Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the chance to be here again. I apologize for the early hour, but I must say you all look fantastic underneath the Fathers of Confederation who are watching us all.
I'm delighted to be here today to present my department's main estimates for the fiscal year 2015-16, which is already upon us, obviously. I want to focus on some of the notable allocations contained therein that will help our department meet its goals.
I am very pleased to report that CIC's main estimates have an overall increase of $79.3 million from the previous year. As you know, immigration plays a key role in Canada's long term prosperity and our competitiveness on the international stage. Without strong and targeted immigration, we would not be the Canada we are today, and we would not have all of the opportunities and economic growth we enjoy.
The government is continuing to manage Canada's immigration system in an efficient and responsible way—making it faster, more flexible and more responsive to our country's changing needs, while protecting the safety and security of Canadians. This year we expect to introduce new measures aimed at making the system even faster and more flexible.
To ensure our immigration system is meeting the needs of Canada's current business landscape, as you know, this past year we introduced a new immigrant investor venture capital pilot program. The introduction of this program also required the elimination of the long-standing backlog of applications in the federal immigrant investor and federal entrepreneur programs, legacy programs we've had since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
Eliminating this backlog of applications will allow the department to focus resources on immigration programs bringing maximum benefit to our economy, but to refund the balance of approximately 9,000 fees for returned applications, we are requesting $16.5 million in additional funding. I think this literally reflects the fact that we're able to refund faster than was initially anticipated.
Of course, a crucial part of our immigration system was rolled out this past January with the successful launch of the new Express Entry system. Express Entry is already proving to provide significant benefits for our country and newcomers. That is because we are only selecting immigrants who are best positioned to succeed, instead of those who are first in line with their application.
For the first time we have the opportunity of comparing immigration candidates before even receiving and processing their application. Also, employers can now meet their labour needs directly via this system, when there are no available Canadians or permanent residents already in Canada to do the job.
Let me underline that point. For employers who have sought recruits across Canada, who have tried to find someone for a specialized job across Canada and who cannot find that person in the country, there is the possibility to get a labour market impact assessment free of charge without the $1,000 fee and to use that labour market impact assessment in the context of express entry to ensure an immigrant is recruited to do that job. Some employers have already taken advantage of this.
Applicants invited to apply for permanent residence under the new system can expect processing times of just six months in the majority of cases. This is a significant improvement over the former system, of course, which took several years in many cases to process applications. We've started to see the impact of express entry in very concrete form. In April, the first three landed permanent residents to Canada through express entry joined some of us in Toronto to share their experience. Two of them had been students in Canada and gone through the Canadian experience class; the other came through the federal skilled work program.
Just last week two more express entry permanent residents in British Columbia were part of an event that we did at a very exciting business in Gastown, in Vancouver. One of them was the first landed permanent resident to be nominated under the provincial nomination stream. I pay particular tribute to British Columbia in this respect, because they've started to use provincial nominations with an express entry more than any other province so far, although Nova Scotia is doing quite well for their size too. It's clear that express entry is successful in serving labour market needs of employers and provinces alike.
To continue the success, our main estimates request funding of $5.7 million in 2015-16 to ensure we can meet our six months or less service standard for processing applications. Zoe, the Irish woman who was with us in Vancouver, a software engineer, had been processed in two weeks. That is an extraordinary record that I don't think we expect to imitate in every case, but we really do want 80% or more of express entry candidates to be processed in six months or less. This funding will let us achieve that.
The department's main estimates for this year also include an increase of $15 million for the electronic travel authorization, eTA, which we're implementing under the Canada-United States perimeter security and economic competitiveness action plan.
As you know, Canada's electronic travel authorization, or eTA program, will require citizens from countries who do not normally need a visa to obtain an online authorization before applying to Canada. Of course, our neighbours in the United States—who have already successfully implemented a similar system in their country—will be exempt from this new eTA requirement.
Canada is making every effort to ensure that eTA does not inconvenience affected travellers. On the contrary, we want it to facilitate more legitimate travel by tourists, visitors, families. Applications for eTA will be made online through the CIC website. The eTA application process is quick and easy, at a low cost of only $7 Canadian, and will often be granted within minutes. It will also be valid for up to five years. As we prepare to launch eTA, this funding will help support program integrity measures, communications to prospective visitors, and implementation support to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.
