I'm calling to order the 148th meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The subject matter for the first hour is the supplementary estimates (B), 2018-19, votes 1b, 10b and 15b under the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
Thanks to the officials for returning. You were with us when the appeared, and we requested your return, and you graciously did that on the day we wanted, so it's even better.
We don't normally have opening statements, so I'm assuming there is no opening statement. The minister made the statement, and we'll immediately go to questions on the estimates.
We will begin with Monsieur Ayoub.
It does fly.
Ms. Morgan, last week Global News reported that your department had provided a briefing memo to the on January 18, 2018, which stated that the safe third country agreement is no longer working as intended, and asylum seekers are evading the Canada–U.S. safe third country agreement by crossing into Canada between ports of entry where the agreement does not apply. This has brought to our attention gaps that may be creating a pull factor for people to cross illegally into Canada.
In that context, and in the context of the $114 million allocated for this issue in the estimates, has the government directed you or provided an implementation date for any potential changes to the safe third country agreement?
I am very, very sorry to announce that I'm not the regular member of this committee, but I've been well armed by Ms. Kwan with some questions that I'd like to pose, if I may. I'm not sure who will field them. I'll direct them to Ms. Morgan, and she can decide.
The questions Ms. Kwan wrote for me concern asylum seekers. In January, it was announced that the government would be following up on the $50 million that was provided to Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to compensate for the impact on social services posed by the increase in inland asylum claimants. The amount of $114.7 million would be spent to help pay for temporary housing for asylum seekers. That was immediately criticized as insufficient. Despite hosting the second-highest number of irregular border crossers who make inland asylum claim, British Columbia did not receive a single cent of the original $50 million. There are yet to be any details released regarding how the $114.7 million will be spread across the country.
Can you confirm whether British Columbia will be receiving any of that funding, and, if so, how much? When will the details be released publicly? Will funding be focused solely on temporary housing, or will the IRCC be listening to the experts and looking into ways to invest in solutions more permanent than shelters and hotel rooms?
With respect to the $114 million that is being proposed to assist all the provinces as a result of the illegal border crossers, it appears from the provincial point of view that this isn't nearly enough. Some time ago the Province of Ontario asked for $200 million. There was a story, I think it was in The Globe and Mail this morning, that the Attorney General of Ontario wants $45 million for legal aid; she has pointed out that people aren't getting proper legal aid, particularly in front of the IRB. The City of Toronto has repeatedly raised a concern about housing. I think they're short about $45 million, and this is just Ontario.
In my view, at least if I accept the position of the provinces and they're not making it up, the $114 million is wholly inadequate. Has the government directed you to consider increasing this $114 million to adequately assist the provinces and the municipalities to properly secure our border?
There were two stories, Ms. Morgan. One was published by Global News, and the writer was Amanda Connolly, and the other one was by CTV, Teresa Wright. I think they're both referring to the same memo.
I'm just wondering if you could clarify for us the date of the memo that I mentioned earlier, the access to information request, where it was suggested by your department that the safe third country agreement was no longer working as intended, the quote that I read earlier. The Canadian Press story cites that it was written in January 2017, and the Global News story said it was written in January 2018. Which year is correct?
I'm going to carry on from Mr. Rankin and Mr. Whelan. I have a lot of constituents in my riding who applied for the parents and grandparents program, and I'm well aware that in 2012 the parents and grandparents program by the previous Conservative government was closed down.
It wasn't until, I think, 2015 that it was opened only for about 5,000 applications. Subsequently, we doubled that to 10,000, and then last year, I think there were 17,000. I also understand 170,000 were left as a backlog.
I want to first of all thank you for eliminating most of that backlog and bringing in the timelines. I think it was even longer than 72 months, because I have constituents who applied prior to 2012 who are getting their parents and grandparents in now. It's my estimate that it's probably six years plus, so maybe 72 to 84 months.
However, many of my constituents, as you've cited and heard from others, missed the opportunity this year again. We've tried the lottery. We've tried the courier system. Have there been any discussions in opening up the parents and grandparents program to a first-in, first-out line or queue, just like virtually everything else we have, whether it's for spouses or others? You stay in line and, as you are processed, you come in. I think we have programs whereby we have the opportunity to bring in parents or grandparents in the interim, either by a temporary resident visa or by the specific super visa for parents and grandparents. Has this been discussed? Up until, I think, 2012 that was the way for decades.
Mr. Chair, I think that the challenge with the parent and grandparent program is, as Dr. Kochhar noted, its great popularity. Every year, there are many more people who would like to sponsor their parents or grandparents to come to Canada than we have space for in the levels plan.
