the Immigration Act, which has as one its objectives to facilitate the reunion in Canada of Canadian citizens and permanent residents with their close relatives from abroad.
With respect to Health Canada, it does not maintain such information.