Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship


At the Conference Board of Canada's Immigration Summit
Ottawa, Ontario
May 30, 2018

As delivered

Good morning, everyone. I want to begin by acknowledging that this event is occurring on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.

Two weeks ago, I was in Nigeria representing the government of Canada. I met the foreign minister of Nigeria, as well as the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Interior and a number of officials, civil society, and media to talk about positive aspects of the Canadian-Nigeria immigration story, attracting more Nigerian international students, attracting more tourists, attracting more applicants under the Express Entry system and also pitching our Start-up visa program in Nigeria because there’s a lot of innovation there.

But part of my visit was also, of course, to talk about irregular migration and I had a great two and a half days of back-to-back meetings and very productive engagements. But on my way out of the country, I was transiting through another country– I was traveling on official government business, so I had my diplomatic passport and I handed the passport and my boarding pass to the Nigeria officials on my way out of the airport – and they said, “Well, you’re not going directly to Canada. So what’s your final destination?” I said, “Canada” and then he furiously looked at the passport and he said, “Where’s your Canadian visa?” So the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who is responsible for handing out thousands of visas a year, hundreds of thousands of visas couldn’t get one to save himself.

The second experience that really struck me was last year on Canada Day. In my riding of York South Weston, there’s two huge events of about 3,000 people each. At the first one I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and my team was with me and we were glad-handling and greeting people, going from booth to booth, and then we noticed a big ice cream truck with a huge line-up of children getting ice cream from this very enthusiastic owner, handing out ice cream from the ice cream truck window. My team had this brilliant idea of me going and making a deal with the owner, to pay her some money to then hand the ice cream to the next I don’t know 50 kids and then we could take some good pictures and put it in the newsletter and look like a nice MP, right?

So we made that deal. The owner was fine and – but to get into the truck, I had to go to the front of the truck and get in and then make my way to the window and, unfortunately, the owner’s assistant who was in the front of the truck didn’t know about the deal. And so I walk in and she’s wondering ‘who’s this guy who is walking in confidently into our truck,’ but she didn’t say anything. She was very polite. So I go in and I hand out the ice cream, I’m very enthusiastic, I’m smiling for the pictures. On my way out, she said, “Can I ask you something?” I said, “Sure”. She goes, “You’re really excited about this whole Canada Day and you’re celebrating and are you new to Canada?”

Good morning. Before I begin, I wish to first thank the Conference Board of Canada for inviting me here again this year. For many years, your research has been instrumental in guiding our national discussion on immigration. You continue to be influential in the development of our country’s immigration policies and the government appreciates your continued contributions.

That is why I’m very pleased to have this opportunity, to join you today to provide to you with an overview of our current priorities and the future direction of our immigration policy. Everyone here knows that immigration is critical to meeting our labor market needs and immigrants are increasingly becoming an important source of labor market integration and providing many types of highly skilled jobs. For example, while immigrants represent approximately 20% of Canada’s population, they comprise 50% of all science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

Many Canadians often think about immigration as a way to fill jobs that already exist and that’s true, but there’s no doubt that some of our most creative and most successful innovators and entrepreneurs are immigrants. For example, I went to Edmonton, Alberta and I met a Cuban immigrant who started a software company that is now the leading software company in Western Canada and he’s managed to hire 150 people – 60% Canadians and 40% foreign workers that he’s attracted through various immigration programs.

In fact, recent immigrants now surpass Canadians in self-employment and private business ownership. Also, businesses owned by recent immigrants are more likely to sell their products to other countries, helping Canada to open up markets for all of us, beyond the United States.

As we know from the Conference Board’s most recent report, without immigration, our country’s ability to grow our economy would become an impossibility. Canada’s potential economic growth would slow down without immigration, from 1.9% to an average of 1.3% annually, but – and in a multi-trillion economy, that’s substantial – but even with immigration, we’re still faced with challenges of a shrinking labor force.

So as an example, in 1971, Canada had a ratio of 6.6 working Canadians to support each retiree. By 2012, that ratio had dropped to four working Canadians supporting each retiree. By 2036, if we’re not ambitious in immigration, and 2036 isn’t that far away, we will drop to two working Canadians to support each retiree.

Now how will we be able to maintain our much valued social programs? Healthcare, our pension programs, our infrastructure needs, let alone development, how will we even maintain what we have with a ratio of two to one? It’s just a few years ago that some economists and demographers continued to dispute the extent to which immigration plays an important role in our country and our economy, but the discussion among those driving our national debate on this topic has now progressed from why immigration to how much. That’s where the debate is.

