Madam Chair, I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here today on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin people.
It is particularly meaningful for me to take part in today's conversation in committee of the whole as we consider the main estimates for 2018-19 of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, given that I am the child of immigrant parents and grandparents who came to this country to escape the aftermath of a war, to escape fear, intolerance, and poverty. They wanted to come to a country that offered a place to begin a new life, a place that offered a safe place for their children and grandchildren to achieve their potential. I am one of those grandchildren.
It is important to not only talk about the actions this government has taken to streamline and improve the immigration process, but also to acknowledge the expectation from applicants and Canadians alike that we continue to improve.
The Canada we have today has been built largely by the immigrants who have come to this country to seek a better future for themselves and for their families. Together, we have created one of the best countries in the world. With our decreasing natural birth rate and our increasing retirement rate, our future economic success depends on us getting our immigration policy right moving forward.
I will be speaking for the next 10 minutes primarily on some of the improvements we have made in the system and then I will finish with a couple of questions for the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
The government understands that the way Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada deals with immigration applications, and the timeliness of processing those applications, have a profound impact on the lives of individuals.
Over the past few years, the Government of Canada has made significant progress in reducing wait times and inventories across permanent resident categories, while also meeting the ever-increasing demand for visitor visas, work permits, and study permits.
As an aside, I can attest that when I first entered office over two years ago, long wait times were the absolute top complaint, particularly one that separated families for too long. It really caused great stress and great unhappiness.
Thanks to the multi-year level plans and the innovative new processes being piloted in our missions and processing centres in Canada and around the world, we expect many inventories to be eliminated by 2019, while broadly rolling out new mechanisms to process visas faster and more efficiently.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been moving diligently toward an increasingly integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment to help speed up application processing globally. Updated technology allows the department to enhance efficiencies and take advantage of capacity anywhere in the network so applications can be processed more quickly.
Since we have started putting some of these measures into place, there has been a huge difference in just two and a half years. We virtually have no issues in my office around spousal sponsorships. Visa application issues have gone down significantly, and now our focus and our attention is on other matters.
Various factors can affect the time it takes to process applications, including the number of applications received and the complexity of the applications.
The gradual increase in immigration levels, as set out in the 2018-2020 multi-year levels plan, will provide more relief for long wait times and backlogs. I will remind everyone we have increased immigration levels in 2018 to 310,000; 320,000 in 2019; and 340,000 in 2020. This is because targeted levels increase the number of spaces in certain categories, such as spouses, partners, children, and economics. It allows IRCC to process more applications each year and admit more people.
The increased levels will also reduce wait times and backlogs, thereby addressing a key irritant to our clients, including Canadian family members and sponsors.
Increasing admissions of privately sponsored refugees and the provincial nominee program will similarly allow the government to process more applications from backlogs, which will continue to improve processing times.
The government has already taken action in many areas to reduce backlogs and improve processing times. I will give a few more details about some of the more specific action that has been taken and the results we have seen.
In terms of spousal applications, in December 2016, we announced improvements to Canada's spousal sponsorship application process to make it more efficient and easier to navigate. These changes included a new and improved spousal sponsorship application package to make the process simpler and easier for sponsors and applicants to understand and use. Our aim was to improve the spousal sponsorship process, making it faster and easier for Canadians and permanent residents to reunite with their spouses. I would also add that it was done to simplify the whole process and reduce the numbers of pages and the amount of work to make it easier to complete the application.
All of those changes have yielded results, and over the past year, the Government of Canada has made the spousal sponsorship process faster and easier. We met the commitment to reduce the backlog of spousal sponsorship cases by 80%, and we have shortened the processing time from 26 months, which was the wait period under the former Conservative government, to now just 12 months. I think this is a great achievement.
The changes we have made to the spousal sponsorship program are helping to bring spouses and families together faster, which has made people much happier in Davenport, and I am very happy about it. This has a broader benefit for newcomers. It helps with settlement and integration. The aim of our settlement and integration program is to help newcomers integrate well into their communities and succeed. Speeding up family reunification helps them do just that, and we all benefit from it.
In terms of caregivers, good progress has also been made on reducing backlogs and improving processing times for caregivers. We recognize that the role caregivers have played is an important one in supporting our loved ones and in helping grow Canada's economy. For far too long, these people have been waiting to reunite with their own families. Caregivers have been facing wait times of up to four to five years.
Our government has committed to eliminating the live-in caregiver program backlog by the end of 2018, and we have established a 12-month processing time for new applications, which is a significant decrease from the previous wait time of five to seven years. As one can imagine, it is awful when caretakers leave their countries and go to another country to help others, and then suffer in the end because they wait so long to be reunited with their families, which causes them great stress and other negative consequences. We took action, put resources in place, and put the right people in place to eliminate this backlog, and the result is a positive one for everyone.
With respect to the parent and grandparents program, we came into government making a commitment to those looking to bring in parents and grandparents. We quickly addressed the commitment to reunite more families and doubled the maximum number of parent and grandparent sponsorship applications accepted for processing, which went from 5,000 to 10,000. We also significantly reduced the inventory of applications by over 80%, going from 168,000 applications in 2011 to approximately 29,600 in December 2017. I am so proud of the progress we have made on this, and I know that it has been very positive for those families that have been affected.
The next area I want to talk about is economic immigration. Canadian businesses have been clear that to remain competitive, we have to be nimble and quick in attracting and retaining top talent, and so we have made two key changes.
One is the express entry system, which is used to manage applications for federal high-skilled programs and a portion of provincial nominee programs. At present, we are within a six-month service standard for applications for express entry, and we have virtually eliminated inventories of applications that were received for federal high-skilled economic programs prior to the express entry launch.
I am particularly proud that we have also rolled out the global skills strategy, which launched last June. Employers can now access the skilled talent they need in two weeks or less, while those coming for very short periods no longer require a work permit.
The final area to mention is temporary immigration. Temporary resident intake has increased by almost 50% over the last five years, going from 1.9 million in 2012 to an expected 2.8 million in 2017. A lot more people want to come to Canada, so we are now exploring pilot programs that will leverage technology that can help us process faster while preserving the safety and security of Canadians.
Madam Chair, I have run out of time. I have shared with you a lot of good news about reducing our backlogs and shortening our processing times, and I know I have some questions for—