There have been different approaches taken to this. Prior to 2012, when there was no limit on the annual intake, the result was the creation of very large backlogs that took many years to resolve and had people waiting for a long time.
Other ways that we have tried to deal with the difference between the number of people who would like to sponsor and the number of spaces we have in the annual levels plan have been, as the honourable member noted, queuing with careers, first-come, first-served—which we did this year—and the lottery that we did last year.
There are a number of ways to manage this issue. However, I think that the primary challenge here is really the difference between the number of individuals and families who would like to sponsor their parents and grandparents, and the amount of space. It has increased significantly over the last number of years, from 5,000 to 20,000, and is increasing over the next few years. Nonetheless, there is not enough space in the levels plan to meet all of the demand for the program.
With due respect, I would argue that this was more the case when the line was long but the intake was small, which built up a large backlog. At the rate you're going, it has actually been very fine. Even when you speak to those who have been waiting for up to 72 months, they're not disappointed with that system. They're actually patient with it. They get to bring their parents in the interim, either through a super visa or through a TRV, but at least they know they're in line.
The current system—and I will say this with almost 100% feedback from my constituents—is not something that they like, because every year they're uncertain. Year after year, they're in line, they have one out of five chances like last year and probably this year, or they don't even know because it got shut off.
They would rather have the certainty of knowing they're in a queue—they know it'll be maybe two years, five years or six years, but they have other avenues to come in the interim—rather than renewing a chance where, if they're unlucky, every year they'll never make the number. If they have everything done and have done their documents, then waiting is much better.
I think the previous system didn't work because the number of actual spots was being reduced, and those spots weren't being filled, which built a backlog of 167,000. If you had 100,000 now, that would really be because of the pent-up demand. I think it would be appropriate to take that, and I think it's my duty as the member of Parliament for Surrey Centre to relay that information to you. I think it would be almost unanimous, regardless of the partisanship—
I have a point of order going back to my original point of order, if I can make it, so that you can then rule on it. It's a point of order on decorum in this committee with regard to how we treat the subject matter at hand. The subject matter that we are debating today is the supplementary estimates (B), and many of the questions today have related to the $114 million in supplementary estimates (B) related to the issue of people illegally entering Canada and then claiming asylum in Canada afterwards.
Repeatedly, my colleagues opposite from time to time have issued objections related to that terminology. We can have a debate on that. That's fine. Where I believe the decorum of this committee was violated today was in the insinuation that somehow using terminology to question government practices was related to a very horrific incident in New Zealand. I don't believe, Chair, that as parliamentarians—I will be brief—
No, I'm not arguing with you on this.
You have ruled that his point of order was not valid because it was a point of debate. The point of decorum that I am making is that it is not part of the decorum of this committee, because he had made an insinuation that questioning the aspects of this process was somehow related to what happened in New Zealand.
I just believe that we have to be very careful with making insinuations like that because they inflame and conflate debate, do a disservice and actually validate what that terrible terrorist did by raising it here in that way.
I believe that this was a valid point of decorum, and I would just ask if colleagues in here would refrain from doing that, because we have a responsibility here and I just feel, Chair, that this—
An hon. member: Be as careful with your words as you are with your actions. Ask your leader today.
Mr. Chair, my point of order relates to the “Rules of Order and Decorum” in chapter 13 of O'Brien and Bosc. I raise the point of order under the section related to “Unparliamentary Language”, which states:
The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect [and] the integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language in the House is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order. A direct charge or accusation against a member may be made only by way of a substantive motion for which notice is required.
I would argue, Chair, that under this particular section of the rules of our area what my colleague just said actually falls underneath that, and that there somehow is an insinuation of intent with regard to the way my colleague has correctly characterized the entry of people from the U.S. into Canada, which the himself has used and the himself has used. He has insinuated that somehow my colleague was inciting hate. I would ask my colleague to apologize for further inflaming a debate, when we can all stand here and in agreement—
Sorry, I'm going to interrupt. I understand that process.
My question is in terms of the technology. If everybody has access to the link and they have it in front of them on their screen.... I have two constituents who had that in front of them. One person pressed on that link and was able to get in and another person was not—at the same time. How is it possible that people can't even get access to the link?