To further help facilitate travel and trade to Canada through the eTA, our budget this year, economic action plan 2015, is allocating $12.4 million over five years and $1.1 million in ongoing funding. With this new funding we will work to expand eTA eligibility to low-risk travellers from Brazil, Mexico, Romania, and Bulgaria, to be launched after the initial eTA initiative has been fully implemented in March of next year.
What does that mean? We're proposing to extend eTA not just to those countries outside of North America that already are free of the visa requirement, but also to some very large countries—Brazil, Mexico—as well as our two remaining partners in Europe who are not yet visa free: Romania and Bulgaria.
The entry/exit initiative is another commitment with the United States under the perimeter security and economic competitiveness action plan. Under this initiative Canada is developing a system to exchange land traveller information with the U.S. to establish a record of land entry into one country as a record of exit from the other.
It seems common sense that we would record entry into North America in the United States and have that record of entry and exit shared between partners that are as close as we are with our main economic partners, but to date we haven't had this system, so entry/exit is extremely important. This increase of $1.4 million, mostly reprofiled funds since 2013-14, will be used for IT system requirements and to develop reporting tools and governance with our partners. Funding will also be used for upfront residency checks, analysis, ongoing reporting, and corporate support.
The passport program was transferred, as you know, to Citizenship and Immigration in July 2013. Our main estimates are increasing by $52 million due to changes in the planned volume of passports as well as adjustments to the passport business plan. Because the amount is going up, I think it means the number of passports is going down slightly.
In the 2013 Speech From the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to contributing to the success of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan American Games that will be held in Toronto this summer.
CIC's role is to ensure the applications for entry into Canada by athletes and spectators are processed in a timely manner while we continue to uphold the safety and security of Canadians. I can confirm that our work in this regard is very advanced.
Our commitment is to waive the application fees for athletes who require visas or temporary resident permits, which will result in approximately 7,780 multiple entry visas. Our main estimates are increasing by $1.6 million to process these applications.
Finally, there is an allocation for $20.6 million in additional funding to meet our obligations under the Canada-Quebec Accord on Immigration. As you know, this accord gives the Government of Quebec responsibility to administer settlement and integration services, with an annual grant from the Government of Canada.
Mr. Chair, our government is committed to improving the immigration system by reducing backlogs, improving processing times and meeting labour market needs.
I am happy to answer any question the committee may have.
Let's look at the context in which we're rolling out express entry. What has changed for Canada in the field of immigration?
First, we have reduced backlogs. They're not totally gone. We still have a parents and grandparents program where we've reduced the backlog enormously, but it's not gone. On spousal sponsorship there's still some work to do. On the humanitarian program there is work to do. But in our economic programs, we have eliminated our legacy backlogs. The system was already working faster, attracting more people, and comparing very favourably with the United States, where it's very hard to become an immigrant reliably in anything less than a decade, depending on the stream, and certainly, comparing with our European and Asian partners that don't have permanent economic immigration programs on the same scale.
Second, Canada's economic fundamentals, since the crisis especially, have called attention to the strength of our economy. We have created 1.2 million new jobs. We have had a relatively low unemployment rate. We have had growth when other countries have had anemic growth at best, and some have even slipped back into recession. That has meant more people are interested in coming to Canada for the size of our population than probably ever before.
What does express entry do? Instead of just obliging us to process applications as they arrive, it allows us to look at this larger group of people who are interested in coming to Canada and evaluate them on the basis of merit. How do we decide who comes to Canada as an economic immigrant? We have always operated on the basis of merit in one way or another. We've tried to select people based on their skills and their suitability for what the Canadian economy needs, and since the early 1960s we've had a point system. Now we're able to apply the point system in an updated, modernized form to a large population of interested candidates, find out early on before the application is submitted who ranks highest, and give priority to the people who rank highest.
I think that is an extremely defensible approach. It's one that Canadians strongly support, but it's also very attractive for immigrants because the best ones will benefit, the ones with the best education, the best skills, the right age, and the language profile for Canada based on our point system. For those who don't make it, we'll see how close they are and what they need to do to rank higher next time. It's not only faster and more flexible, but it is also fair in that there are objective criteria by which people, as you say, rise to the top. It also helps us continue justifying large-scale immigration. As you say, 280,000 this year is our target. We've only had an immigration level that high half a dozen times, I think, in Canadian history, once earlier under our government, once under Diefenbaker in the late 1950s, and then in that formative period before World War I when we had very high immigration under Prime Minister Borden.
