Mr. Speaker, I have been married for 40 years. In those 40 years, I have not been able to speak for 20 minutes straight without being interrupted, so this will be a maiden voyage for me.
I am pleased to rise and speak about this issue today. This is a growing crisis, one that could soon rival the mess created by the Liberals on the returning ISIS terrorists or the small business tax grab that hurts farmers, ranchers, family doctors, and local shop owners, calling them tax cheats because the Liberal government cannot stop spending other people's money. It is far more serious than the Prime Minister's multitude of vacations with terrorists and lobbyists.
My riding has definitely seen an impact on the major concerns of delivering the resources necessary to support individuals who are in this country legally, in my riding as well as in ridings across the country, and providing stability for those who come to this country through legal immigration.
Here is what my staff have to say, and I am sure that MPs throughout the House will have similar stories from their staff. Immigrants seeking to renew their legal status who are here legally, who have a job and are contributing to our country and our economy, can expect delays of up to one year to get their permits. This means that they and their families could lose their access to medical care. There are employers who need to go through the labour market impact assessment process and end up getting rejected for their candidates because it takes too long.
Caregiver and family reunification is being delayed by months, if not years, while immigration officials deal with the mess at the border. Let us be clear. The burden and the backlogs are entirely because of the Prime Minister's irresponsible tweet. The minister should have gone to his boss back then and told him to fix the problem he created, but he did not. Now, thousands of Canadians and their families, legal immigrants, temporary foreign workers, and businesses are paying the price.
In my riding, agriculture co-operatives need very specific people for a specific growing season. Quite often, they are returning staff who have been through the process before. Here is what is happening. Delays to the labour market impact assessment approvals are causing temporary foreign workers to be rejected outright. Foreign workers are being rejected for very small application problems. Companies are having to restart the hiring process to try to find new people for their work because administrative resources are being starved.
Privately sponsored refugees are refugees in real need, from war zones and foreign aid areas, who have Canadians sponsoring them to come to Canada. There is a backlog of 45,000 applications. These are the refugees with the highest rate of success and the lowest cost to Canadian taxpayers, because they are privately sponsored. They are following the rules and agree to join Canada. They are seeing a decade of delays because there are no immigration officials to deal with the paperwork, while we rush through the process of illegal border crossers.
Illegal border crossers enter the country without permission, without following and respecting our laws, and are receiving full social assistance and work permits within days. Legal immigrants are waiting months and months, if not longer, for their permits. This is completely unacceptable to Canadians. We are giving priority to those who refuse to respect the law and hurting people who are following the law, including innocent families and children. Employers are hurting because they cannot hire workers due to these government backlogs. This is unacceptable and un-Canadian.
What have the ministers been telling us? They have said that everything is fine, that all is well, and that there is nothing to see here. We should not worry about that tweet, or about the record numbers across the border. We should not concern ourselves with reports coming from border officers, the RCMP, and Immigration that illegal border crossers are a crisis.
We know this to be completely false.
Let me go back to the genesis of this report. On October 7, 2017, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted its report entitled “Modernization of Client Service Delivery”. The purpose of this study was to study various issues with client service that were brought to the committee by a range of witnesses, including lawyers, immigration consultants, groups that work with refugees, and representatives from the private sector.
This issue is even more relevant today, a year after the report was introduced, because the government has failed to manage the borders, and this has exacerbated the existing issues within the Department of Immigration.
During the committee's study, witnesses identified a broad range of issues and shared with the committee a number of ideas for improving client service at IRCC. In particular, witnesses highlighted frustrations with the call centre, as well as the departmental website and online applications, including the status updates provided online.
More complex issues were also raised with the committee, including the possible use of artificial intelligence in business applications; how to address minor errors that can result in applications being returned, potentially jeopardizing rights; how to facilitate access to IRCC services for individuals with little English or French language skills; and the provision of in-person services. Finally, processing times, fees, and customer service from other government departments may not be new issues, but with the modernization certainly added some new perspectives.
All of these issues illustrate how inaccessible the Department of Immigration is, and this is unfair. We know that many newcomers ultimately turn to immigration consultants and lawyers to help them with their paperwork, which costs them thousands of dollars. This is another example of big government failing the people it has been set up to serve.