Furthermore, the instructions in the link tell people they have 10 minutes to fill out the form. Some people were finished the form in three minutes but they went back to review the form to make sure they had all their information correct. Then, seven minutes in, they were kicked out. If they hadn't gone back to review the form, if they had just sent in their form after three minutes, they probably would have gotten in before the deadline. There was misinformation being provided to people who mistakenly thought they had 10 minutes to fill out the form once they opened the link, when, in fact, they didn't.
I can start. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for inviting us to speak to your study on the migration challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.
I am the acting director general of the immigration branch at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC for short. With me is Helene Panagakos, director of temporary resident programs operations, and Paulette Lefebvre, director of biometrics program operations.
I want to begin today by recognizing the importance of immigration in fostering economic growth. We've heard from many Canadian stakeholders and businesses about the need for skilled labour to grow their businesses, improve exports and create more jobs.
In addition to strategies for enhancing the participation of the domestic workforce, IRCC recognizes that new immigration is an important component to meeting Canada's current and future skilled labour needs.
We know that Canada has an aging population. More workers are leaving the workforce than are entering it every year. As such, immigration will be a key source for population and labour force growth, accounting for 80% of labour force growth by 2031.
For today's meeting, I'll be speaking about what I understand are the committee's main areas of interest: programs that facilitate the temporary entrance of foreign workers to the Canadian economy, as well as the processing and issuing of work permits.
There are two distinct programs under which foreign nationals can work temporarily in Canada. The first is the temporary foreign worker program, which is designed to support employer efforts to fill labour and skills requirements when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available. This program is administered by Employment and Social Development Canada and my colleagues here will discuss it in a few minutes.
The second program is the international mobility program, which facilitates the entry into Canada of foreign nationals whose work brings broader social, economic and cultural benefits to our economy, or maintains reciprocal opportunities for Canadians to work abroad. It is under this program, for instance, that we facilitate the entry of business persons under various trade agreements and youth under international exchange programs. Regardless of the program under which foreign nationals seek to work in Canada, however, most will require work permits in order to be authorized to legally work in Canada.
Work permits may be issued either by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or at a port of entry by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Our department recognizes the importance of predictable work permit processing so that businesses can develop concrete plans as to the arrival of foreign workers.
As part of our departmental service standard commitments, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada aims to process 80% of all work permit applications submitted outside Canada within two months. From April 2017 to March 2018, IRCC met the service standard 89% of the time. The service standard for work permit extension applications, submitted in Canada, is to process 80% within four months; for the same data range, IRCC met the service standard 97% of the time.
In addition, in support of the government's innovation and skills plan, the global skills strategy was launched in 2017 to facilitate faster access to top talent, so that innovative companies can grow and create jobs and contribute to Canada's economy. As part of this strategy, IRCC provides expedited two-week work permit processing to select foreign nationals in management and professional occupations. Since its implementation, we've approved just over 21,000 work permit applications under this initiative. We continue to receive positive feedback from stakeholders and employers that this expedited processing is generating real benefits in terms of attracting foreign talent and investment to Canada.
That said, we recognize that processing delays can occur. Our ability to meet our service standards can be affected by a variety of factors, such as seasonal volume fluctuations and factors beyond departmental controls like incomplete applications or the need for applicants to submit additional information in support of an application.
While we remain committed to the prompt processing of work permits, we continue to ensure that foreign nationals who are authorized to work temporarily in Canada do not pose safety or security risks to our country.
In support of these efforts, we have implemented a mandatory biometric screening requirement for all foreign nationals who apply for a Canadian work permit. By collecting these biometric data, we are able to quickly and efficiently validate an applicant's identity, while also identifying security risks.
Our biometric policy is among the most generous in the world. To facilitate repeat travel to Canada, applicants for a visitor visa, study permit or work permit will only need to give their biometrics once every 10 years.
Mr. Chair, I hope my remarks today have provided some insight into the facilitation of temporary workers into the Canadian labour market and the associated process of work permit processing.
I thank you for your time and look forward to your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to present on the temporary foreign worker program. I'm the director general for the program at ESDC. With me is Katie Alexander. She's the executive director for program operations at Service Canada.
The objective of the program is to provide employers with access to foreign workers on a temporary basis when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available. It also aims to ensure that foreign workers are protected when in Canada.
In 2018, Employment and Social Development Canada, known as ESDC, approved approximately 108,000 positions under the temporary foreign worker program. The program has a very small footprint in the labour market, with less than 2% of all Canadian businesses using the program and temporary foreign workers comprising less than 1% of the Canadian labour force.
However, it is very important to certain sectors that tend to face recurring labour shortages, including the agriculture and agrifood, and tourism sectors. For example, approximately 64% of temporary foreign worker positions in 2018 were in primary agriculture occupations.
