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CIMM Committee Report

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Government of Canada Response to the 2nd Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, “Cutting the Queue: Reducing Canada’s Immigration Backlogs and Wait Times”

The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) for its report, “Cutting the Queue: Reducing Canada’s Immigration Backlogs and Wait Times” tabled in the House on March 6, 2012.  CIMM’s report speaks of the need to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of a modernized immigration system to address looming demographic challenges and projected labour shortages.  The Government of Canada agrees with this objective.  Immigration has always supported Canada’s cultural and economic development and the Government has made the modernization of immigration programs to ensure greater labour market responsiveness a key priority of its vision for immigration. 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) receives and processes applications representing over 400,000 prospective permanent residents every year in order to achieve the level of permanent resident admissions the Government plans to admit annually as outlined in the Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.  At about 250,000 immigrants per year, between 2006 and 2011, the Government has maintained the highest sustained immigration levels in Canadian history.  Immigration represents almost 0.8% of Canada’s population every year, among the highest proportional rate of managed migration in the world.   During the global recession in 2008, the Government did not reduce immigration levels, knowing that Canada will continue to rely on the skills and experience new workers bring.  However, backlogs in many immigration programs persist today. 

The Government plans immigration levels to balance the three pillars of Canada’s immigration system: to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions in Canada; to see that families are reunited; and to fulfill Canada’s international legal obligations with respect to refugees and affirm Canada’s commitment to global efforts to provide assistance to those in need of resettlement.  In balancing these objectives, the Government must take into consideration a variety of factors, such as input solicited from consultations with provinces, territories and stakeholders, current and future economic conditions, as well as labour market needs, and the capacity of the economy and of communities to integrate newcomers economically and socially.  Over the past six years, the Government of Canada has focused on improving its suite of immigration programs to meet its immigration objectives more effectively.  The Government is well on track to achieve its vision of a transformed immigration system, one that is effective, fast, efficient and in line with Canada’s economic needs.

Despite the progress made to date, the CIMM report makes clear that more needs to be done. The Government agrees with all of the recommendations put forward by the committee.  This Response focuses on three broad themes to allow the Government an opportunity to outline its vision for the future immigration program more broadly, while addressing the concerns raised in the CIMM report.  The three themes are: 1) Modernizing Canada’s Approach to Application Intake Management and Program and Service Fee Review in the Immigration System; 2) Modernizing Economic Immigration by Addressing Application Backlogs and Maximizing Economic Benefits; and 3) Moving Toward a More Efficient and Sustainable Parents and Grandparents Category.

Modernizing Canada’s Approach to Application Intake Management and Program and Service Fee Review in the Immigration System

The Government agrees with recommendations one and two of the CIMM report to develop policies to better align application intake with admission levels, and to review how fees are established and revised to administer Canada’s immigration programs. 

Canada has long been a destination of choice for immigrants. CIC strives to process immigration applications in a timely manner.  Historically, Canada’s immigration system has included a legislative requirement to process every single application received to completion.  As a result, year after year, Canada received more applications than could be processed. This resulted in large backlogs in many categories (including the Federal Skilled Worker backlog of 640,000 people at its peak) which in turn have led to long wait times for applicants, in some instances as long as 8-10 years.  Changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in February 2008 allow CIC to return unprocessed applications that are not aligned with Government of Canada objectives and have enabled significant progress on ceasing the growth of, and drawing down, key backlogs in the immigration system.

CIMM’s report highlights the need to establish a modernized and responsive approach to fees.  The fees for Government of Canada services are set in accordance with the Financial Administration Act which requires that departments do not profit as a result of the collection of fees for service. 

The May 2008 Report of the Auditor General recommended that CIC should…

…establish formal systems and practices to periodically review [fees]. In this review, the departments should consider changing fee-related costs or value, the portion of the fee that should accrue to fee payers and taxpayers respectively, and other factors related to changing circumstances.

Further to the Auditor General’s recommendation and in line with departmental commitments in the 2010 Management Accountability Framework process, CIC has established a Fee Review team to assess the pricing of service fees in comparison to program costs and changing circumstances for all of CIC’s lines of business.  This will take place during 2012-13 and occur every five years afterwards.

Modernizing Economic Immigration By Addressing Application Backlogs and Maximizing Economic Benefits

The Government agrees with recommendations three and four of the CIMM report. The Government has already taken decisive action to address the pre-2008 Federal Skilled Worker backlog and will be modernizing the Immigrant Investor Program in due course. 