Let us talk a bit about a few of the issues that witnesses brought to the attention of the committee. The Canadian Bar Association submitted a brief to the committee, which highlighted that the Department of Immigration does not currently contact clients when it exceeds processing times. There is a simple fix to this. The department could send an automated email, which would be helpful, to advise clients that the application is being processed and further time is required, as well as requesting an additional inquiry if a decision is not made within a specific number of days. This would decrease inquiries and complaints.
We also know that if someone fails to check one little box, the department may outright reject the complete application. A simple fix would be implementing a system for routine requests for additional information on intake and triage, with reasonable deadlines to facilitate processing, rather than unnecessary refusal of applications. This would assist in reducing inefficiencies.
Another group we heard from was a private sponsorship group called Syrian Refugees Gravenhurst, which was generous and compassionate enough to put its own resources on the line to privately sponsor refugees from Syria. What it told the committee, as several groups did, was that the department met that generosity with stymying and bureaucracy, failing to communicate even the most basic information to the sponsorship groups.
Here is a list of issues that the group told our committee about.
The first issue is that there is great frustration among sponsorship groups that formed in response to the current refugee crisis, which are being told that the wait times for the family they are matched up with may be as much as 55 months, due to the location of the family. Groups do not understand how they were offered matches that could not come to fruition in a reasonable length of time, given that there were so many in need. It seems that this issue has been addressed for groups going through the blended visa office-referred stream, but not for groups of five who have raised the full funding themselves and now have it tied up for years.
If the private refugee sponsorship program is to flourish, IRCC policy and procedures must take into account the distinct nature of the undertaking of community volunteers. At the time this group contacted the committee, the IRCC website estimated that the processing time for privately sponsored refugees in Egypt was a staggering 55 months.
There is one group right now that is facing a zero-day wait time. Members can guess which one it is. It is the illegal border crossers.
Here is the second issue that Syrian Refugees Gravenhurst raised. The IRCC website is not well organized to support private sponsorship groups seeking to organize for the purpose of sponsoring refugees. Overall, it is not up to 21st-century standards for user-friendliness. There is no clear path for interested groups to follow to learn about the program and compare options, such as whether to constitute the group as a group of five or as a constituent group of sponsorship agreement holders, or whether to channel the sponsorship through community organizations, such as a local church or Rotary club.
More information is on the website than most groups were able to find at the stage when they needed it. Information for sponsorship groups is often mixed in with information that is not current and/or is about completely different classes of applicants.
A third issue they raised was that once the group's application is in process, lack of communication from IRCC affects almost every sponsorship group. The only projection for processing time is a generic number based on the past cases for immigrants, apparently of different classes, located in the same country. Statements from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship about clearing the backlog by a given date are of little use when groups cannot even confirm if the refugee family is defined as being in the backlog. Individualized communication is required and needed.
A fourth issue they raised was that similar to other classes of applicants, sponsorship groups are often referred to MPs' offices, which are said to have access to more information on applications in progress. In general, groups report that the MP's staff are very attentive to their requests, but often cannot get more useful information specific to the family in question.
A recent example comes from a group that had established contact with their matched family at a time when the information available to the MP's office still said the family was likely to arrive in 2020. The family suddenly reported that they had been interviewed and were told they would be able to depart in three or four months.
Many groups express concern that they place an inappropriate burden on MPs' staff when going to them to access information that should be available directly from IRCC. It seems that the department of immigration is off-loading their work onto MP offices, which often only have one or two staff who are caseworkers.
A fifth issue they raised was that flexibility in the system is needed to respond to unexpected situations. There is a backlog of applications from private sponsorship groups right now, at the same time that agencies that assist government-sponsored refugees report a lack of resources. Given the border-crossing crisis, they are stretched to the very limit.
Caught in the backlog of sponsorship groups waiting for families, there are groups outside of areas designated to receive government-sponsored refugees that would provide the needed support without putting demands on the agencies that are having trouble meeting the demand. It seems there is no flexibility to take advantage of the excess capacity for private sponsorship that would put minimal demands on government agencies in the designated centres. We know that privately sponsored refugees fare far better than government-sponsored refugees and are far less reliant on government resources.
Here is the sixth issue that Syrian Refugees Gravenhurst brought up: not all groups receive contact information for the refugees after approval. Communication between the private sponsorship groups and the refugees they will be sponsoring prior to arrival in Canada can ease the transition for the new arrivals and their sponsors. Depending on the situation, sponsors may be able to suggest things the refugees can do to prepare for establishing qualifications, obtaining employment, or qualifying for a Canadian driver's licence. Refugees can ask questions about their destination and can learn more about what to expect. If contact is possible, sponsors can be better prepared for the individual needs of the family when they do arrive.
