Welcome to meeting number 6 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The committee meeting today is being held at the request of four members, pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), to discuss undertaking a study of the government's spending priorities under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
I hope all of you have been keeping yourselves safe and that everyone is well. It has been a difficult last few months. The last time I went back to Toronto from Ottawa was on March 13, and I just drove yesterday. We have to make sure that we keep ourselves safe. We are still not out of the woods yet, so please continue following public health advice and keep yourselves and your loved ones safe.
Today's meeting is taking place in person and is being broadcast on ParlVU. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules that we all need to follow, as we are all going through these unprecedented times.
First, occupational health, safety and environment has requested that we all limit our movement in the room. Individuals should always respect social distancing rules and remain at least two metres away from each other. Also to minimize health risks, you will note that limited personnel have been permitted to attend today. Staff have received a phone number where they can listen in to the proceedings in real time.
No paper documents have been distributed. All documents have been distributed electronically to members. Should you require a copy of a document, please advise the clerk of the committee immediately by emailing the committee at email@example.com. Also, please follow the directions on the floor signs indicating which way to walk in and which way to walk back. Even when we finish the meeting, please don't go out as a group. Try to maintain the social distancing rules. We need to make sure we leave a difference of a few minutes and not go out as a big group. Make sure that we follow all of the rules of physical distancing. These were some of the instructions from the logistics point of view.
Welcome to meeting number 6 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and welcome to Ottawa.
Thank you, colleagues, for assembling in something closer to our regular committee meeting, and thank you to the clerk for arranging and enabling today's gathering, which is, in effect and however briefly, closer to a procedurally normal exception to the deficiencies of the virtual committee in the House and other committees.
Chair, our Conservative members wrote the letter to you requesting this meeting. I won't go through the entire letter. I'm sure it's been consumed by all. Essentially, it was because, on May 26, the government, as we said in the letter, used closure, supported by the NDP, to end debate and to pass a motion that modified the usual process for consideration of the supplementary estimates at the end of the supply cycle.
In the interest of the short time available between now and one o'clock—now and noon for the —I would like to suggest that the committee accept the motion as set out in the letter: that the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to appear before the committee for no less than one hour to answer questions from members on the spending priorities of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
I call the meeting to order.
The committee has adopted the motion that the committee invite the to appear before the committee for no less than an hour to answer questions from members on the spending priorities of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Welcome, Minister, and welcome to all the other witnesses.
The minister will have five minutes for his opening remarks. After the minister's opening remarks we will go into the round of questioning.
With this, I would like to welcome the , to please give his opening remarks.
I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes until we figure out whether everyone is on the video conference.
I call the meeting to order.
Do I have unanimous consent to have the minister in person?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you, everyone.
We have the Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, here before the standing committee.
Just to provide some clarification to our viewers, we had some technical difficulties. The minister was not able to get through on the video conferencing because of some firewall issues, so a member of the committee, , voluntarily gave up his seat so the minister could join in.
I welcome Minister Marco Mendicino before the committee, to answer questions from members of the standing committee on the spending priorities of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Minister, you will have five minutes for opening remarks and after that we will go to rounds of questioning from members of the committee. The floor is yours.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank all members of the committee for indulging us as we've overcome some of the technical difficulties this morning.
I want to thank the members of the opposition as well for their collaboration in allowing me to appear in person.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, let me first acknowledge that this committee gathers on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I appear before you today at an important juncture. I'm here to provide this committee with an update on the critical priorities that are being advanced by my department as part of the Government of Canada's overall response to a once-in-100-year global pandemic. In marshalling a COVID-19 strategy, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has demonstrated its agility, efficiency and resilience in meeting the short-term urgent needs of our population, while keeping an eye focused on our long-term mandate to grow and strengthen the country through immigration.
From the earliest days of the pandemic my department has helped to create the necessary border conduits to ensure that Canadians continue to access the food, fuel and medical supplies we need, while putting in place the necessary health screens and mandatory isolation protocols to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
As the curve continues to flatten, we were also recently able to announce a new travel exemption that would allow immediate family members to reunite with Canadian permanent residents. We know it has been a difficult time for many families, but we are not free and clear of the virus yet.
