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Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Announcement

Ottawa, June 9, 2010 Minister Jason Kenney at the Economic Club of Canada

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for being here and thank you to Mark Adler, President of the Economic Club of Canada for your great work in creating and sustaining this forum for discourse on important public issues. And thank you all for coming out early this morning. I know those of you who live out in Mississauga and the nether regions of the GTA it means getting up very early and I appreciate your interest.

You may notice this is a bit of a busy week for me. I am in the middle of negotiating; hopefully, successful completion to fundamental balanced reform to Canada's asylum system just yesterday introduced fundamental improvements to the regulation of immigration consultants in Canada. Tomorrow, we'll be introducing new citizenship legislation. But I still somehow found time to come down here and talk to the Economic Club of Canada because this is such an important forum.

I am very lucky. I have one of the best jobs I think in Canada. I get the opportunity of welcoming to this country a quarter of a million new permanent residents every year, 185,000 new citizens, new members of our Canadian family every year, of sustaining the largest immigration program in the developed world in relative terms and of a country that is the proud bearer of a tradition of providing protection to victims of persecution from around the world. And in a way helping to plan the future of Canada because that's what immigration represents.

We all know that within a few years a hundred percent of Canada's labour market growth will be attributable to immigration rather than natural growth in our population. We also know that with an aging population we need newcomers to ensure that we have the workers and indeed taxpayers but more importantly citizens of the future. And we also recognize that Canada has deeply grounded in its history this tradition of diversity, of pluralism that is part of the reason for the dynamism of this country.

You know this is the Economic Club of Canada and so we should take stock and take note of the fact that according to every significant observer, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank, the IMF, The Economist Magazine, virtually every major global economic commentator, Canada is leading the developed world in economic growth. We managed to go into the global economic downturn after virtually any other developed country. We're coming out of it stronger and earlier than virtually any other major developed economy with greater growth, with greater job growth and with greater long-term growth prospects. And that is in no small part I believe as a result of our approach to immigration because I can tell you that in the fall of 2008, as we were headed into the global economic downturn, we did consultations across the country on what we should do with immigration in the recession, in 2009. Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, most other developed countries had decided to cut their immigration levels, some quite drastically because, logically, they saw a tightening in the labour market but also quite frankly they were concerned about the domestic political consequences of maintaining immigration levels during an economic downturn. We all know historically that anti-immigrant sentiment tends to increase during times of economic hardship.

And so I went to Prime Minister Harper in November of 2008, shortly after he gave me this responsibility and I said, "Boss, we have a difficult choice to make. There's going to be an increase of unemployment inevitably next year because of the Canadian knock on consequences of the U.S. recession. There is clearly going to be a tightening in the labour market. Some people are recommending that we lower our immigration levels significantly." And he said, "That would be a mistake." It would be a mistake because we need to plan for not we don't need to react in a knee-jerk way to short-term developments but we need to plan thoughtfully for the mid to long range. And he said, "When we come out of this downturn we are going to need newcomers to help to fill the labour market shortages that will re-emerge." It seemed counterintuitive. It certainly was politically. But it was, in retrospect, the right call to make.

And so for 2009 we planned to maintain our ambitious immigration levels that represent .8 percent of our population and indeed we hit those targets, welcoming a quarter of a million new permanent residents to our shores last year in addition to a quarter of a million temporary residents including foreign students and foreign workers, many of whom now have the capacity to go on and become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens through the Canadian experience class that our government has introduced.

And so I think that was a sign of the government's overall prudence in economic planning. Just like we decided to provide extra stimulus to the economy in the fall of 2007 through an additional $90 billion in tax relief for individuals, families, seniors, employers, corporations. Just as we decided to pay down some $50 billion in the national debt in our first two and a half years in office when times were better. And just as we decided to continue to make the Canadian economy more productive, to reach out and expand our trade markets.

Do you know that between 1993 and 2006 Canada had only signed two new free trade agreements? Since coming to office four years ago, we've signed six new free trade agreements, opening up foreign markets, diversifying our export markets, diminishing our over dependence on the U.S. market and we have another seven major economic negotiations underway including with the European Union.

So these are amongst the reasons why I believe Canada is leading the world in terms of economic growth.