As immigration will be critical to our continued economic success, it’s crucial for Canada to find ways to leverage our “immigration advantage.” That’s why in our multiyear immigration levels plan, we will gradually increase our annual permanent admissions to nearly one percent of the population by 2020.

And 60% of this growth will be in the economic category to fill much needed labor market gaps, as well as skills gaps. The number of skilled immigrants we select through the Express Entry system will continue to grow. This is the system that allows us to attract the best and the brightest in the world and keep leading in the global race for talent. In that system, we’ve made some minor changes that have had a profound impact. For example, we’ve given more points under the Express Entry system to francophone folks who demonstrate strong French language skills and through that one change alone, we’ve been able to double the number of francophone immigrants coming through the express entry system. That’s a huge, huge win for Canada.

Second, we’re giving more points to students to recognize their skills and talents on their potential to come to Canada, as well as people who already have family members in Canada, recognizing that if you already have a family member in Canada, your journey of integration will be that much faster. In addition to that, last year, we introduced the Global Skills Strategy, which came from the business community. This again is a strategy to continue to attract more of the best minds from other countries. In a nutshell, the Global Skills Strategy can help companies to bring in senior management, trainers and others from other locations, to help Canadian companies get off the ground or expand their operations and grow their company and create jobs for all Canadians. Under this program, we process work permits in only two weeks as opposed to seven months.                              

Another program that was developed in partnership with the private sector is our Start-up visa program. This is a program that goes out into the world and identifies promising startups with the help of the private sector and then brings them to Canada so that they can scale up. When a startup comes to Canada and grows from a $5-milllion startup to $100-million startup, that’s where the jobs are and those are the jobs that Canadians will fill.

Unlike other countries that are in the game, we offer something in the Start-up visa program. Despite the name, we offer permanent residency and that’s the advantage that we have over other countries. To date, we’ve seen tremendous success under this program. Some of the companies founded through this program are Zeetl, a social telephony company acquired by Hootsuite in 2015, Lendful, an online lending marketplace that has raised $17 million in equity financing, and Huzza Media, an online platform for musicians acquired by Kickstarter in 2017. So while the Start-up Visa program has already proven to be a great success, we believe this program will keep growing over time.

Another program that we introduced to better address the needs of regional economies, in addition to the Provincial Nominee Program, is the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. This is a program especially designed for the labor market skills and demographic challenges facing Atlantic Canada. If you want to see the challenges we will face as a country, if we don’t continue to be ambitious with immigration, look to Atlantic Canada. In Newfoundland now, for every 100 people who joined the workforce, you have 125 leaving the workforce. So that gap has to be addressed. The population of New Brunswick is five years older than the rest of the country and so on and so forth.

So this program was designed with the help of the provincial governments and it brings employers into the mix. It’s the first immigration program in Canadian history that is employer-led and what it does is it helps the employer to attract skilled workers in three categories, as they wish: international students, intermediate skilled workers and highly skilled workers.

The employer goes out and gets designated by the province. They then go out and recruit people that they need for their workforce and we give them a break on the labor market impact assessment. So they don’t need to complete a labor market impact assessment. In return, we expect them to welcome not only the worker but their family and to do so, in order to make sure that that family stays in Atlantic Canada – because the problem in Atlantic Canada isn’t so much attraction of workers, it’s retention. In places like Ontario and Alberta, the retention rate for skilled immigrants who come to Ontario and Alberta is over 90%. In Atlantic Canada, it’s 60% or less. So how do we work on retention? And so as part of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the employer gets a break on the labor market impact assessment, but they in turn have to put together a settlement plan to help that family stay in Atlantic Canada, help the kids find schools, help the spouse find a second job and when the family has roots in Atlantic Canada, it’s very difficult for the skilled immigrant to then move away from Atlantic Canada.

Successful integration often involves things that many of us take for granted, such as having a support network, speaking English or French, forming social connections within the community, knowing how to access services such as transit, healthcare, banks, schooling. To therefore assess the effectiveness of our settlement plan, there was a formal evaluation done by IRCC that lasted from late 2015 to May 2017. This evaluation resulted in a finding that our settlement program has, by and large, been effective at meeting the growing demand for settlement services.

