Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, at a luncheon speech to the Canadian Club Vancouver.

Speech

Vancouver, British Columbia
September 5, 2017 

Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be back in Vancouver. I was here a number of times. Well, the first time I was here as a new Immigration Minister was to promote more transit travellers to consider travelling through Vancouver Airport, and how the federal government can help with that, with respect to having a more facilitative approach towards transit travellers for select number of cities and low-risk countries. If you have a United States visa and you're travelling from certain parts of Asia and you're going through Vancouver, then we will not ask you to obtain a Canadian visa. Through that, I was able to interact with the folks here, to learn about the potential of that traffic to dramatically expand Vancouver Airport and create real economic benefits for the region.

Every time that I come back to Vancouver, I'm amazed at the diversity and the forward-looking nature of this city, and how the great location on the west coast is literally a gateway to the rest of the world, and how Vancouver continues to connect all of us in Canada, to help us build more and more stronger people-to-people relationships with the rest of the world. So in addition to diplomacy, in addition to the security and economic, and other links that we have with other countries, one of the best ways that Canada, as a trading nation, can continue to obtain and solidify new markets is to ensure that we build people-to-people ties.

And one of the greatest ways to do that is through immigration, whether it is someone who permanently immigrates to Canada, or whether it is an international student who studies in our world-class institutions and then goes back and carries the memories of Canada in their heart, and champions Canada as a country in their new roles in their countries, whether they serve in the public or private sector. So the diversity here is real, and it contributes so strongly to what Vancouver is today. And it definitely contributes to the above-national-average growth in this part of the country.

I want to really talk about immigration today, but I want to move beyond the normal understanding of immigration by Canadians, who generally understand that immigrants and immigration make a positive contribution to our economy and to our society, and that immigration is good for Canada. But I don't think a lot of us truly understand the extent to which we have really relied on immigration to further fuel our economy. It's not the only tool, but it's a really important tool to address some of the demographic challenges that we have – the labour market, the skills shortages and so on; and how that in turn has served us to continue to build those people-to-people relationships that I spoke about.

So when you then think about that, and you think about that role that immigration has to our society, then the next question becomes what should the Government of Canada's role be in managing that immigration, knowing the role that immigration has for our country.

And so I think that the approach that we have, in a nutshell – and I can't go into all the details because we'll be here all day – is really three things: maintaining a robust and unapologetic commitment to our humanitarian program; having a vast and aggressive economic immigration program that continues to literally hunt for the best and the brightest from all over the world; and making sure that we don't keep families apart, that our immigration system should be about reuniting families faster and faster and faster.

And finally, to combine all of that by having excellent client service, having a cultural shift where we put the client at the centre of everything that we do in the immigration system in Canada. That is something that I think has been forgotten in the past, where the client was treated as an outside nuisance, while the officers were doing the work.

But when you put the client at the centre of everything that we do in immigration, you start to see the results that come from that, whether it is through the spousal program, where we have been able to cut processing times from 26 months to 12 months, or whether it is through innovations such as getting a text message now for participants who are willing to take part in a program where, if you have an inland spousal program and you're worried about the application, we send you a text message as soon as we get it so that you're less frustrated. Having more answers in the 1-800 number. Being able to navigate the system with respect to the website. Not requiring a PhD to fill in those immigration forms.

I mean, some of this stuff isn't so much the result, it's the process. And we want people to be less frustrated when they engage the immigration system. And the only way that will happen is if we put the client at the centre of everything that we do. And we mean business because now, under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, we actually have a branch called Client Experience. And we have a Director General of Client Experience. That's new and revolutionary and hasn't happened before.

So what are we doing in terms of managing the immigration program? We have to make sure that, for example, the labour market needs and the skills shortages are addressed. And how do we do that? We can't figure that out alone. We have to consult with businesses and employers to make sure that the existing programs continue to work well, and we need to make the necessary changes to make sure that they continue to do that.

But any other new programming that we need to test out or implement, we should be open to doing that. And Global Skills Strategy is the perfect example of that. That program was literally written by the industry. They told us quite clearly that they can't get talent here fast enough, and that the Government of Canada as a whole, should help them to do that.

The changes to Express Entry that we've embarked on include two recent changes. One dealt with the issue of making sure that points are not disproportionately awarded to people with a job offer, to the exclusion of everything else. And so international students who have so much promise, who have studied in our country, who speak one or both of our official languages, who are young, who are keen, and who are ready to work, are now obtaining more points under the Express Entry system, and so it's reflected in the pool. And now, under the Express Entry system, more than half of the successful applicants are international students.

In addition to that, if you have a sibling or siblings in Canada, under the Express Entry system you get additional points. We have a very robust goal of using the immigration system to address the vibrancy and the continued resiliency of francophone Canadians outside of Quebec. And to do that, we've made sure that we give them more points for francophone applicants under the Express Entry system. We've introduced a really good program called Mobilité Francophone, which allows employers to attract skilled francophone immigrants, and in exchange we give them a break on the Labour Market Impact Assessment.

