Thank you very much. Good morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak. My name is Kathleen Sigurdson, and I am the immigration program manager in Moscow, Russia.
I would like to provide a short overview of the program in Moscow, emphasizing topics that I believe are of the most interest to the committee. The Moscow visa office is a full service centre, serving a vast territory spanning nine time zones and comprising six countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Armenia. Of these countries, Russia provides two-thirds of the office's permanent resident application intake and 86% of the temporary resident application volume.
There are eight Canadian-based officers in Moscow, including two mission integrity officers employed by Canada Border Services Agency and 28 permanent locally engaged staff positions. Unlike many missions, there are no local decision-makers in Moscow.
The year 2010 brought with it numerous specific challenges and pressures. The Winter Olympics and G-8/G-20 in early 2010 placed increased demands on the temporary resident program. The fires and heat wave during the summer of 2010 resulted in the evacuation of most of the Canadian visa officers, though basic operations continued and the embassy remained open. All of these factors inevitably meant that in 2010, temporary resident processing often took priority over permanent resident files.
I will now talk about temporary residents. Despite the fact that Russia was seriously affected by the global economic crisis in 2009, Russians are more interested than ever in visiting Canada. The overall trend over the past four years has been a considerable increase in temporary resident visa applications.
In total, the office processed temporary resident visa applications from 25,024 people in 2010, with an overall approval rate of 81%. This represents a 17% increase over 2009.
Regarding students, the number of study permit applications received in 2010 remained at the same level as 2009, with 1,518 applications.
Regarding temporary foreign workers, in 2010, Moscow received 473 applications for work permits. Intra-company transferees constitute most of the applications for work permits in Moscow.
I will now address the permanent resident program in Moscow, which I understand to be the main area of interest for the standing committee.
Fraud and misrepresentation are problems in most immigration application streams. Of the 200 immigrant refusals in 2010, approximately 5% resulted in a report for misrepresentation. This is often due to fraudulent education or employment documents.
In 2010, there was a considerable reduction in the intake of both federal and Quebec economic applications. Application intake under federal skilled worker and business categories was nearly half that of 2009. This is likely a direct result of Bill C-50 and is also likely related to the recent economic recovery in Russia. Moscow does not have an inventory of skilled worker applications received before November 2008, or pre-Bill C-50.
The approval rate for federal skilled worker and business cases in 2010 was 75%, slightly less than in 2009. For Quebec skilled worker and business cases, it was more or less unchanged at 96%.
Investors: there are 81 federal investor cases in process and 31 active investor cases selected by Quebec. All of our federal cases predate the administrative pause on federal investor processing of June 28, 2012. Lengthy background checks have contributed to the long processing times of federal investors of 43.5 months. Processing times for Quebec investor cases are somewhat shorter, at 32.1 months.
Family class: spouses and common-law partners represent 56% of the total family class intake, which was 551 in 2010. The current processing time for 80% of spouses and common-law partner applications is 9.4 months, with an approval rate of 91%. The main reason for refusals in these cases remains marriages of convenience.
Children represent 4% of the family class intake; 80% of applications are processed within 7.5 months, with an approval rate of almost 83%.
Parents and grandparents represent 26% of the family class intake. Processing time for 80% of these applications is 26 months, with an approval rate of 93%.
Adoptions represent 13% of family class intake. Processing time for 80% of applications is 3.6 months. There were no refusals in 2010 under this category, and problems in this movement are rare.
Refugees, protected persons: visas issued to refugees nearly doubled in 2010, primarily as a result of the resumption of regular referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the second half of 2009 and several interview trips conducted in former Soviet republics of central Asia in both 2009 and 2010. This has led to a moderate growth of an inventory of government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugee cases, allowing for better refugee target management. Processing times for most refugees were also reduced significantly in 2010. Security and war crimes concerns are not infrequent in Moscow's refugee caseload, and lengthy background checks continue to create a challenge for managing targets.
In terms of client service initiatives, there is a strong perception among hosts, partners and the business community that processing times for temporary residents are too long and the application process is burdensome. In the past six months, numerous improvements to client service have been made for high-profile, business and other urgent cases.
I wish to assure you, Mr. Chair, that we are committed to providing excellent and timely client service for applicants in all categories while upholding our obligation to protect the health and safety of Canadians. In addition to considering the feasibility of streamlining certain aspects of our upfront immigration screening process, we have planned various quality assurance activities for the immigration program in 2011.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank the committee for inviting me to speak.
My name is Thomas Richter, and I am the immigration program manager in Kiev.
I would like to provide a short overview of the program in Kiev, emphasizing topics that I believe would be of most interest to the committee. The visa section in Kiev is a full-service office, with 13 staff serving clients residing in Ukraine. Applicants for temporary resident visas from Moldova and Belarus also travel to Kiev to apply, as no visas are required to enter Ukraine.