First, congratulations. You were lucky. My wife took 18 or 19 months to come through the spousal sponsorship program, and that was in 2009-10, so yes, the number has gone up slightly, but why is that the case? There are three reasons.
Demand has outstripped our capacity to process. We project every year how many spouses, how many dependent children, how many parents and grandparents we expect to have coming into our programs. Sometimes the number of applications exceeds. That is what has contributed to this growing backlog, and we will attack it and we will bring it down. I think the reasonable time for the processing of spousal sponsorship cases should be much lower. We've shown across the board our ability to reduce backlogs. We will do it in this area as well.
What are the alternatives? To reduce other backlogs, we have eliminated them by legislation, or we have ranked and sorted them on the basis of merit. Obviously in the case of spouses, we're not going to do that.
Every application is important. Every application will be processed, but we need to find the resources to do it on the scale where it is required now. We are getting these applications because of the strength of our economic immigration program. Because of the strength of Canada's economy, people want to come here, and they want to come here with their spouses.
We also need to attack some of the vulnerabilities in the spousal program. There is an issue of marriage of convenience. There is an issue of forced marriage, which we're dealing with, we hope, through Bill . There is an issue of fraud and misrepresentation in the spousal program.
As we have tightened up the integrity of other programs, we have seen some people—
Mr. McCallum's remarks unfortunately demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge of the changes we've made to the immigration system. Processing times under our economic programs have not gone up. On the contrary, we introduced something called express entry, which has the fastest processing times ever for Canadian immigration, at six months or less.
I mentioned to you a candidate who had been processed in two weeks. This was never possible in the Liberals' time. It was not possible until now even under our government, because it took us some years to put this new system into place.
On citizenship we did have a backlog, and a growing backlog, because of strong immigration and because of a cumbersome system of approvals for citizenship—the three-step process and not enough resources. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which passed last year, has had a huge impact. There were 260,000 new citizens last year, and close to that pace again this year. Processing times are plunging faster than we even expected in this area.
Yes, we do need to keep attacking backlogs in the family area—this is part of the Liberal legacy we inherited—and we will continue to do that. We've made progress on parents and grandparents under the action plan for faster family reunification. We will make more progress on spouses.
I'm not hiding the fact that processing times for spouses have gone up slightly, but we've demonstrated our ability to bring backlogs under control. For Mr. McCallum to say that we have larger backlogs and longer waiting times for the federal skilled worker program is absurd. We have reduced the backlog for that program, which had become essentially stuck under the Liberal government with a huge backlog and multiple-year waiting times for people who arrived in Canada under the Liberals without the ability to go to work in their chosen fields. That backlog has been reduced by 97%.
Thank you very much for that question, Mr. Shory.
Let's register a note of caution with regard to our waiting times and our service standards. I know all of my colleagues on this side are very conscious of the fact that the numbers on our website, the way we post them, do not fully reflect the reality. They often reflect the worst-case scenario for privately sponsored refugees, for example, and the statistical picture for every one of our programs is actually more complicated and it's hard to express with one number.
An easy application, an application that's been properly filled out, as most of them are, moves forward quickly. One where we go back and forth with the applicant to find out more information to complete the application takes longer, and those worst-case scenarios are often reflected conservatively in the numbers we have on our website, but we're working on reflecting the reality.
Express entry has been a success not only because it's faster, not only because it ranks large numbers of potential immigrants before they apply—and we're talking about 30,000 who are in the pool right now—while we invite recent rounds to apply, between 1,000 and 1,500 roughly in the latest round.... We really are selecting from a large number of highly qualified people. What else is good about it is that we now, as of May 2015, have full functionality for the provinces and close to full functionality for businesses in Canada, which means they can see online the people who want to come to Canada as immigrants when they register with us.