As the Prime Minister declared at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January 2012, Canada’s economic and labour force needs will be “the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future”, to position the country for economic development and to prepare it for the anticipated demographic pressures. 

The Government is facilitating the arrival of immigrants with the specialized skills and innovative ideas needed for Canada’s economy to succeed.  Recent initiatives proposed in Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, allow the Government to move toward a new application management system that can adjust to changing needs and support immigration programs which meet immediate regional skills shortages while continuing to respond to longer term, national labour force needs. The Government is also developing a plan to maximize the benefits that high-skilled and high net-worth immigrants bring to Canada through a more streamlined, efficient and effective Immigrant Investor Program. 

Federal Skilled Workers

Amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) introduced in Budget 2008 enabled the Minister to better manage, through Ministerial Instructions authorities, the processing of applications to support the Government of Canada’s goals for immigration.  Under the Action Plan for Faster Immigration (launched in November 2008), the Government invested $109 million over five years to improve the efficiency of the processing network and better respond to increasing demands on the temporary and permanent immigration streams.  This investment allowed the Department to create the Centralized Intake Office (CIO) in Sydney, Nova Scotia, for the receipt of all new Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) applications.  

The key objective of the first set of Ministerial Instructions (announced in November 2008) was to limit the number of new FSW applications CIC would accept for processing to those from applicants with: experience in priority occupations, one year of in-Canada work or study experience, or pre-arranged offers of employment.  In this way, the instructions sought to both better meet labour market needs across Canada and manage the number of new applications CIC had to process so that the Department could concurrently draw down the pre-2008 backlog.  The second set of Instructions (announced in June 2010) adjusted the eligible list of priority occupations to reflect updated labour market information, imposed a cap of 20,000 applications (in response to higher than anticipated application intake under the first set of instructions) and placed greater importance on language abilities by requiring the submission of language test results.  In June 2011, a third set of instructions further reduced the cap on applications without an offer of employment to 10,000 in order to allow for continued progress on processing applications already on hand at that time.

When the Government launched the Action Plan for Faster Immigration, the pre-2008 FSW backlog was estimated at 641,000 people, and with wait times of over five years.  By December 31, 2011, it was reduced by over 50% – two years ahead of the projected schedule.  Despite this success, CIC estimated that it would take more than six years to process all applications awaiting a decision in the pre-2008 FSW backlog.  At that rate, the last applications would be cleared in late 2017 or early 2018 – delaying the implementation of a fast and flexible economic immigration system. 

Further to CIMM’s third recommendation regarding options to address the FSW backlog, the Government, in the Economic Action Plan 2012 (announced on March 29, 2012) proposed to close applications and return all CIC fees paid by the roughly 280,000 people in the pre-2008 FSW backlog.  The proposal affects applicants who applied before February 27, 2008 and whose applications had yet to receive a selection decision (the first step in processing) – prior to the March 29 launch of the Economic Action Plan 2012. The Government of Canada recognizes that many affected applicants will be disappointed with this decision.  But decisive action was needed to move Canada towards a modernized, flexible and responsive immigration system sooner.  Applicants affected by the proposed backlog elimination provision who possess in-demand skills and experience and meet the other requirements to be eligible for processing can re-apply in the future and are likely to receive much faster processing – within six to twelve months of application.

Immigrant Investor Program

The second largest economic immigration backlog after FSW belongs to the Immigrant Investor Program (IIP).  The objective of the IIP is to attract experienced business people who bring significant economic benefits to Canada by injecting investment capital into the Canadian economy through various provincial economic development projects.  However, the IIP must overcome some key challenges in order to strengthen the program and maximize economic benefits for Canada.  First, demand for immigration via the IIP has greatly exceeded processing capacity as set out in annual immigration levels plan, giving rise to the backlog of applications. In 2011, through the third set of Ministerial Instructions, CIC imposed an annual cap of 700 on new IIP applications.  The cap has provided control over intake of new applications to allow for both backlog and new applications to be processed concurrently. Still, at nearly 10 years worth of processing in the IIP backlog, further action will be necessary to draw it down. Additional measures, including the further use of Ministerial Instructions authorities, are under consideration to address this backlog.