While I know that the committee is focusing on wait times for economic and family class applications, I would like to talk briefly about our temporary resident program, as it is a major part of our program delivery.
In 2010, Kiev processed over 8,000 temporary resident visa applications, which represented an increase in applications from 2009, when 7,650 were processed. The acceptance rate is 79% and has remained constant. Family visits represent roughly 70% of our caseload, while business-related and official travel is approximately 25%, and only 5% of applications tend to be purely for tourism purposes.
Students destined to “English as a second language” programs, especially those offering paid work as part of the curriculum, feature significantly in this movement. Given the higher levels of fraud encountered with this movement, extra focus is placed upon document verification, which requires more time and resources on our part. The result of this fraud is a high refusal rate among these applicants.
In 2010, Kiev finalized 528 study permit applications, with an acceptance rate of 65%. In 2009, Kiev finalized 588 study permit applications, with a similar acceptance rate.
In relation to temporary foreign workers, in 2010 Kiev processed work permit applications for 800 persons, including those in two major agricultural projects involving 175 applicants. Given the global economic recession, fewer provincial nominee applications were received when compared with previous years.
I will now talk about Kiev's permanent resident program.
Emigration has been a long-standing fact of life for many Ukrainians. The search for better economic possibilities, escape from repression, and family reunification have all been salient factors. The movement of Ukrainians to Canada has a very long history, which continues to this day.
In 2010, Kiev issued 2,194 immigrant visas, a 20% increase over 2009. Our overall target for 2011 should be met with little difficulty. Kiev's current inventory of immigrant cases as of February 4, 2011, is very small at 776.
Document fraud and misrepresentation continue to be challenges faced in most immigration application streams. Marriages and divorces of convenience, as well as submission of fraudulent employment and education documents, are the primary types of this fraud. The presence of a migration integrity officer in Kiev to address fraud issues has made a significant improvement and has allowed us to address fraud issues more efficiently.
In the economic category, 2010 and 2009 both saw a sizeable reduction in the intake of these applications. Much of this may be attributed to the economic downturn, which had a serious effect upon Ukraine. Intake of skilled workers is also down, largely due to Bill C-50; here, Kiev has witnessed a refusal rate of 86%. The current inventory of Bill C-50 cases awaiting assessment is approximately 20 cases. The approval rate for all economic category cases in 2010 was 62%, virtually unchanged from 2009.
Kiev has virtually no business applicants, with an inventory of 27 cases, primarily of entrepreneurs. Consequently, Kiev's targets in these categories are low.
In the family class, spouses and common-law partners represented 55% of the total family class caseload in 2010.
The current processing time for 80% of spouse and common-law partner applications is 11 months, with an approval rate of 81%. The main reason for refusals in these cases remains marriages of convenience, and processing times in this category have improved significantly over previous years, when they ranged from 14 to 19 months.
Children represent approximately 10% of the family class cases processed. Applications take six months to process in 80% of the applications, with an approval rate of 85%. Parents and grandparents represented 35% of the family class spaces processed. Processing time for 80% of applications is 27 months, with an approval rate of 86%. Delays in processing of parent and grandparent applications are usually attributed to a high proportion of medical furtherances or delays in receiving documents. In 2010, Kiev slightly exceeded its target for family class applicants. Targets for sponsored parents and grandparents are managed globally.
Client service initiatives: with the introduction of the global case management system in November 2010 and a projected move to a new interim chancery, a change to our client service model was needed. Kiev moved to a drop-off system with optional pre-paid courier delivery service within Ukraine for a low fixed fee. An increasing proportion of our clientele now use mail-in services and courier services to avoid the burden of travelling to and from Kiev and queueing up to submit applications. Positive comments, especially from elderly applicants living far away, have more than justified this client service initiative. As well, internal reorganization in the immigration program in Kiev has resulted in faster permanent resident processing times, particularly for spouses and children.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you. That in fact is what I found out on March 9 from the Library of Parliament.
The citizenship and immigration department wrote a response and said there were a total of 14 working staff in the visa section at the beginning of 2005 and 2006. In the summer of 2006, one Canada-based visa officer position and two locally engaged staff positions were redeployed to other missions, leaving a total of 11 staff.
My question is to Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Richter.
Your department has stated that in fact there was a staffing cut. It was approximately 30% of the staff that was cut. Did the minister not know, when he put out this press release claiming that I was misleading when I was talking about these staffing cuts, or was in fact the minister misleading? Was the minister not informed, after being asked this question in the House, and a few days later he put out a press release in which he stated there were no cuts? Was he causing confusion, or did he just not know? Was he not being informed by his own department?
