Madam Chair, I want to start by thanking you for the opportunity to participate in this debate as we consider the votes under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in the 2018-19 main estimates. I will be speaking for about ten minutes and then I will ask some questions.
A well-managed immigration system is vital if we are to ensure the future success of our country. I have to admit that I have a special attachment to this immigration system because my wife arrived in Canada from England 18 years ago. This relationship resulted in four young boys with blonde hair and blue eyes.
It is in this spirit that we established an unprecedented multi-year immigration levels plan last year in order to responsibly increase the number of permanent residents that Canada welcomes over a three-year period. Under this plan, Canada will welcome 310,000 permanent residents this year, 330,000 the following year, and 340,000 in 2020. These are the most ambitious immigration numbers in the recent history of Canada and they represent a major investment in the current and future prosperity of our country. In fact, according to the Conference Board of Canada, we must increase our immigration levels to 1% of the population over the next 20 years to support sound economic growth in Canada.
With this plan, immigration levels will reach 0.9% by 2020, which means that we will have almost met the Conference Board of Canada's recommendation in just three years. This increase in immigration levels will help strengthen our country and keep us globally competitive, while stimulating innovation and economic growth, and supporting the creation of diverse, inclusive communities. The increase will help us face major challenges in the coming years, such as slower growth of the labour force and a labour shortage as a result of the aging Canadian population.
I want to remind hon. members of some important figures. In 1971, there were 6.6 people of working age for every senior. In 2012, the ratio of workers to seniors dropped to 4.2 to 1, and this ratio is expected to drop to 2 to 1 by 2036, in less than 20 years. Five million Canadians will be retiring in that time, and in two decades, nearly all of Canada's annual net population growth will come from immigration, which already represents 65% of our growth. We need to address this obvious demographic challenge if we want to be able to fulfill our commitments with respect to health care, pensions, and other social services; continue to grow our economy; and continue to fill our labour needs in the coming decades.
The multi-year immigration levels plan will benefit all Canadians because immigrants contribute to our economic growth and keep Canada competitive in a global economy. Immigrants can drive innovation and help employers meet their labour force needs.
Higher immigration levels will also improve the operations of our immigration system by helping us to reduce application backlogs and improve processing times for our clients. This will help us to reunite families more quickly, allow employers to more effectively hire the talent they need, and provide more timely protection to the most vulnerable people around the world.
It is fair to say that Canada is able to leverage what some call its immigration advantage. While an increasing number of countries are closing their doors to newcomers with innovative perspectives, an entrepreneurial spirit, and unique skills, Canada is taking a different approach.
Immigration seems to be an economic differentiator for Canada in terms of both our current and long-term needs. That is why 60% of the growth in immigration levels for this year and the subsequent two years will come through our economic programs. Prominent among these, of course, is our provincial nominee program, which helps meet regional labour needs and distributes the benefits of immigration throughout Canada.
Another excellent strategy for meeting regional needs is the Atlantic immigration pilot program, through which the government works with the community as a whole and employers in particular to ensure that newcomers settle in Atlantic Canada and stay there long term. At the same time, the Government of Canada is launching new programs, trying out new ideas and introducing faster processing in order to enhance its appeal for the talent that the country needs to ensure its economic prosperity.
For example, the recent implementation of the global skills strategy helps attract top talent from around the world. The purpose of this strategy is to bring in high-skilled workers to Canada sooner by processing their work permit and visa application in just two weeks, among other innovative measures.
The start-up visa program is another example of an innovative economic immigration program that helps identify promising new businesses in partnership with business incubators, angel investor groups, and private sector venture capital funds. They commit to supporting foreign entrepreneurs who are starting up innovative businesses and the government gives those entrepreneurs permanent resident status so that they can come to Canada quickly to create more jobs and contribute to our country's economic growth.
All the programs I just listed are examples of how the government is using innovative, creative approaches to meet Canada's unique economic needs through immigration.
We will be increasing immigration levels in the coming years, but we will also be ensuring that our immigration system remains well managed and puts the safety of all Canadians first. That is so important it bears repeating: our system works and puts the safety of all Canadians first. Our multi-year planning approach is helping Canada come up with a better plan to handle the challenges and opportunities of higher immigration levels. Our approach is also helping provincial governments, municipalities, and newcomer settlement agencies make plans of their own.
Settlement agencies have actually been calling for a multi-year plan for years now. We also have to increase immigration levels in a way that Canadians support.
Our immigration system must remain well managed, its economic benefits must remain clear, and it must continue to put the safety of all Canadians first. Canada is unique among immigrant receiving countries because it places such tremendous importance on giving newcomers the help they need to integrate into our country.
Our settlement services, including language training, employment services, and newcomer orientation, are positive contributors to immigrants' success. Canada also sets itself apart with its emphasis on citizenship as ultimate outcome of a process that begins with immigration and integration.
In fact, most eligible immigrants, or about 85% of folks, decide to apply for Canadian citizenship. We believe that welcoming immigrants to Canada, helping them settle and integrate into our society, and eventually seeing them become Canadian citizens provides our country with great opportunities and a competitive advantage. That is why it is essential to maintain a well-run immigration system to ensure economic growth, support sustainable communities, and keep Canada globally competitive.
Madam Chair, I will now ask my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, a few questions.
We have seen an increase in the number of border crossings and irregular asylum claimants in recent months. What impact does this increase have on the multi-year immigration levels plan?
Before I let the parliamentary secretary answer, I think it is important to reiterate something that I mentioned in my speech, namely that border crossings by asylum seekers occur as part of a very well-run system. What I mean is that when asylum seekers cross the border, first, they are stopped by the RCMP. Then, they go through a whole security screening process, which includes fingerprinting and a series of biometric tests. The RCMP also runs their names through all of our databases to check if there are any special issues. This system is well run and ensures that our officials are there to keep all Canadians safe.
I will repeat my question for the parliamentary secretary: what impact does this increase have on the multi-year immigration levels plan?