Let me say a few words about how immigration has proven to be a lifeline in maintaining food security for all Canadians. This pandemic has etched into our national consciousness that temporary foreign workers play a key role in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply.
Temporary foreign workers are an essential component in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply. We've taken action to support them. That's why I want to take a moment to speak about the situation that we're currently facing.
Bonifacio Eugenio Romero and Rogelio Muñoz Santos were two migrant workers from Mexico. They were here to help feed Canadians and to support their families back home, and they died in that cause. This should never have happened.
We mourn their loss but that is not enough. We must do more. As a country, we are committed to the safety and well-being of all workers, Canadians and migrants alike. That's why our government took quick action to support this vulnerable community by providing financial aid for workers so they would have safer accommodations, wage protection, work permit flexibility and a compliance regime to enforce their rights.
However, numerous outbreaks along the supply chain have reminded us there is still more work to do to protect migrant workers, including considering pathways to permanent residency. Along with my ministerial colleagues, I am committed to collaborating with all parliamentarians, my provincial counterparts, farmers and advocates to explore this and other options.
I thought that it was important to take stock of the situation. I'll have the opportunity to speak about the various measures that we've put in place when I answer your questions.
In the same vein, I want to highlight for a moment how refugees and asylum seekers have distinguished themselves throughout the pandemic. Despite having overcome significant adversity just to get here, we've seen how they are stepping up to support the communities that sponsored them. In Quebec asylum seekers are contributing in exceptional ways by helping front-line health workers, especially in our long-term care retirement homes where the virus has ravaged seniors and the sick.
These uncommon acts of sacrifice and heroism should embolden us to fight against the stigma that refugees and asylum seekers are merely a burden. They are not. They are here to contribute. Therefore, in our supplementary estimates we are putting forward a proposed $102.5 million, reprofiled from the previous fiscal year, for the interim housing assistance program. This will provide crucial assistance to provinces and municipalities as they facilitate integration.
Specifically, these funds will be used to conclude funding arrangements with the City of Toronto and province of Quebec for costs associated with refugee protection claimants in 2019.
In addition to these highlights, I hope to be able to discuss during my appearance how international students will drive our economic recovery, as well as our 2020 levels plan, which is the blueprint for us to continue growing the country through immigration.
In closing, I want to emphasize that we've learned a lot over the last several months. We're adapting, accelerating and evolving our immigration system in a way that should inspire confidence among Canadians. Canada has long benefited from immigration, and the same will hold true as we restart the economy and boldly chart out our future.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for making that long walk across. I wish we had been able to arrange for you to appear in person originally.
Despite the finest efforts of the staff here on the Hill, the deficiencies of virtual committee meetings, virtual appearances, have been laid clear by this almost hour-long delay in getting the committee going today.
Minister, the 's four-year suspension of the safe third country treaty has left Canada with an asylum backlog of more than 90,000. That's the highest in Canada's history.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer's report, “Costing Irregular Migration across Canada's Southern Border”, pointed out that your government has provided no guidance regarding the reimbursement of outstanding and future support expenses for asylums that are burdening cities and provinces.
With regard to that $200-million line item in the supplementary estimates for the housing of asylum claimants, can you explain more specifically where those dollars are going? As I said earlier, in questions to you in the virtual committee in the House, this would seem to be a very small down payment on the costs assumed so far by municipalities and provinces, and their estimates of significant millions of dollars going forward.
Thank you, Mr. Kent, for the question. I'll begin by just expanding that the supplementary estimate request we put in today will be allocated towards the interim housing assistance program, which is a crucial initiative that facilitates the co-operation that exists between the federal level of government, the provinces and the municipalities. As I said, we've seen a number of municipalities that have played a significant role in enhancing the integration of our asylum seekers and refugees. The request we have put through the supplementary estimates builds on the $370 million that has already been invested in interim housing.
In addition to that, we had launched, approximately a year and a half ago, a border enforcement strategy, with an investment of $1.2 billion, to not only advance the priorities of facilitating integration through interim housing and help for refugees and asylum seekers, but also to maintain that integrity in the border.
I'm confident that these are important initiatives that will contribute to our asylum system, which is revered around the world.
