Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on the subject of immigration, as I myself transitioned in Canada from an international student to a landed immigrant to, finally, a citizen. It has been a pleasure living in this country for the last 45 years.
Our Conservative government's focus remains jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Our government is taking concrete action to help unemployed and underemployed Canadians work at their full skill level and to ensure that Canadians and permanent residents are given the first chance at available jobs.
In addition to these efforts, immigration will continue to be a key part of Canada's plan to tackle labour market needs as Canada's workforce continues to age. In order to do that effectively, we could not continue with what was, quite frankly, a dysfunctional immigration system that did not work in Canada's best interests. Our government is committed to moving away from that slow and passive immigration system, with massive backlogs and lengthy wait times, to a proactive just-in-time system that brings economic immigrants to Canada, in a timely fashion, with the skills our economy needs today and will need in the future.
There are countless people across the globe who want to immigrate to Canada. If we look at the latest statistics, there are a total of seven billion people in the world. With extrapolation, we could understand that more than two billion would like to live in Canada. However, we are mindful of the fact that Canada has the capacity to settle and integrate only a limited number of people each year. That is why the government sets out an annual immigration level plan.
Since 2006, Canada has welcomed the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history. However, because the previous dysfunctional immigration system legally required the government to process to completion every application it received, and year after year, the number of applications received was almost double the number of admissions, massive backlogs accumulated in every immigration stream.
Some people, including both opposition parties, have advocated the simplistic option of raising immigration levels to solve this problem. They are wrong. Even raising immigration levels to 1%, which is the official policy of both the NDP and the Liberals, would have only a limited impact, and massive backlogs and long wait times would persist.
I would also point out that raising levels is out of step with the views of Canadians, including immigrants, who do not support significant increases in immigration levels. It is not because of anti-immigration sentiment, as immigrants are just as likely to hold these views as those born in Canada. It is because of practicality. People understand that there is limited capacity and funds to integrate newcomers.
The only way to actually prevent massive immigration backlogs and skyrocketing wait times is to align the number of applications with the number of admissions. Some would say, “So what if people have to wait?”
The fact is that immigration backlogs have had real and negative consequences for immigrants and for the Canadian economy. Immigrants had to put their lives on hold while they waited years for an answer. Due to outdated selection criteria, too many of them had to wait to come to Canada, only to face unemployment or underemployment. For Canadians and the Canadian economy, it meant lost productivity and acute skills shortages that were still not being filled. It also meant that Canada was losing the global competition to attract and retain the best and brightest talent from across the globe.
As we can clearly see, Canada's previous immigration system made no sense. After years of neglect from previous governments and ministers of immigration who were too afraid to make the necessary reforms, our Conservative government acted. We are aggressively pursuing transformational change to Canada's immigration system, moving toward to an immigration system that functions in the best interests of Canada's economy and also of immigrants.
As a result of these long overdue reforms, I was very proud to announce just a few weeks ago that the total immigration backlog has seen a dramatic reduction of 40%. This is major progress. It is important to understand where we were and where we were headed, compared to how far we have come as a result of the transformational changes we continue to implement.
I will give some examples. The federal skilled worker program is Canada's flagship economic immigration system. More economic immigrants came through this system than through any other system. Under the old system, by 2008, approximately 640,000 applications had accumulated in the backlog. Applicants were waiting six years for a decision. The backlog was projected to balloon to over 1.5 million, with wait times of 15 years by 2015.
Canada competes for the top talent in a globalized world. Many of our peer countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, are mindful of this and have fast and flexible immigration systems that process applications within a matter of months. You can imagine that if given the option of waiting a decade in a queue or obtaining permanent residency in a matter of months that any rational person would choose the latter. Canada was losing the competition for the best and brightest talent from around the world. To resolve this major issue, the government took the difficult but necessary step of eliminating most of the old applications in the federal skilled worker backlog.
It is very telling that this Liberal member would claim to be outraged at the idea of eliminating old federal skilled worker applications. I say that because the Liberals tried to do the exact same thing in 2003, when they were in government, but they failed, because the court ruled against their efforts. The difference is that where they were incompetent and failed, our government was successful and competent. What is even more disturbing about the hypocrisy is that the Liberal immigration critic is not aware of his own party's record on immigration. I think that is a serious cause for concern.
In addition, we temporarily paused the federal skilled worker program while we improved the outdated points system. For too long, too many immigrants were coming through the federal skilled worker program only to face unemployment or underemployment. We pored through a large volume of research, which consistently showed that language proficiency, youth and pre-arranged job offers were the most important factors associated with the economic success of immigrants.
On May 4, we will open the new FSW program with an updated points system and a requirement to have one's overseas education assessed before applying so that one has a realistic understanding of how it compares to the Canadian standard. It is what I like to call truth in advertising.