Another issue that I want to raise, which will affect the provision of good client services, is the unfair closure of the Vegreville case processing centre. The immigration case processing centre in Vegreville is the most efficient processing centre in the country, and while the government tried to convince rural Albertans that it would save money to move the centre to Edmonton, we know that it will cost more.
We also know that it will cause a loss of up to 420 people from the community of Vegreville.
It will cost Canadians more to close this office, and it will remove 9% of the town's labour force.
It will cost Canadians more to close this office, and it will cost the town $15.9 million of GDP.
It will cost Canadians more, and it will also cost the town $14.5 million in labour income.
It will cost Canadians more, and it will result in a loss of $1.2 million in municipal revenue annually to the town of Vegreville.
It will cost Canadians more, and it will cost employees, specifically the 76% of employees who are women, forcing them to choose between their families, their community, their volunteer commitments, and a career.
It will cost Canadians more to close to this office, and it will impact over 250 spouses' jobs in Vegreville.
It will cost Canadians more to close to this office, and it will impact three local small businesses owned by employee families.
It would cost more and cause businesses to close their doors.
It will cost more to close to this office, and it will impact 350 school-aged children in Vegreville.
It will cost Canadians more, and it will cost employees thousands in moving costs and relocation expenses, and it will force double the number of houses to go on the market in Vegreville.
This is just another example of the government's failure to prioritize Canadians and newcomers and of its depriving them of services. Wait times would go up as a result of this closure.
This is in addition to the evidence the immigration committee heard and a number of recommendations that were developed. I will not get into those recommendations today because they are available in the report.
We know that a large percentage of constituency work related to immigration and citizenship is done by members of Parliament in their offices, and we know that many Canadians and newcomers rely on the services provided by IRCC, which is why we are calling for this report to be concurred in today.
As I conclude my speech today, I would like to take some time to highlight the record of the previous Conservative government. There was higher immigration under Conservative governments, after Liberal governments' cuts in levels. In 1993, immigration levels reached a peak and then were severely cut for many years thereafter. Under Conservative governments, we saw a higher level of immigration. For example, the average level under Conservative governments from 1993 to 2015 was 257,830. By contrast, Liberal governments averaged only 220,000 in the same time frame when in government. There were 20% more immigrants admitted under Conservatives than past Liberal governments. Over 10 years of Conservative government, we admitted 2,579,494 people. By contrast, the Liberals over a 10-year period only saw 2,171,987 immigrants come to Canada. We saw 10% higher levels of family class immigration under the Conservatives. The average annual number of family class immigrants under Liberal governments, from 1997 to 2005, was 60,000. By contrast, there were 66,000 family class immigrants under Conservative governments. The Conservatives maintained family class immigration at 26% of the total share of immigrants versus the Liberals' 24%. Moreover, visitor visas nearly doubled under Conservative governments compared to Liberal ones.
The previous Liberal government's record on immigration was that it froze funding for immigrant settlement services for 13 years, slashed the budget of the CIC, did nothing on foreign credential recognition, did nothing on marriages of convenience, did nothing to crack down on crooked immigration consultants, and did nothing to fix a broken refugee and asylum system. In 2015, before being elected, Justin Trudeau's Liberals voted against foreign credential recognition loans, efforts to speed up foreign credential recognition for immigrants, and the creation of the new expression-of-interest stream that connected immigrants with employers. Previous Liberal governments created a backlog of 108,000 parents and grandparents. They also increased wait times for parents and grandparents to 64 months, creating a total immigrant backlog of 830,000, and imposed a right-of-landing fee of $975 on new immigrants.
Our Conservative record included welcoming 20% more immigrants per year on average than previous Liberal governments. We cut the right-of-landing fee in half, saving newcomers more than $300 million by 2011 alone, and we tripled settlement funding. In 2005, settlement services funding was $368 million; by 2014, we tripled it to $925 million. Our Conservative record also included taking action on foreign credential recognition.
In conclusion, it was an honour to speak to this issue and to report on the Conservative record that certainly is stellar, unlike the rhetoric we hear from the other side.