The City of Toronto is looking at something like $150 million, back due, with similar amounts ongoing, so I would hope you would address those issues in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Minister, you spoke to the willingness of some asylum claimants—a significant number—in Quebec to continue working in high-risk, long-term care home facilities, including some claimants whose claims have been rejected. We know you are under pressure from some of your Quebec cabinet colleagues to suspend the normal protocols of the Immigration and Refugee Board to accommodate asylum claimants who are working in those front-line care facilities.
Can you tell us where you are in your policy development to date? Are you looking to override the normal protocols and processes of the IRB?
Thank you, Mr. Kent. This allows me the opportunity to shed some additional light on the sacrifices that have been made by asylum seekers. As I pointed out in my introductory remarks, these are individuals who often overcome tremendous adversity just to get to Canada. As you well know, and as other members of this committee will know, these are individuals who are fleeing persecution, conflict, war and, increasingly, climate change, and have sought safe harbour in Canada.
It is true that there is a process by which those claims are adjudicated, and the Immigration and Refugee Board is charged with that responsibility. The individuals who have come to light in Quebec are stepping up in very significant ways, particularly in retirement homes, and I would just point out that asylum seekers, who often are living in shelters and in precarious housing, are already exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19.
Notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding any of the debate that has followed as a result of that, they continue to sacrifice themselves to support front-line health care workers and to aid the elderly and the sick, who, again, are disproportionately bearing the burden of this awful virus.
The debate we have engaged in is whether or not there is a way to recognize those contributions. Certainly, I hope to have more to say about that in due course.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the minister for taking the time to speak to us and for being flexible. I also want to thank him and his staff for their work on the immigration system. It's very important for our country.
My question concerns the rural and northern immigration pilot program.
The northern Ontario Liberal caucus has worked hard, because we've heard from MPs, mayors, municipalities, chambers of commerce and employers about the need for workers, and the provincial nominee program doesn't meet the needs of the employers in northern Ontario. Ninety-eight per cent of provincial nominee immigration goes to southern Ontario, very little to northern Ontario.
I want to take the time here to go over the rural immigration pilot project. I know that COVID has changed the landscape on the immigration side a wee bit, and I want you to be able to update the committee on where the rural and northern immigration pilot project is at and how it is helping to get pathways to permanent residency for our residents and also to support our employers locally in northern Ontario.
Thank you for your question, Mr. Serré, and for your very important work in your constituency.
We know that immigration contributes significantly to Canada's economy. That's one of our reasons for creating this pilot project, which supports immigrants who want to start the next chapter of their lives in rural communities. We're using the expertise and experience of rural communities to match the immigrants' experience with the needs of the community.
Just to expand on that, the rural and northern immigration pilot is one of those innovations that seeks to tap into the expertise of rural communities—the experiences, the needs—and to align those needs with the skill sets of those who wish to start the next chapter of their lives in rural communities. I'm very pleased to report that nine of the 11 communities involved have launched their pilots already.
This is a good news story. It's one I hope that all parliamentarians will share in celebrating. Obviously, there's more work to be done.
Also, now with international students, in Greater Sudbury and in my riding Nickel Belt have Laurentian University, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal. Together the three post-secondary institutions, which are bilingual, also have about 2,000 international students.
With COVID and the uncertainty of the school year, I wanted to take the opportunity here for you to elaborate what we are doing to support international students and also to support the colleges and the communities that have these important students in our community, getting educated and also hopefully staying longer.
As I've testified before this committee, international students bring tremendous benefits to Canada economically, socially and culturally, and as a result of that reality, we have certainly looked to continue the great successes of the international student program, notwithstanding the challenges COVID-19 has presented.
We continue to partner very closely with universities and colleges right across the country, not just in large cities but in small and medium-sized municipalities as well, many of which require this cohort, require international students, to attend and take that next step in their career by acquiring a first-rate educational experience here in Canada.
We've made a number of modifications to the program to account for the disruption. We have created more flexibility within the work permits that attach to international student visas for those who are taking a degree and are working in an essential service sector. Again, I think the health sector is a prime example of that.
We've also provided some relaxation when it comes to online education because campuses remain closed. Those who are here will be able to take their courses up to 100% online, without any penalty to their postgraduate work experience.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for joining us today. It's always nice to see you again, especially in person.
I'll address the issues raised by my colleague, even though this wasn't my original plan.
