Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Canadians want a timely and effective refugee system, one that provides protection to those who genuinely need it in a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, Canadians want a refugee system that is able to quickly identify and remove people who seek to abuse our system.
Illegitimate claimants clog our refugee system and create unnecessarily long wait times for those truly in need of Canada's protection. Under the current system, the average asylum claim takes four and a half years to come to a conclusion. Some cases even take longer than a decade. Illegitimate claimants come here at a huge cost to Canadian taxpayers with the average unfounded claim costing $55,000. They also bog down the system which results in genuine claimants waiting long periods of time before they receive Canada's protection.
The protecting Canada's immigration system act seeks to address these problems with the refugee system by providing faster protection to those in genuine need, but quickly removing those who are not, to support a more robust refugee system and prevent fraud in our immigration system in general. This legislation also recognizes that our country must be at the forefront of current technologies.
Protecting Canada's immigration system act aims to strengthen Canada's immigration and refugee system in three ways. First, it would build on the long-needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the balanced refugee reform act. Second, it would give Canadian authorities the tools needed to crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling. Third, it would introduce biometric technologies for screening certain visa applicants.
Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate.
Taken together, these three elements seek to help improve the integrity of our immigration and refugee system. Here is how.
One of the problems with our current refugee system is that it takes far too long for claimants to make their way through the system. This applies whether the claim is legitimate or not. This makes Canada an attractive target for illegitimate claimants since they know they can remain in Canada for several years while their claim is processed. Currently, it takes an average of four and a half years from the time a refugee claim is made until a failed claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. During this time, claimants can access our generous social benefits and establish themselves here in Canada.
To help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada, this bill would further expedite the processing of all refugee claims, particularly for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. This policy would provide the government with an important tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that do not normally produce refugees.
In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union. That is more than we see from Africa and Asia. Virtually all these claims from the European Union are abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. In other words, these claimants were not in genuine need of protection; they were bogus refugees.
Canada's top source country for refugee claims is Hungary, which is a stable democratic country. The number of refugee claims from Hungary in 2011 was 4,400. That is up almost 50% from 2,300 in 2010. That is 18% of the total percentage of refugee claims in Canada. In comparison, in 2011, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47 and France and Norway only 33 each. In 2010, a total of 2,400 Hungarian nationals claimed refugee status around the world and 2,300 of these were in Canada alone. That is right; Canada received 23 times more bogus refugee claims from Hungary than did all other countries combined.
Even though virtually all these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected, these applicants knew they had several avenues of appeal which allowed them to prolong their stay in Canada. These bogus refugee claimants cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year.
This is proof that Canada has become a target for bogus refugees. We must take action to crack down on this abuse. Canadian taxpayers work very hard and do not appreciate it when their hard-earned dollars go toward supporting foreign nationals who should not be here in the first place.
Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate. Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.6 billion over five years.
These new measures would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of our generous refugee system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees. By improving the refugee system in these ways, this legislation would also ensure that those refugee claimants who really do need our protection would get it even faster.
The second part of this legislation would enable Canadian authorities to crack down on human smugglers who seek to abuse our generous refugee system. It would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on those convicted of human smuggling.
At the same time, it recognizes that shipowners and operators are one part of the problem. The other part involves those who seek to use the services of a human smuggler in order to get to Canada. This legislation, therefore, also aims to reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of dangerous voyage.
The third part of this legislation would introduce new biometric technology to screen visitors to Canada. This legislation and the regulations would make it mandatory for certain visa applicants to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications.
In order to protect the health and safety of Canadians, it is critical that we stay on top of new technologies, including the methods used by fraudsters to manipulate our immigration system to fraudulently gain entry into Canada.
Linking an individual's biometric data with his or her biographic data would help us to more quickly identify applicants. It would therefore become much more difficult to forge, steal or use someone else's identity to gain access into Canada. Biometrics would make it easier to prevent known criminals and previous deportees from entering Canada. It would make it easier to prevent serious criminals, failed refugee claimants and terrorists, among others, from re-entering Canada by using false identify documents.
Alternatively, the use of biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to confirm identity. These measures would put us in line with our international partners, such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, the United States and Japan.
All these reforms are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. Bill C-31 would make our immigration system faster and fairer. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.
I implore my fellow members of the House to vote in support of this legislation.