But we can and must do better when it comes to immigration because over the past 20 years the data tells us that newcomers to Canada have not been doing as well economically. They are as a whole falling behind. Immigrants to Canada with university degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as native born Canadians with university degrees. Newcomers used to generate higher incomes in a short period of time than the average Canadian income. That's no longer the case. And of course we know that hundreds of thousands of new Canadians are stuck in survival jobs, underemployed, highly trained professionals who find themselves locked out of their chosen profession in Canada often struggling because of the Canadian experience paradox. Many of you know it. No Canadian experience, no Canadian and then you don't get a job. If you can't get a job, you can't get Canadian experience.

So these are challenges that we need to address. And it's difficult to address though because in immigration policy, particularly in Canada there are all sorts of third rails. You know it is an area where it is so easy to demagogue any kind of modest policy change but our government has decided to proceed anyway notwithstanding the typical voices of that try to distort sound immigration policy and I'm pleased to see that the responses have been very, very positive.

I can tell you that our government has been trying our vision is very simply this: to improve economic outcomes for newcomers, to ensure their faster and more successful integration into Canada and to ensure that immigration works for Canada and this is important because one thing we should be mindful of is that this is one of the only western democracies with a broad and deep pro-immigration political consensus. We can see the recent debate in the United Kingdom; the debate was over by how much should immigration be cut. We can see in other western democracies xenophobic, anti-immigrant and at worst racist political parties. We can see the recent law adopted in Arizona as an indication of the direction that other jurisdictions are headed in.

We are unique in Canada in having a broad and deep across-the-political-spectrum consensus that supports diversity, that supports the positive attributes of immigration. We cannot take that consensus for granted. We must demonstrate to Canadians that immigration works for this country and that means ensuring that the newcomers that we select and it is something that, you know, it shouldn't be by happenstance the newcomers that we select are connect to the labour market needs of today and the future and will have a capacity to be successfully and rapidly integrated into our society and into our economy. And that has really been the guiding principle of everything that we've done.

When I think about immigration, I try to remember that it starts with someone's often difficult decision to pick up and move, sometimes, usually, with their family to Canada. That choice connects to a larger chain of decisions and actions whose results affect us all, even if we've not come here from another land. So our vision of the road ahead is based on ideas about what I want those results to be. I want to see an integrated society of active and engaged citizens, not a series of separated ethno cultural silos. I want Canadians, whether they've been here for a few months or all their lives, to embrace our shared values, our shared history and institutions. I want newcomers to integrate into our proud and democratic Canadian society and I want us all to work together to invest in and help strengthen the prosperity of a country that continues to attract newcomers.

To achieve this, we need several things. We need an immigration system that gets us the people with the skills that we want. We need settlement programs that help them in their efforts to integrate. We need balanced refugee reforms to help those who truly need our protection. We need multicultural and citizenship policies that connect newcomers to the values of this country that are grounded in our history and that connect all Canadians to each other.

I'm pleased to say that we're on the way to fulfilling this vision and helping immigrants succeed in our economy and fuel our prosperity. The direction we're taking is based on research that shows several things. When compared to immigrants in other OECD countries, immigrants in Canada continue to have the greatest equality in the labour market so notwithstanding the problems we've seen, the challenges over the past couple of decades, we're still doing relatively well. The job quality of those who live here for more than a decade matches or exceeds that of workers born in Canada. If immigrants have similar literacy levels to their Canadian born counterparts, there's almost no difference in earnings so the data does point to language as being a key factor. With few exceptions, immigrant labour market outcomes improve with time spent in Canada. That's especially true for newcomers with Canadian work and education experience who generally perform better in the labour market than immigrants with only foreign credentials.

So to address these outcomes, we've been taking action in a number of areas. For example, international students now have more opportunities in Canada because we've removed restrictions on the types of jobs they can get and extended their work permits for up to three years. The Canadian Experience Class that I mentioned is helping people with recognized skills in Canada and who are integrating skilled temporary such as skilled temporary foreign workers and international students who can now stay here permanently. We've made it easier for live-in caregivers to obtain permanent residence by making the program more flexible for them and helping protect their rights. We've tripled settlement funding from 2006 levels. This includes language training because, as I've indicated, research clearly points to the importance of official language ability and it points as well of course to foreign credential recognition as indicators of success.