You spoke about the international students who are already here. However, I also want to hear about the international students who are expected to arrive and who often make up 20% to 25% of the CEGEP and university student cohorts in the regions. They're currently unable to obtain their biometrics. We don't know whether their study permit applications will be processed in time for the start of the school year.
What's being done for international students who must arrive in the fall?
Thank you, Ms. Normandin. It's always a great pleasure to be here in person to answer the committee members' questions.
As I said, international students bring tremendous benefits to Canada economically, culturally and socially. International students who had valid study permits or whose applications for study permits were approved when the travel restrictions came into effect on March 18, 2020, can travel to Canada by air or land. We're continuing to assess the impact and current situations, and we're making the necessary adjustments.
With regard to your specific question, we're continuing to look for solutions to the biometrics issues. In other immigration categories, such as foreign workers, we've allowed for greater flexibility. Your suggestion is one of the ideas that we'll keep exploring.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for taking the time to be here in person with us.
On May 8, Minister, you were before the HUMA committee where you said:
My understanding after engaging with CRA and ESDC is that if the individuals in question meet the criteria for eligibility under CERB, they can apply using their SIN, which does not expire for tax purposes, regardless of the status of their work permit. Depending on their situation, they might or might not be able to apply online, but they will be able to do so through the call centre.
On this basis, can the minister confirm that for those who otherwise meet the eligibility criteria for CERB—and I'm referring to TFWs in this instance—even with an expired work permit they would not be criminalized for using CERB?
Thank you. I appreciate your answer because I think that is very important, because people acted on the basis of the advice from government, including you, minister, and if they, after the fact, are now being penalized, I can't imagine what that really means for people. It would be outrageous if that were to take place.
On the second question, minister, I wrote to you back in April on this, and I finally got a response from you this morning, so I appreciate that. I was asking about the 24-month work requirement that is interrupted for temporary foreign workers and, more specifically, for caregivers.
The response that you gave me does not address the heart of the issue, which is individuals whose work permits are coming to expiration and who have lost their jobs because of COVID. Can they then, on this basis, Minister, apply for a renewed work permit and get implied status even though they don't have an employer at this time?
I would urge the minister to count the interrupted time for these caregivers towards their 24-month work requirement and then also, on the question of expired work permits for those individuals, because they're caught in a very difficult situation right now where they have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and not through any fault of their own, and their work permit is coming to an expiration.... If they don't find a new employer, and it's difficult to do so at this time, they would be out of luck. They would not be able to get implied status, so it will be essential for them to be supported through this time. Otherwise, these workers who have come to take care of our families here in Canada are pretty well just left out in the cold. I would urge the minister to take action on that.
With respect to delay in spousal sponsorships, early in the pandemic I was informed that applications would continue to be processed. However, as the pandemic continues, issues and challenges with the processing of applications continue to emerge and, as a result, my office has seen numerous individuals faced with long and lengthy delays in their PR applications. This is specifically to do with spousal sponsorships where the standard time of processing is 12 months.
Mr. Mitch Hurley and his spouse tragically lost their newborn child as his wife was unable to get health care in Ecuador, and they're desperately waiting to be reunited here during this difficult time. Their application has been in the process for 16 months, and they cannot get an interview so that they can finish the application. Now they're required to extend their expired medical exams, which is very expensive and costly.
Can families with urgent needs have their applications expedited in processing and will the government waive the requirement for new medical examinations as a result of this lengthy delay?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for coming.
As a rookie MP, I'm in shock right now that we're discussing the supplementary estimates of a budget that has not even been tabled in the House of Commons, and we're talking about increasing beyond that estimate. It's such a learning experience here.
The supplementary estimates in 2020-21 do not allocate any new money to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Considering that the IRB suspended its operations for all in-person hearings and meditations other than detention reviews and some admissibility hearings, does the minister foresee any increase in the IRB budget?
Madam Chair, I want to let you know that I'll be sharing my time with the member for Orléans.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
We know that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on all immigration systems around the world. Certain situations have had a significant impact on the Canadian immigration system.
You've already touched on a few measures throughout your late-morning appearance before us. I want you to elaborate on the issues faced by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and also on the adjustments implemented.
You specifically spoke about foreign workers. However, I think that concrete action has been taken to help the immigration system and processes as a whole.