On the demographic issue, and testing out new immigration programming, we have the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program in Atlantic Canada to address the particularly acute labour market shortages, and the difficulty in immigrant retention, in Atlantic Canada. In the rest of the country the retention rates for skilled immigrants, once you attract them to a particular province, are over 90 per cent. In Atlantic Canada, it's around 60 per cent. So in order to address those particular challenges, and also the demographic decline that is more acute there than in the rest of the country, we've introduced the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. What is this program about? In addition to the provincial nominee numbers that they have, we're providing them with 2,000 extra applications a year under this program, plus their families. So Atlantic Canada gets 2,000 a year for the next three years, and it's flexible. So each province is able to use their quota to attract semi-skilled, skilled, and intermediately skilled workers – and international students as well. We give them a break on the Labour Market Impact Assessment, and the processing is done within six months. That program is meant to, again, address those particular issues.

I spoke about the Global Skills Strategy. The Start-Up Visa was a program that was introduced by the previous government, but it was a pilot program. They were testing it out. But because of the success that we've had with it, it's now permanent. We've just made an announcement that the Start-Up Visa Program will be permanent. And there's also changes within that program to make it easier to use. So it's being moved to an online portal, and the funding will be more predictable. The reason for that is because more and more countries are getting into the business of having visas being given to promising entrepreneurs that are then invited to come to their countries to scale up. And so, for Canada to continue to enjoy the success of that program, we have to continue to be more facilitative. And we have an edge because we're one of the few countries that offers permanent immigration. So you know, we offer permanent residency through the Start-Up Visa.

But the big news I think that we've been able to accomplish – and it was a key campaign commitment – was Bill C-6. Bill C-6 really encapsulates everything that I've been speaking about, in terms of not just better client service but also facilitating people's desire to attach and integrate themselves into Canadian society. If people are bringing the right kind of skill sets and attitudes and hard work and involvement in our communities, we should not put obstacles in their way to become citizens. We should be making it easier for those folks to do that. And Bill C-6 reflects that. And it was a direct answer to Bill C-24, which we felt put unnecessary obstacles in the way of well-deserving permanent residents on their way to citizenship.

For example, Bill C-24 had introduced an extra year of the residency requirements to wait for the time that you need to become a Canadian citizen. We've brought that back to three years out of four, as opposed to four years out of six. We've removed the requirement for a number of consecutive days out of the year, which put people's lives in limbo. They couldn't travel or do the kinds of things that they want to do. We also brought back the notion that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. So we've gotten rid of differential treatment under our citizenship laws. If two people who are both Canadian citizens commit certain crimes, and one is born abroad or has dual nationality and the other one is not, under Bill C-24, they would get different treatment under the law. We felt that that was unfair, and it was beginning a very dangerous precedent of introducing two-tier citizenship, which is completely offensive to everything that we hold dear.

And finally, in terms of the ambitions that we have as a country, we want to be facilitative and welcoming. And I must say here that we wouldn't be able to do half of the things that we're able to do in immigration had it not been for the welcoming nature of Canadians towards newcomers. I think that is something that we sort of take for granted, but when you travel around the world and you look at the current political climate, you begin to understand how lucky we are that despite our differences, we're strong because of our differences and our diversity, not in spite of them; and that, as a country, the welcoming nature that we have towards newcomers, and then matched with the real dollar investments that the Canadian government and the provincial governments put into settlement and integration programs, have real impacts down the road. Those are people who will integrate, better their lives, but more importantly, give back so much more to Canadian society.

And I personally experienced that welcoming nature. Because I can tell you my story would not be possible in any other country apart from Canada. And I think my story is more of a credit to Canada than to myself. And I hate to bust your bubble, but I'm not unique. There's so many other people who have come to this country with virtually nothing and who are now proud Canadians and have made our country and our society so much better. But that's because of our welcoming nature, and I want to really express extreme gratitude towards Canadians for always being open to others. In a world where now people are closing their doors to those who are seeking protection, they're closing their doors to those who are kind enough to lend us their talents, they're closing their doors to those who are seeking a better life and an opportunity, we as a government have heard from Canadians and we're taking an unapologetic, firm approach to saying we'll be open to people, we will be open to ideas, and we will always have space in our country and in our hearts for those who need protection from persecution.

There is no shortage of stories across Canada of those kinds of newcomers who have given so much back. And even when you isolate that to Vancouver, you can find so many examples, whether it is Chan Goh, who came to Canada as a young child from Canada and then went on to become the principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada, and is now a leader in the cultural life of this city; or Dr. Muhammad Morshed, the program head and clinical microbiologist of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory, who first arrived in Canada about 20 years ago; or Trish Mandewo, who originally came to Canada from Zimbabwe and has now become a prominent entrepreneur and community leader in Coquitlam; or Shahrzad Rafati, who left Iran for Vancouver as a teenager with a single suitcase, went on to become the founder of BBTV, the world's largest multi-channel network, and was named 2016 Person of the Year at the Technology Impact Awards for her significant contributions to the BC tech industry; and so on and so on. You'll find so many people like that who have really strengthened your community right here in Vancouver.