It found that newcomers are receiving the referrals and the services that meet their needs. However, it also found there was room for improvement. The study recommended that IRCC should further review and assess the effectiveness of its language training program. It is recommended that we develop and implement a plan to optimize the benefits of employer-related services and that we look at other ways to deliver language training. Not everyone learns best in a classroom. How can we, for example, incorporate language training at the workplace? This is something other countries have done well.

So the government recognizes that settlement services are vital to the success of newcomers and that is why we continue to invest record amounts of money each and every year to make sure that the more than 5,000 organizations across the country are delivering these essential services. The investment also includes, as part of Budget 2018, $760 million to support settlement needs of all newcomers outside of Quebec for this year and next year. This investment also includes $25 million for pre-arrival services.

And so as minister, not only is it my priority to improve the services we offer, but also to improve how they are offered. That is why it’s important for me and my parliamentary secretary to continue to consult with all service providers and we’ve visited 22 cities from coast to coast to coast. We’ve spoken to stakeholders, provincial territorial partners, employers, civil society organizations and so on and we’ve gotten a lot of ideas from them.

I also heard that we need more mental health support, for example, and programming for vulnerable youth and we’ve listened. That is why I’ve directed my department to use our new $32 million annual service delivery improvement fund, essentially an innovation fund to pilot projects in these innovative fields, and to continue to find better ways to deliver settlement services for all newcomers. Over the past year, I’ve also been working directly with a settlement service support community to assess what is working well and what changes might make things better.

In short, the government of Canada continues to engage, explore and ensure that we’re adapting our programs to the changing needs of newcomers and newcomers have a variety of needs. Newcomers are also diverse and so the programming has to be diverse. Going forward with close cooperation with our partners and stakeholders, as well as our ongoing work with provinces and territories, we can create a clearer picture of what newcomers need and determine how best collectively to meet those needs.

So ladies and gentlemen, to leverage our country’s immigration advantage, we must first ensure that we have the mechanisms in place to help us attract the best and the brightest to come to Canada. Through our multiyear levels plan, now we have the space I think to be able to grow the economic and family class parts of our immigration levels as well as our refugee quota. I think we’re very well placed to ensure that Canada can attract highly skilled workers who can continue to support our economic growth for many years to come, but we must match that with continued investments in our settlement program – because newcomers’ success will be key to our country’s future prosperity and inclusiveness.

The success of our immigration system will largely depend on ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of newcomers who are arriving to Canada each year, regardless of which immigration program they enter under, are welcomed, integrated and absorbed and embraced by the Canadian family and supported so that they can participate and contribute to various aspects of Canada life. The faster that a newcomer can be assisted to restart their life and succeed in Canada, the faster that they can contribute to our society.

So as identified in the Conference Board’s recent report, entitled “Canada 2040,” proactive work to describe the benefits of immigration nationally and especially locally is very important. By identifying solutions to improve the labor market integration of newcomers, by expanding Canada’s capacity to effectively absorb more immigrants and through efforts to maintain public support for Canada’s immigration system, Canada is well positioned for success. But we’re not resting on our laurels.

For example, there was a program introduced in Budget 2017, with IRCC as well as ESDC, called the Targeted Employment Strategy for Newcomers. This program is about making sure that professional newcomers can integrate and transition faster into the labour force. So what is that program about? One, it is expanding pre-arrival services so that, say if you’re an engineer from Ecuador, we know you’re coming to Ontario. We’ve already selected you. Why should we wait for you to come to Ontario to start getting your foreign credentials recognized and the licensing process underway?

So now, under the Targeted Employment Strategy, we will connect you in Ecuador with the engineering society in Ontario, so that you can start the process of licensing in Ecuador, so that you can hit the ground running when you come here.

Secondly, for those who are already here, sometimes it’s not the professional body that has created an obstacle and a lot of professional bodies have moved the needle in terms of creating a pathway for people to get their licensing. Sometimes the obstacles are different. They range from “I can’t afford to sit for the exam, because I don’t have money” or “I can’t afford to buy the books or pay for the application fees,” or “I can’t afford to quit the job that I’m doing so that I can study for that medical exam”. So what are we doing to fix that? Under Targeted Employment Strategy for Newcomers, we’re actually going to be giving loans to these professional newcomers, so that they can stop working and buy those books, pay for those application fees and be able to sit for those exams so that they can be the electrician, the doctor, the dentist, the nurse that we want them to be. Because when they succeed, we succeed and we need their services.

Once again, I’d like to thank the Conference Board of Canada for inviting me here today. I’m sure you will have many productive discussions that will help inform our country’s future directions for immigration policy.

Thank you.

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