Can you also elaborate on the current measures during the easing of the lockdown? How do we return to a “normal” immigration system? What measures are in place to facilitate the immigration processes?
Thank you, Ms. Martinez Ferrada, for your question and for your work with our team and with the committee members.
I can give you several examples. The department created new processes, used new technology and established new teams with a mandate to prioritize the country's urgent needs.
I'll highlight a number of ways in which our department has responded to COVID-19.
As I've said, we've truly evolved in a number of ways. We've leveraged new technologies. We've set up new processes. We've stood up tiger teams to ensure that the urgent needs of Canadians around food, fuel and health are met, and that medical supplies are still flowing across our international borders. That is a concrete demonstration of the way our department has proven to be very resilient in meeting the needs of Canadians.
In the long run, I believe we will be able to take on some of those lessons and apply them equally to our longer-term plans in immigration, which of course are captured by our three-year levels plan.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
As you know, the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for the entire government, particularly your department. You aren't the only ones affected by constraints and changes.
I would like you to talk to us about border closures. They are commonplace around the world. In this public health situation, we have had to make decisions here in Canada, as we've seen around the world, to keep Canadians safe.
Minister, could you tell us a bit more about the circumstances surrounding the closure of the Canada-U.S. border? What considerations and adjustments were needed to maintain the functionality of the border that sustains our Canadian industries?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister. I'm very pleased to be here with you today.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Châteauguay—Lacolle. About three years ago, in August 2017, we received a call regarding a large number of refugee protection claimants at the border. My constituents in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle were really on the front lines setting up tents. Many of them work at customs, at immigration or with the RCMP. It was truly an incredible collaborative effort, on Roxham Road, between the elected officials of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle and the residents.
Since then, the number of people crossing the border has decreased. Can the minister give us an approximate update on the pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers?
In fact, we're also very proud in Châteauguay—Lacolle that we've received, I think, five families now, Syrian refugee families, and we're still waiting for a family. The people in my riding are very proud of their welcoming attitude.
It is going to be World Refugee Day on Saturday, Minister, as I'm sure you're well aware, and Canada has always been a global leader when it comes to the resettlement of people facing conflict and turmoil. Could you speak to some of Canada's actions, both domestically and abroad, in regard to what has been done to help refugees reach our country?
Thank you for the question and for foreshadowing what should be a happy day, because we should all be proud of Canada's contributions. Concretely, first and foremost, we have continued to help resettle refugees and asylum seekers, notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic.
I'll take a moment to highlight that we are looking at ways to strengthen our relationship with refugees so they can have an active voice in the creation of our policies, creating that space so there is real purchase into this effort by the refugee community. I can think of several examples, including Mustafa Alio, who heads up an organization called Jumpstart. The purpose of this organization is to help encourage refugees to be self-starters and entrepreneurs.
For me, and I hope all members share this sentiment, it's about combatting the discrimination and stigma we see far too often towards refugees, that somehow they're simply a burden on our society. They're not. Refugees are our neighbours. They are prepared to contribute and to sacrifice when we need it the most. We've seen that in some very visible ways in Quebec and right across the country.
I hope all members will be quite proud in celebrating World Refugee Day this weekend.
Certainly, as I've said, we are profoundly concerned with the situation in Hong Kong and anything that would detract from the one country, two systems principle, which Canada supports.
As far as initiatives are concerned, as I've said, for Canadians there is a right of return subject to health screenings, and for other foreign nationals there are many pathways.
I am aware of this example that you raise today in the United Kingdom. I'm not aware of what the details are, but all I will say is that there are various pathways that do exist for those who wish to relocate to Canada, either on a temporary or a permanent basis, which they can avail themselves of.
Thank you, Minister. Thank you to all the committee members.
With this, the first hour of the meeting comes to an end.
Thank you, Minister, for appearing before the committee. I'm sorry for those technological issues, but it was good to have you here in person. Of course, members must have liked this option of your coming in, so I really thank you on behalf of all the members for appearing before the committee today.
With that, I will suspend the committee meeting for a few minutes to allow the minister to leave and allow MP Barrett to take his seat. It will take a few minutes while we sanitize the desk and start.
The officials will be here for the second hour. Once we have allowed the minister to leave and the MPs to come back, we will get to the second hour of the meeting.