Because speaking English or French is absolutely key to finding meaningful work in Canada, that's why we've also introduced a new pilot program here in Ontario and in other provinces where we're sending vouchers to randomly selected newcomers that represents a certain number of hours of language training to try to increase their take up and participation in the language programs that we're offering.

We've also while we have increased funding for services to newcomers, we do have work to do in analysing what services we support and who oversees the funding for these programs in the future. To distribute immigration across the country, we've increased the number of people coming in through the Provincial Nominee Programs. Now this isn't very topical in Ontario, but one of the problems we've always had is 85 percent of immigrants settling in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver which are not necessarily where the biggest labour market shortages are so you end up with in an economic sense an oversupply of newcomers in some places and huge labour market shortages in other regions. We've been working to correct that by increasing the number of immigrants selected by employers through the provinces now settling in regions like Atlantic Canada and western Canada where there is where there are acute labour market shortages and the good news is people are also staying there so we're seeing a much better distribution in the last few years.

But with stable intake, we must remember that giving newcomers a greater portion of the skilled worker supply means taking it away from other avenues we used to bring these workers to Canada. And as the federal government, we must ask if this benefits the country as a whole. What I'm saying is that some provinces basically want to virtually take over altogether selection of immigrants. We think there's an important role for the federal government to play in this nation-building exercise.

Now to attract experienced businesspeople who bring significant economic benefits to Canada, we are reviewing our immigrant investor program to fit our changing economy and to keep it competitive with that of other countries. And to help immigrants translate their credentials into jobs, we continue to work with the provinces and professional agencies on the big issue of foreign credential recognition. In fact, last year, the Prime Minister put on the agenda of the provincial his meeting with the premiers the urgency of getting a more rational, transparent, faster streamlined approach to credential recognition.

We don't expect or ask the professional licensing bodies in Canada to lower their standards. We don't want people who aren't properly qualified doctors performing surgeries. We don't want people who aren't really properly qualified engineers building bridges but we do want those licensing bodies to give foreign trained professionals at least a fair crack at their application in a reasonable amount of time and I'm pleased to tell you that the provinces as a result of our leadership on this issue and our investment of $50 million in developing this framework have agreed to a policy to give to have the professional agencies give foreign trained professionals an answer on their application within a year. So we are moving in the right direction.

And we are also actually improving we're also offering advice on settlement in Canada before people even get here. We've now set up two free two-day free seminars for selected economic immigrants that are now available to 80 percent of those newcomers before they get to Canada so for two days they can sit down and get customized training on where are you hoping to live, how can you find a job there, how can you apply from abroad before you get to Canada, how could you even apply for your credential recognition before you land in Canada. How to get your help number, you SIN number, your kids enrolled in school so that when someone arrives at Pearson they're no longer hopefully stuck in that fog of not knowing what the next the initial steps are. Hopefully, they've already got a plan.

Finally, we have introduced the Action Plan for Faster Immigration. You know that over a course of years there was a refusal to deal with the pressures in our immigration system and make any difficult decisions. So during under the course of the last government we saw these enormous backlogs develop nearly a million people waiting in the queue to come to Canada. Why? Well, very simply because there are far more people who want to immigrate to this country than we can actually accept in a given year even though we have the highest relative level of immigration in the developed world. And in fact Gallup International did a survey on this and found that next to the United States Canada is the most desired country to immigrate to and that's some 45 million adults in 135 countries would like to permanently move to Canada. We can't accommodate them all. News flash. And so there have to be limits.

The problem is that in the old system that we inherited, there were absolutely no limits on how many people could apply whose applications we were obliged to process. And so even though we were accepting a quarter of a million new permanent residents we were getting 400,000 applications every year. And what does that mean? The queue got longer and longer and longer. It was taking six years to give people an answer on their application to immigration. In turn, that meant that the best and the brightest, that bright young kid who's graduating from the Indian Technical Institute in Hyderabad wouldn't even bother thinking about coming to Canada if he could instead immigrate to Australia or New Zealand in six months. Why would he wait in line to come here for six years?