March 9 is when CIC, your department, informed the Library of Parliament that in fact staffing cuts occurred in the summer of 2006. On March 30, in debates in the House of Commons, a couple of weeks after the department had informed the Library of Parliament and myself, the minister's parliamentary secretary stated:
Contrary to the hon. member's claims, there have been no reductions in staffing the visa section of the Canadian embassy in Ukraine....
All aspects of the hon. member's questions are full of factual errors.
Unfortunately, it appears that both the minister and his parliamentary secretary, notwithstanding the facts that there were cuts in 2006, were publicly stating in the House of Commons and in press releases that it wasn't the case.
I'd like to move on to another question on applications processed abroad for parents and grandparents. In Kiev in 2009 there were 260 and in 2010 there were 65; the 2011 target is 25. We've seen a one-third reduction and then again a one-third reduction.
When you set this target, you pretty much meet that target. Is that not correct?
Kiev has seen a decrease in the number of provincially sponsored immigrants, for the very simple reason that the recruitment in the last couple of years has dried up, given the world economic recession. Now, with the economy picking up, we expect Saskatchewan and Alberta to start larger recruiting, which will bring first temporary workers to Canada, and then subsequent to that we will expect to see the immigration applications from this movement.
In skilled workers, Bill has resulted in a very low intake of applications that are successful, primarily for reasons of English and transferability of skills.
We've seen an 86% refusal rate for cases under ministerial instructions. Previously, any occupation was acceptable; now we have a limited number, which narrows the focus. Then within that field, if you don't have a very good degree of English, you're simply not going to make it on points.
At the same time, Quebec Immigration has done fairly strong recruitment, and the target for Quebec Immigration is a fairly high component of our economic target.
So the numbers are shifting within the economic field.
In family class, we are processing all parental cases that come in. There are no cases backlogged. In fact, last year I ensured that all family class cases were put into process, which is why our inventory of cases is actually decreasing. The number of active cases, as mentioned before, is only 776, and this is decreasing by the day as visas are being issued. The primary reasons for that are economic.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here. And thank you for the work you do on our behalf around the world.
I particularly want to focus on the Moscow office for a moment, on a couple of issues.
I was in Yerevan, Armenia, in the fall and encountered a number of people there who are working with your office, even though it's a very long distance and it's very costly for them to get to, which is another problem I would like the government to deal with.
A letter I've received since then from one of the people I met indicates that they are attempting to apply under the skilled worker category from the Moscow visa office. On the website it says that in 2009, processing times for 80% of applications made after November 28, 2008, were nine months. In 2010, this number is 14 months.
However, my friend has been working with more than 20 families who are now waiting more than 18 months, and only two or three that he knows fit into the timeline that is given in the statistics. He himself has been waiting 23 months—a skilled worker, a professional artist, a very interesting person. He says that in all major Russian immigration forums, there are lots of complaints about the huge slowing down in the last four to five months, and they don't know why.
I'm wondering whether you can explain what's happening, because the reality is that medical examinations are expiring, this is costing a lot of money, their security checks are only lasting six months, and they're worrying about whether or not we really are helping Armenians who are qualified and skilled get to Canada in a reasonable amount of time.
I want to get back to the topic of Moscow. We will continue our surreal discussion, in which my words are first translated into English to then be transcribed in French.
In your presentation, you talked about immigrants who are investors, and the number of applications by investors processed by Quebec. You said that processing time for investors selected by Quebec is the shortest of any province. It is 32 months, whereas the average is 43 months. However, we obviously have to factor into this the period of time during which the Government of Quebec makes its selection. When the two periods are added, the processing times are somewhat equal and perhaps even longer in Quebec's case.
We have often heard the same comment from immigrants who have gone through the system. I often get the same comment from immigration lawyers or consultants. Recently, Canadian Bar Association representatives confirmed this to the committee. They said that they have the impression that the same work is being done twice. In other words, the Government of Quebec checks the source of funds, confirms that the funds were acquired properly, that they are not the result of criminal activity, that they do exist, that applicants do have those funds at their disposal and that their application is valid. We are told that the same verifications are done at the federal level, while the only thing that remains to be done, in reality, is a security check.
Are you aware of this problem? What measures have been taken to avoid a situation where the work done by the Government of Quebec is done over again?
Let me speak to the matter of temporary residents.
We have definitely streamlined this processing in various ways. We're working very closely with our service providers to make sure that the applications come in as complete as possible. We've done some training with our staff, to try to make the notes shorter or more concise and to gather the information more quickly. There are steps around the office, the little processing steps to make sure the files move smoothly.
We work in a building that wasn't exactly designed for our type of work and we're on several floors, so there are some physical challenges. We're working within those and trying to move things along as well.
Headquarters has also been quite generous and has given us additional funding to hire temporary staff, who help with the clerical work.
On the permanent resident side, we do a lot of the same types of things, such as trying to find steps in the process that can be shortened without risking program integrity, just to speed things along.