The meeting is suspended.
I will call the meeting back to order for the second hour.
We have four officials: Catrina Tapley, deputy minister from IRCC; Marian Campbell Jarvis, assistant deputy minister; and Daniel Mills, assistant deputy minister. It appears that Mr. Mills is having some issues, so we will see when he joins us. The last witness is Hughes St-Pierre, also assistant deputy minister.
I welcome all of you. Thank you for coming before the committee.
Ms. Martinez Ferrada, you have a question.
Both of those are excellent questions.
I will go first to the question on family reunification. We are working to identify a good path.
We're continuing to process applications in the meantime. The only applications that we put a pause on are temporary resident visas, and the rest of the applications we continue to process. Those that are paper based have been more difficult to get to than those that are electronic. As the minister has indicated, if we ever needed additional oomph behind our need to move more fully to digitization, this has certainly been it.
To answer your second question about passports, we're working closely with our colleagues at Service Canada to try to get this back up and running as quickly as we can.
This has been a time of massive government spending, some of which is essential and much of which we, in the official opposition, have supported while encouraging expansion in some areas along with adjustment in others. At the same time, some spending, until we return to fully responsible government and accountability with standing committees and the normal debates of Parliament....
All of this notwithstanding, last week we learned of a potentially massive new set of expenses for the department in a request for proposals to be tendered, which was in an annex in the procurement section of Public Works Canada entitled “Digital Services—Urgent for COVID-19”. This document references a new normal, with the department anticipating a surge in applications and tremendous demand after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. That suggests the department might feel that it will be overwhelmed when this COVID crisis is past, and it calls for proposals to completely overhaul and digitally update the way the department processes all of these applications and does all of its work in Canada and abroad.
Can you give any sort of ballpark estimate of what sort of spending is going to be involved in this proposal, in these projects?
Madam Chair, I think people may have been a little carried away with their words as part of that proposal.
We anticipate an increase in applications once the crisis has abated and once we return to whatever the next normal might look like. Applications have been down during this period, and as I indicated, some were not processing, like temporary resident visas. That our IT system needs work is no secret. The global case management system has served us well, but it is reaching the end of its useful life. Investing in the system and in the means to make applications more efficient and provide better client service has been ongoing for quite a while. We have some resources we were able to dedicate to this already. We always hope for more when it comes to revamping our IT system, but we are using resources that have already been identified.
Mr. St-Pierre, do you want to add anything to that?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
First, on behalf of all of us, thank you for all the work that has been done in the past few weeks. I represent the wonderful community of Orléans, so to all our public servants who are doing extraordinary work and whom we are celebrating this week, I say thank you.
Thank you. It's really a pleasure working with you every day. You certainly have many challenges to overcome.
I was able to ask the minister about the Canada-U.S. border, but I couldn't ask my follow-up. As we have moved forward in the extension of the border restrictions, we've also brought in exemptions and changes that have been made to accommodate our government's adherence for family reunification. Certainly in Orléans it has been very well received. Maybe you could talk to us a little about this perspective.
The next normal is proving to be a bit challenging.
We looked at our lines of business in different categories, and one is that we worry about those newcomers, temporary foreign workers, other workers, visitors who are already here in Canada. We've put a number of measures in place, to be able to extend work permits, to look at implied status, to make it easier for people in closed work permits to move from one employer to another with a job offer. There have been a number of things we have put in place that way.
The second is generally around temporary foreign workers. We've put a number of measures in place to accommodate demands, particularly with agricultural workers. In some cases, we've looked at the first advent of a counterfoil-less visa, and accommodating that as part of a move to make sure that people can arrive smoothly.
The others we have done with our colleagues at the Canada Border Services Agency, such as some collection of biometrics on arrival. We've also worked closely with other governments and with some of our partners to make sure that things can continue to move.
The other area is with respect to our immigration programs themselves.
For permanent residents, we have been working hard at something we call the virtual landing, so being able to land people, especially those who are already in Canada. Last week alone we landed more than 5,000 new permanent residents to Canada.
If your application was approved prior to March 18, then you meet exemptions to travel [Technical difficulty—Editor] from overseas. However, there are many who apply for permanent residence who are already in Canada, either as former students or temporary foreign workers, and we're really concentrating on making sure that we can land those and land them smoothly.