As a result of these actions, along with other important steps we have taken, beginning in 2008 with the introduction of ministerial instructions, we are well on our way to a federal skilled worker program that functions on a just-in-time basis. Today we have gone from a backlog of 640,000 to only 90,000 and from a wait time of six years headed toward 15 years to a wait time of only one year.
The backlog reduction in the federal skilled worker program clears the way for the move toward an innovative system based on what we call an expression of interest. Applicants will eventually go into a large pool of qualified immigration applicants for Canada, giving us their consent to share their applications with employers, and indeed, with provincial governments, so that those employers can come into the pool of qualified immigrant applicants and do their international labour recruitment from within that pool.
For example, if Canadian engineers start retiring in large numbers as the baby boomers retire, and an engineering firm will need 10 additional engineers next year and will be looking for engineers within a particular specialized area, it would be able to go into the system and do a query to look for the qualified prospective immigrants in that field in that pool. It would be able to look at their applications and their pre-assessed education and credentials. If it was satisfied and wanted to do its due diligence, the firm would offer that person a job. The government would then bring in that immigrant applicant on a lightning-speed basis.
We did some very interesting research that showed that immigrants who arrive with pre-arranged jobs in Canada are earning almost $80,000 in income after their third year, which is much higher than the average. This is where we want to head.
Coming with a pre-arranged job means that people get past the survival job gap and go straight into employment at their skill level. They are making good money and are paying taxes so that we can provide health care and our social programs. That is why we need a fast, flexible system. That is why we must deal decisively with these backlogs.
I am very proud of the progress we have made, thanks to the decisive action we have taken.
There is more good news. The federal skilled worker program is not the only immigration stream that has seen major progress. The second is for parents and grandparents. In addition to addressing labour market needs, Canada's immigration system also facilitates family re-unification. Over the years, the parent and grandparent program experienced a growing number of applications to the point where the backlog grew to over 160,000 applications and a wait time of eight years. I think we can all agree that this was unfair to applicants and their families.
What actions have we taken? This is the reason we have introduced the action plan for faster family re-unification. By admitting the highest number of parents and grandparents in 20 years over 2012 and 2013, while placing a temporary pause on the program, we have seen a dramatic reduction of 50% in the backlog.
In addition, the new super visa allows parents and grandparents, many who do not want permanent residence but want to spend an extended period of time with their children and grandchildren, to visit Canada for two years at a time over a 10-year period. Over 1,000 super visas are issued every month. The approval rate is high at over 85%. In fact, had we not acted in 2011, the wait times would have grown to 250,000, with a 15-year wait time, by 2015.
Yet the opposition parties have opposed improvements to the parent and grandparent program. Both the NDP and the Liberals have committed to returning to the pre-2011 program.
We need to avoid going back to the old system of ballooning backlogs and skyrocketing wait times. We have spent the last year consulting with Canadians on a new parent and grandparent program, which will be unveiled later this year. It is important that the new program be sustainable, and most importantly, that it avoids backlogs in the future.
The options could not be clearer: people can wait 15 years to be reunited with parents or wait two years or less. The parties advocating for unlimited applications are not supporting family re-unification. Exactly the opposite is true. Lengthy wait times keep families apart.
There has also been significant progress in reducing the backlog in business class. The backlog had increased to over 100,000, with a wait time of almost a decade. It would have grown to over 250,000, with an astonishing 20-year wait time, by 2015.
By pausing applications for the investor and entrepreneur programs, we have managed to reduce the backlogs and the wait times slightly. While the program remains paused, we are working on a new program that will move from a passive program with no actual long-term investment to a program that reflects demand and requires active investment and job creation in Canada.
There are obviously more streams where progress has been made and some in which progress has not been made. However, the pattern is the same. In programs where we have taken action to better align the number of applications with the number of admissions, backlogs have gone down, and wait times have decreased.
In conclusion, to maintain Canada's tradition of openness and generosity, we must ensure that our immigration system functions so as to best support our national interests and our country's long-term economic prosperity. That is why our government has initiated a series of transformational changes that enhance Canada's economic immigration system and allow us to keep pace with our country's evolving needs.
Our new and improved immigration system would help ensure Canada's long-term economic prosperity by allowing us to select the skilled immigrants our country needs and the ones who are the most likely to succeed when they get here. This would ensure that newcomers are able to contribute their full potential, help alleviate labour shortages and grow Canada's economy.
Our ultimate goal is a just-in-time immigration system that recruits people with the right skills to meet Canada's labour market needs, fast-tracks their applications and gets them working in a period of months, not years. To get there, we have taken clear and decisive action to dramatically reduce backlogs. However, we still have work to do in that area as we strive to attain our goal of having a fast and nimble immigration system.
We want to bring highly skilled newcomers into the Canadian workforce more quickly so that they can help fuel our economic growth and fully contribute to our nation's productivity. We have made tremendous progress toward this goal over the past year, and we will continue to build our achievements in the months and years to come.