International students. I want to end on that note. They are outside of the planned permanent immigration that we have every year that we plan ahead. For international students, though, we're being more aggressive than in the past. When you talk to university students and college presidents, they'll tell you the same thing– and college and university presidents as well. They'll tell you that they have more room in their institutions to accommodate more international students while at the same time not taking away spaces from Canadian students. And in the past, I think we have been an attractive country for international students but we haven't had a truly national strategy and a national signaling and conversation around the world to say that we want more international students. And I'll give you proof of that.

For example, Australia, even though it's not in the same hemisphere as Mexico as we are, has more Mexican students in their post-secondary institutions than Canada. That shouldn't be happening. We should have more Mexican students in our institutions than Australia. But that's because Australia has a more robust and aggressive strategic national plan around attracting and retaining international students. So to the extent that we can, we're signaling that we want more. Last year we got more. We had a 22 per cent jump in the number of international student visas that we issued.

But in addition to that, I've been very clear to say not only do we want more international students. When I travel around the world, I say that we want as many of you to stay beyond your studies, because these are young people who speak English or French or both and have studied in Canada. Why wouldn't we want these people to become our future citizens?

And so we should do whatever it takes to incentivize them to consider Canada. And Bill C-6 is one of those incentives, because now, under Bill C-6, the time than an international student or worker spends in Canada before becoming a permanent resident is counted towards their citizenship residential requirements. So for example, up to one year. So if an international student studies in Canada for two years and then becomes a PR, he or she only has to wait two additional years to become a citizen because they get a one year time credit for the two years that they were in Canada before becoming PR.

And the reason for that is very simple. Students and workers who are in Canada before becoming PR form an attachment to this country before becoming permanent residents. So we're just recognizing that reality. And I think that will go a long way to attract more international students. And also being generous with them in terms of allowing them to work and having access to the post-graduate work permit, and also giving them more points under the Express Entry system so that they can consider applying permanently and staying in Canada.

So continuing a strong humanitarian component, because we are a rich country, we are a welcoming society, and we should play our role in terms of welcoming those who need protection from persecution and sanctuary, because those people also equally contribute back over the long term as economic immigrants and family class immigrants as well. There's this notion that refugees are not as contributing as others. That is absolutely not the case. And if you look at the statistics, you will see that the integration journey may be different throughout the spectrum between a vulnerable refugee or a highly skilled economic immigrant, but over the long term, with the right investments, you find that refugees are just as, if not more, equally contributing to our society and making sure that they're great Canadian citizens.

And this is something that struck me so much when I went visiting other countries. We're one of the few countries in the world where, whether you come as a refugee or as somebody sponsored by their family, or as an economic permanent immigrant, we just assume that you'll eventually become a citizen. That's not the case in many parts of the world. You can live in three generations in certain countries and never really take that final and most important step of integration, which is citizenship. We're not perfect, but the fact that we have a settlement and integration system that is able to embrace all these newcomers and invest in them, so that they can have the best restart of their lives and contribute quickly into society, is I think something that we don't really appreciate. When you leave the country, then you see how fortunate we are in that regard.

And even there, for transitioning professionals into their chosen fields, we've taken steps to do that. We've invested $27.5-million in a new targeted employment strategy for skilled newcomers with expansion of pre-arrival services, so that that engineer who knows that they've been selected to come to Canada can start the licensing process before they even get to Canada, so that they can hit the ground running. When they come here, a lot of these folks want to practice in their profession but can't do that because of the application fees, the exams, the books, and the income support. So part of the $27.5-million is going towards loans so that they can become that doctor, that nurse, that electrician. And it also goes towards paid internships, so that they can get that valued Canadian work experience. It goes towards mentorship, job matching, because job titles are different in different countries. But we want those people to practice in their fields because, when they don't, they lose, but we lose more because we need their skills more than anything else.

So a commitment to a humanitarian program, continuing a majority of the immigration system being on the economic side, having a strong commitment to reunite families faster and more efficiently, and overall improving client service, making sure that the immigration system works well for everybody, not only with the respect to the processing times and the result, but even in the interaction – making sure that you walk away from that interaction, feeling pleasantly surprised and not frustrated. And so that's what we're trying to do. We're not completely there yet, but we've had a number of pieces that have worked with that approach. And the lessons we've taken from the spousal program, for example – where we've reduced the processing time to 12 months while eliminating 20,000 spousal cases from the backlog, which means 20,000 families are now reunited because of our policies – are now being applied to the caregiver program and to the parent and grandparent program.

And so work is being done. We've had some early success. But I can make a commitment to you that we'll continue to listen to provinces, to municipalities, to business groups, to ordinary Canadians, making sure that the immigration system continues to work for you, for our economy, and for our country, and never losing sight of the fact that we have to have place for those who are downtrodden, who need a place of haven, a safe haven in terms of their time of need against persecution. Thank you very much for the warm welcome. I appreciate it very much.


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