The other would be with respect to our citizenship ceremonies.
I'm really proud to say that we have found some accommodations around this, and we are doing a number of online ceremonies. I think we did about 300 online ceremonies or virtual citizenship ceremonies last week.
Maybe I'll stop there.
Mrs. Marie-France Lalonde: Madam Chair, how much time do I have?
Once again, I want to thank the officials for joining us.
I have a few questions about temporary resident visas. I gather that the processing of applications has slowed down and in some cases stopped altogether. I was wondering about the situation of international students.
Several schools in my constituency welcome students from Morocco, Senegal, Algeria and Guinea. The normal processing time for these applications is 11 weeks for Morocco, 12 weeks for Senegal and Algeria and 13 weeks for Guinea. Given the normal processing time, if you begin processing the applications now, the session will have already started in the fall. Does the department have a plan to fast-track study permit applications?
I now have questions regarding the temporary foreign workers who are already here.
Measures have been introduced to expedite the processing of essential worker applications. However, some workers aren't considered essential. I'm thinking, for example, of construction and landscaping workers and welders. These people are here and they're eligible for the CERB in some cases. However, when the CERB expires, they'll be left without financial resources and without a work permit.
Are there any plans to expedite the processing of new or renewed work permit applications for these workers as well?
Madam Chair, I'll go on to another issue. This is an ongoing question I've been asking about exempting emergency benefits for people with immigration processes in place so that they would not be penalized for financial inadmissibility because of the support they're getting through the emergency benefits, aside from CERB.
The minister indicated that people would not be penalized for receiving CERB. I have not been able to get a response from the government or the minister to ensure that if individuals receive other emergency benefits, they would also be exempt from penalty as a result of COVID-19. Can I get confirmation from the deputy minister now, please?
Could I get confirmation on the provincial benefits? For example, in British Columbia, some people get a hydro benefit and some people get a rent supplement because of COVID. Those supports are all individualized from province to province. I just want to make sure that people will not be penalized for that.
I will go on to the question about urgent processing.
The government indicates on the website that it will be proceeding with urgent processing of five business days. However, I've had cases brought to my attention in which people have gone far beyond the five business days. This is deeply concerning for individuals who are stuck in a situation, faced with an abusive employer, yet their application for urgent processing is not being processed within five days.
Could I get a comment on that? How can we ensure that those individuals are protected?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
In the supplementary estimates, the additional money added to the original estimate was $22 million or $23 million, but the entire amount is close to $1.1 billion in the operating expenditures, capital expenditures and interoperability, as per the department's report from the Auditor General.
I'm curious to understand what the performance benchmarks are. IT projects could sometimes be a black hole for taxpayers' money, and these are very much of a concern for my constituents. What are the performance benchmarks to ensure that these monies are spent wisely when additional money is being put in place and that they will be able to get the value back?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I also want to thank all the officials who, since the start of the pandemic, have been working hard to ensure that the immigration system runs smoothly and that the demand for labour in Canada can be met. Thank you for developing a number of creative and innovative procedures and directives. In any crisis, opportunities arise, and you've been able to seize them. Thank you.
I want to address some of the questions that were asked, particularly regarding biometrics. Things are returning to normal a bit. There are many questions about how to collect biometrics from workers who are already here and who have been given a 90-day extension on their work permits to collect the data.
It isn't so much the people outside Canada, but the people in Canada who need access to biometric services. They don't really know where to go or which points of service are open.
It would be useful if you could provide the list of all the directives issued in response to the COVID-19 crisis. What steps were taken with respect to the work permits? How were visas issued abroad to ensure that temporary workers could come here?
I'll give you the chance to elaborate on these measures.
Oh. Thank you for that. Sorry.
We have implemented a number of measures for overseas visa processing. I'll speak first about seasonal agricultural workers and a number of the things we've done to ensure their safe passage to Canada.
The first area is biometrics. For many people who are coming, we have their biometrics on file, so that's not an issue. For those for whom biometrics is an issue, we work with our colleagues at the Canada Border Services Agency to make sure that those biometrics can be collected at the port of entry.