To ensure that Canadians continue to have first opportunity at available jobs, employers must submit an application for a labour market impact assessment before being permitted to hire temporary foreign workers. Applications are reviewed to ensure the employer and job offer are genuine, and that the employer has been in compliance with program rules and applicable labour laws.
Applications are also assessed against a number of labour market factors to ensure the hiring of a temporary worker will not have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market. Among these, the employer is required to demonstrate that they have advertised to and recruited Canadians and permanent residents, for example through common online platforms, including Canada's job bank, and their efforts must include efforts to reach out to under-represented groups.
Further, the onus is on the employer to explain whether and how the temporary foreign worker will have a positive effect on the local labour market by filling a labour shortage, transferring skills and knowledge to the local labour force, or supporting job creation and retention of Canadians.
Finally, employers must also certify that the hiring of a temporary foreign worker will not lead to offshoring or job losses for Canadians or permanent residents and will not negatively affect the settlement of labour disputes.
It's also important to note that to prevent suppression of local wages, employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers at the prevailing wage rate in their occupation and region.
Service to clients is a key priority area for the government. The program is committed to continuously reviewing its operations to ensure it effectively balances providing employers with timely access to workers with maintaining the thoroughness required in the assessment of employer applications.
Primarily due to a tightening labour market, there has been a 26% increase nationally in the volume of applications received from April to February compared to the same period in the previous year. This has resulted in longer processing times recently. Service Canada is making every effort to provide the best possible service to employers and is processing these applications as efficiently and accurately as possible to minimize the impact on employers.
Recognizing the urgent nature of the labour shortages across Canada, ESDC recently reallocated $3.4 million across all regions in Canada to handle the increased number of applications and reduce processing times.
Service Canada is also reviewing its current process to find new and better ways of service delivery for the program. In particular, Service Canada is considering, or already implementing, a number of measures to increase the quality, consistency and timeliness of assessment, and it is engaging with industry stakeholders to ensure their input is taken into account when developing policies and systems. This includes, for example, reducing the administrative burden for seasonal agricultural worker program employers by allowing multiple arrival dates on a single application.
We launched a national quality monitoring program in December 2017 to improve consistency in decision-making and processing of applications. In November 2018, the program was streamlined to focus on key critical factors, reducing the amount of time a review would take by approximately two hours.
In addition, the department has implemented a workload management strategy to help maintain consistent and timely decisions across Canada and will be piloting a new online platform starting in the spring of 2019.
To conclude, ESDC and Service Canada are committed to continuing to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the delivery of the program to ensure it works for employers, workers and the economy.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.
My first question will be for IRCC.
I would like to draw your attention to the presentation Statistics Canada made to our committee on February 28. In two charts, they showed how the labour force participation gap between immigrant men and their Canadian-born counterparts has narrowed over the years, and they are pretty much on par five years after landing.
The situation is different for women, however. The gap is as much as 20 points for newly landed immigrants, and even for those who have been here for 10 years or more there remains a stubborn gap in labour participation compared to that of Canadian-born women. While there can be cultural differences, I know many immigrants who want to work but face barriers or who are underemployed in positions beneath their skills and education.
Are you aware of this gap, and can you please tell us what specifically the department is doing to increase the participation of immigrant women in the job market?
I know it's a numbers game because the levels plan numbers are exactly that. Clearly, we've had witnesses who have come forward from the agriculture sector, the tourism industry and from other sectors who say they need these workers and they want them to stay. They don't want them to go away because they have to go back to retrain them, which costs them money as well. They are calling for permanent residence for these workers. I would urge that this be a priority for the government.
Maybe the way to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul within the levels plan numbers is to increase the levels plan numbers. In fact, the former minister John McCallum did that study. Through that expert review, the business community and others are saying that we need to increase our levels plan numbers, and yet for some strange reason we are still struggling to get there.
I would urge that this be considered and that the department do a review of this policy to identify the pros and cons, what needs to be done and how to address this issue for both the economic aspect and the building of Canada as a nation aspect.
Has that work been done, or has it not been considered?
But it's a 30-minute bell.
Does that mean I don't have unanimous consent to continue?
Some hon. members: No.
The Chair: I hope I do for three minutes. Ms. Kwan has just made a motion, which I think is an appropriate motion, that we get a briefing not only on the new caregiver program but also on the rural pilot.
Are we all agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay, we'll schedule that in.
Mr. Maguire, bring us home.