Second, despite increases implemented in 2010, the required investment level for Canada’s IIP is still lowest among competitor countries, which may be at odds with Canada’s desire to attract high value, global investors to Canada. Additionally, the assessment and verification process necessary to the IIP is highly complex and has led to slow and inefficient processing of IIP cases. The Government is exploring options to enhance the rigour and efficiency of the application process. To ensure the IIP delivers maximum economic benefit to Canada, the Government is consulting with stakeholders, provinces and territories in order to determine how to best reform the current IIP.  By collaborating with industry leaders and other stakeholders, CIC is poised to reform the business immigration model in order to increase economic growth and allow Canada to be a more active player in the global competition for talent and investment.

Finally, subject to approval of Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, the Government will consider creating specialized and focused investor programs to target active investment, and rapidly attract high value global investors to Canada.  The Minister has initiated consultations with stakeholders, provinces and territories, and the Canadian public on a potential new specialized investor program which strives to have a greater economic impact in Canada through the more active use of investment capital to promote growth and innovation and create jobs.

Moving Toward A More Efficient and Sustainable Parents and Grandparents Category

The Government agrees with all of the Committee’s recommendations regarding the future of the Parents and Grandparents (PGP) category.  Wait times of six to seven years are undesirable in a program designed to reunite families.  Therefore, the Government is focused on reducing the PGP backlog while also developing ways to put application intake on a sustainable track.  Lower application levels will lead to faster family reunification and be fair to Canada’s sponsors as well as newcomers.

With a backlog of over 165,000 people awaiting sponsorship, the Government launched the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification in November 2011 to reduce the backlog and improve wait times in the short-term. The Action Plan will give CIC the opportunity to develop a long-term, sustainable solution to manage application volumes in this category balanced with other family reunification priorities, as well as the broader economic objectives of Canada’s immigration system.  Specifically the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification involves;

  1. Increasing PGP admissions from existing applications by over 50%, from a range of 13,000 to 17,500 in 2011 to 21,800 to 25,000 in 2012;
  2. Introducing a temporary pause on new sponsorship application intake for up to two years;
  3. Consulting with Canadians and undertaking a program redesign to ensure the program is fiscally sustainable while avoiding future backlogs, and;
  4. Creating a “Super Visa”, a long-term, multiple-entry visa valid for up to 10 years as an alternative for those currently awaiting processing, as well as those who are unable to apply due to the pause.

The Super Visa was launched in December 2011 to allow parents and grandparents to visit their family members for up to two years without having to seek an extension of their visitor status.  The Super Visa facilitated longer-term temporary residence for those PGPs who want to be with their families in Canada.  Based on preliminary figures, the approval rate for Super Visa applications is about 84%, with close to 4,000 applications having been approved as of June 2012. 

The Super Visa supports the long-term sustainability of the PGP program.  It encourages temporary residence, as an alternative to entering the permanent residence queue.  From a fiscal perspective, PGPs who are temporary residents cannot access social or health benefits used by Canadian seniors. Given that demand by PGPs to come to Canada is expected to continue to exceed the limits of the annual immigration levels plan, the Super Visa will allow many PGPs to be reunited with their families who are unable to quickly access permanent residence. As per CIMM’s recommendation five, the Super Visa was widely promoted in the media at the time it was introduced to ensure maximum utilization, and information remains prominent on the ‘Visit Canada’ and ‘Sponsoring your Family’ pages of CIC’s public website.  CIC will continue to examine the effectiveness and risks of the Super Visa (recommendation six) to determine its viability as a permanent government policy.

CIC estimates that increased admissions, combined with the temporary pause, in 2012 will markedly reduce the existing backlog of PGPs.  However, once the pause is lifted, there are concerns that unless changes to the program are made, the backlog could quickly resume its growth, as demand remains high.  CIC is examining best practices and lessons learned in the family reunification policies of countries such as Australia. At the same time, the Government is consulting Canadians and stakeholders on a wide range of options to determine what will best serve Canada’s interests and meet the goals of a redesigned PGP program.

Looking Ahead: Fostering a Modernized, Efficient and Responsive Immigration Program

The Government is committed to modernizing Canada’s immigration system to ensure it effectively manages multiple objectives, including the development of a strong and prosperous Canada and the reunification of families. The Government considers the CIMM report to be a useful contribution to its ongoing system modernization efforts and is pleased that the Committee commented favourably on much of what CIC has achieved through the Action Plan for Faster Immigration and the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification.  CIC will continue to advance its transformation agenda with particular emphasis on: significantly reducing application backlogs; developing faster, more timely and effective approaches to managing immigrant applications; placing greater focus on demand-driven selection of labour-market ready, high-skilled workers; as well as fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the federal business stream.