So we fundamentally changed the system through our Action Plan for Immigration in 2008 which was implemented last year and I'm pleased to tell you that's worked. We are now providing answers on new applications for skilled workers within about nine months' time rather than six years. And we've seen a 40 percent reduction in the old backlog of 640,000 people waiting to come through that category.

We need to make more changes though and I'll be announcing some in the near future. Any time you make the immigration specialists know this, any time you make changes in immigration policy, everyone somehow finds a way to rush to the point of least resistance and so we have backlogs developing again in certain areas and we intend to address that through some sensible changes under what we call the Ministerial Instructions.

So, folks, these are all important challenges. One of the issues of course that we are facing is the need, as I've mentioned, for balanced refugee reform. You know it is Canada has this great tradition of welcoming newcomers. I was in Nova Scotia recently and I was doing a talk radio show on the need for refugee reform and some fellow called up and said, "Mr. Kenney, I don't even understand why are you talking about Canada welcoming refugees. Why don't we take care of our own first?" And I said, "Sir, let me tell you about our own, you here, down here in Nova Scotia." You know Nova Scotia was founded by refugees, by the United Empire Loyalists who were refugees from the American Revolution. It was founded by the Black Loyalists and by the slaves who escaped the underground railroad, who settled in Nova Scotia. It was founded by refugees from Scotland who were the victims of the highland clearances and by potato famine Irish who were refugees in the 1840s. "Nova Scotia," I said, "is a land of refugees."

And that is true of much of Canadian history whether it's the Hungarians who we welcomed following the Soviet invasion in 1956, the Vietnamese boat people, 60,000 of whom found new homes and new beginnings in Canada in 1979 and 1980 under a Conservative government. Whether it was the more than one million Canadians who have been settled in Canada as refugees since the Second World War, we have a proud tradition of providing refuge to those in need of it.

Unfortunately, that tradition is at risk now because there are too many people who see who come here inappropriately through our asylum system, abusing our generosity and violating our laws. In fact, nearly 60 percent of asylum claimants in Canada are found not to be in need of Canada's protection.

Now if I were to go out on Bay Street and ask people or Yonge Street who do they think what do they think is the top source country for immigration for refugees coming to Canada, I'm guessing they might say Iran, North Korea. In fact, it's a European Union democracy Hungary. The number one source country for asylum claims, we get about 400 a month, we have 2,500 last year, 97 percent of whom go on to abandon or withdraw their own claims. And there's actually a criminal investigation into many of these people enrolling in our welfare and other income support programs in Canada, those funds then going to accounts controlled by criminal organizations.

And so in Canada we are so soft-hearted, sometimes we also forget to be hard-headed and realistic and have a realistic view of human nature and respond to efforts to abuse our generosity. The problem has gotten out of hand, out of control. We now have it now takes nearly two years for a refugee claimant to get a hearing at the IRB. It takes and that means someone comes to the airport with scars on their back who's escaped from a prison in Iran, we tell them they arrive at the airport, we give them a form and we say check back with us in a couple of years and maybe we'll consider your asylum status then. But someone who gets off the same plane as that torture victim who is a manifestly unfounded refugee claimant gets to stay here for five or six years before being subject to removal. That's why we have 60,000 people in the queue. That's why we have the largest number of asylum claims being made in Canada of any developed country and it's why we need to reform the system.

That's why I've tabled in Parliament I think some sensible and balanced refugee reforms that would actually enhance procedural fairness for asylum claimants but at the same time remove the false claimants who are abusing our generosity much more quickly.

I regret that well, I should say that I've been trying to negotiate a parliamentary consensus on this issue. I thought I was well on the way to doing so with my friends in the Official Opposition. It appears that politics got in the way of sound policy with some of them but I'm still hopeful that we'll be able to come to a parliamentary consensus on this in the near future.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for and I know there's many people who work in the immigration sector here, who work with newcomers. I want to thank you for all that you do and I want to assure you that this government has every intention not just of continuing Canada's tradition of openness to newcomers or protection for refugees but actually enhancing that tradition and ensuring that the new beginning of so many people who come to our shores is one of prosperity, of hope and of freedom as we do honour to those who've gone before us and ensure the prosperity of our children and grandchildren.

Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much

(Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada | Communications Branch)

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