There have been a couple of other instances in which we have been unable to attach a visa to their passport. As many members know, we physically attach a foil. We have found a good accommodation in some cases by being able to do that electronically, which I think is good news. It speaks to a direction we might like to go in the future. Those have been really important advancements for us.
A lot of the accommodations have been around extending work permits and implied status. It's been really important for people who are here to make sure they're able to continue to work and to find other opportunities when they've been unemployed, and to do that as quickly as possible. The largest of those accommodations has been for those with closed work permits. Enabling them to move to other occupations, and to do that with implied status in between, has been a really good advancement.
Finally, with regard to students, students are normally allowed to work 20 hours a week while they're in class. On summer break periods or other break periods, they're allowed to work as much as they like. The 20-hour-a-week rule was particularly difficult for those in essential services, so we've relaxed that rule during this period.
COVID-19 has impacted our processing times quite differently, depending on the lines of business.
For many in the temporary foreign worker lines of business, our processing times have actually improved during this period. For other parts of our application process, particularly those that are digital, we've seen improvements. However, for those that are paper-based, such as parents and grandparents and spousal applications, that is not the case. For those we've seen some further delays.
We are looking at the means by which we can address this. Part of it will involve physically moving our people back into the work site. We have started to do that in some of our case processing centres, where people can have access to those paper files, so that we can deal with some of the issues around wait times.
Once the border restrictions ease, we'll go back to our normal processing times, we hope, or back to our service standards, and make sure that processing happens within service standards.
Again, it will be different depending on the type of application. For students, when we've gone to student direct application, such as in India or China, we hope to have those applications back down to two weeks and three weeks. Those are all electronic applications, and ditto on some of the temporary resident visas, when we do those.
In other areas we'll be putting on a much bigger push to get those down within the service standards, which differ by immigration category.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to go back to the rural immigration pilot project.
Deputy Minister, there are some criteria about the capacity of a community to integrate and to keep a newcomer or family. For larger and medium-sized cities, there are government-funded settlement agencies, but in smaller communities there are not. They do have church groups and old age clubs, but the IRCC staff have excluded small communities like St. Charles and Noëlville because they have populations of only 2,000 or 3,000 and they don't have any funded government settlement agencies.
In my opinion, they do have the capacity to integrate a few families, but those small communities have been removed from the pilot project. I just wanted to see if you have an explanation and to see if we could look at changing the criteria to include communities of 2,000 or 3,000 in the rural immigration pilot project.
Madam Chair, we're always happy to look at ways that we can improve these pilot projects. The has said that they're pretty near and dear to his heart, but they are to ours as well, in terms of both the Atlantic pilot and the rural and northern pilot the member has referred to, and soon, we hope, one that's focused more on municipalities.
We're always happy to look at ways in which we can improve, but one of the things that we know helps is having good professional settlement support. It doesn't mean that we can't use the resources that are there in the community from church groups and others who have some good experience in doing this, but it certainly helps to have a service provider organization or professional settlement support there.
One of the things we've done in some communities is look at a satellite operation. For towns in Alberta, one of the major service provider organizations out of Calgary has set up a satellite office in Brooks or in other communities, and we've been able to move forward, so I'm happy to take that idea back to see what we can do.
Sorry for interrupting, Ms. Kwan, but your time is up.
Thank you, deputy minister, for answering all the questions.
With this, the standing committee meeting comes to an end.
This is National Public Service Week, so on behalf of all the members of this committee, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our public servants.
Thank you to all the officials from IRCC for your hard work during this pandemic. Thank you for all the work you do every day for all Canadians. I know the past three months have been very tough, especially for all public servants. This is the time to recognize your contributions and to thank you on behalf of all Canadians.
Thank you for appearing before this committee today and answering all these questions.
Definitely, and we thank all the witnesses for coming and appearing before the committee.
Before I adjourn the meeting, I want to take this opportunity to thank the clerk, the analysts, the interpreters and all the House administration people who made this meeting possible, because it takes a lot to arrange the meeting, keeping in mind all the physical distancing. Thank you to all the House administration people for making sure we follow public health rules and keep everyone safe.
With this, the meeting will come to an end. I want to wish all the members the best of health. Thank you for all the work you do on behalf of your constituents, especially all the work you have done during this pandemic. I give a big thank you to everyone.
The meeting is adjourned.