We have had thousands, I think close to tens of thousands, of companies register as part of the Canada job bank to be able to see who is coming to Canada through express entry, to have the opportunity to recruit them as they come, and even connect with them before they're invited to come as immigrants. That is a huge benefit for us, because we in government do not want to be choosing exactly who comes. We know we need accountants and we know we need software engineers, but we're not the ones to decide whether out of 10 software engineers these two should come, or these three should come. It is the private sector, it is employers, who must make those decisions, because it's part of their competitive advantage to choose the right person.
Express entry allows them to do just that. As well, when there is an LMIA, which as I say for permanent immigration they can achieve free of charge, they can literally bring people if not to the front of the line, close to it, under express entry when a Canadian is not available to do the job. We anticipate under express entry many more immigrants coming to Canada who have jobs, who are going to work immediately, who have been recruited by employers, which was not the case in the past.
I'll leave it to my colleagues to give us the exact number of passports that are out there, because I don't think I have that at my fingertips.
Let me pay tribute to the service that this department gives across many programs, but especially in the passport office. It is fast and it is reliable. When people need passports on an urgent basis, they can pay a bit more and get them even on weekends. I think my colleagues provide extraordinary service. It has only improved, as have the integrity measures around the passport office, which are particularly important in this era when we're trying to stop Canadian travellers from going abroad to join jihadist groups.
There are 22.9 million passports out there in the hands of Canadians, and 63% of the population now has a passport. This is extraordinary, because only a decade ago, before 9/11, I think it was around 20%. We've seen these numbers grow, and they are extremely important.
I'd also like to pay tribute to the fact that this department has improved its performance on every front. We talked about private sponsorship for refugees. Syria and Iraq are very complicated.
I was in Winnipeg in the office that handles privately sponsored refugee applications, and there were three applications in the in-basket. All the others had been processed and sent back out into our international network for final approval. We are moving quickly and we are giving better service under express entry and under family reunification to refugees across the board.
We also, you will have noted, are not having a discussion about lapsing funds from our department, because last year the amount spent corresponded very closely to the amount budgeted. That is a very hard challenge to meet. I'd like to pay tribute to the deputy minister and associate deputy minister in particular, as well as to the whole team, for pulling off that feat.
We have less than an hour to proceed and we have with us the department representatives to answer questions or make statements about some of the issues that the committee has.
We have Anita Biguzs, who is the deputy minister; Wilma Vreeswijk, who is the associate deputy minister; and Tony Matson, who is assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer.
Good morning to all of you.
Then, of course, there is Mr. Orr, the assistant deputy minister of operations, who has been here forever, it seems.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. I apologize.
We have Catrina Tapley, who is the assistant deputy minister of strategic and program policy.
Thank you, Ms. Tapley, for appearing before the committee this morning.
We have a list, and Mr. Aspin is first.
Just to add quickly, this year we anticipate that we will spend close to $24 million on pre-arrival services, which is a significant increase over what we've spent in the past.
We ran a call for proposals for overseas services. In addition to those services that are provided which the deputy minister mentioned, including the Canadian immigrant integration program, CIIP, we're also looking at enhancing that with a number of other service providers and to expand what we have overseas.
To come back to your first question, absolutely, our mission staff promote these services, promote what's available on our website, as well as the in-person services that are there.
We feel that we have some good evaluation results from those who have come through some of the services, certainly through the Canadian immigrant integration program, CIIP, where we find that within a year, 75% of those skilled immigrants who come through the program are not only finding work, but finding work within their occupation or within the field for which they are trained.
Quickly, Mr. Chair, I'll just say that we had received time-limited funding in the 2013 budget to actually help us address processing.
We've had volume increases in terms of the temporary resident visa application process, and I think what you see in the decrease reflects the ramping down of that time-limited money we have received.
At the same time, our processing standard, if I can put it that way, our service standard, is 14 days for temporary resident visas and for visitor visas. It's longer for student visas, which take about 30 days.
However, we have introduced a number of special facilitated programs, like the business express program in certain key markets, which basically makes our service time about five to seven days in terms of processing known business travellers who have travelled to Canada before.
We also have the student express program, our CAN+ program, for people who have previously had a Canadian visa or a U.S. visa. As I say, those service standards are usually less than seven days for key markets, for example, Mexico and China, but overall the visitor visa service standard is 14 days, and in many places we're certainly well below that standard.
Mr. Orr, do you want to add to that?