Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at a News Conference to announce changes to the Parents and Grandparents Program
Surrey, British Columbia
August 20, 2018
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and the Squamish Nations. And I’d also like to thank my colleagues, of course, Sukh Dhaliwal, Ken Hardie, Dan Ruimy and Randeep Sarai for joining me this morning for this really important announcement.
As I’ve said many times, reuniting families is a key immigration priority for the Government of Canada.
Our government knows the importance of immigration and how immigration benefits Canada. We’ve made great strides in increasing economic immigration so that newcomers can come and contribute to Canada, contribute as entrepreneurs who help create jobs for Canadians, and help our economy grow from coast to coast to coast, including right here in British Columbia.
But today, I’m proud to be back in beautiful Surrey to discuss family reunification and how we’re delivering by reuniting more families. This is a key priority for our government, something that we promised to do and we’ve been working diligently every day to make sure that we do that.
And let me be really frank with you. I’ll reiterate something that my colleagues know very well that, frankly speaking from any objective standard, the immigration system that we inherited was a broken immigration system. There were very large backlogs in all streams of immigration. There were very long processing and wait times for all streams of immigration. It was not innovative, in terms of responding to the needs of communities and employers, when they asked to introduce new programs that meet the needs of Canadian employers, so that we can bring talent to Canada faster.
It was a system, as I said, that needed to be fixed. And as soon as we got into office, we started right away to turn that system around. And the first place we started with was on spousal reunification. Spouses were spending too much time apart under the previous government: 26 months or more as part of the application process. And there was 75,000 applications in the spousal program that were in backlog.
We’ve reduced that backlog to 15,000 and, simultaneously, we’ve brought the wait times in spousal sponsorship down, from 26 months or more to 12 months or less. We’ve also implemented a much faster and easier system for the application process so that when Canadians and permanent residents are trying to sponsor their spouses, they don’t have to fill more forms than they need to and the system has been streamlined.
The second thing we did is listen to communities when they said that the age of dependency was keeping families apart. It meant that if you had a 20-year old child, you couldn’t bring them to Canada. So we listened to Canadians under the leadership of these Members of Parliament and others who pushed and were the voice of their communities in Ottawa.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told us when we were running in 2015, he said
‘I want you to be the voice of your communities in Ottawa and not the voice of the government in your communities.’ And these folks delivered. And what we’ve done is we raised the age of dependency to 22, which means more families can be reunited.
We’ve also tackled the caregiver backlog. Sixty-two thousand caregivers were in a backlog when we took over. And it was taking between five to seven years to reunite with their families, even though they were providing a valuable service for Canadian families. So we’ve brought that backlog down to 12,000 and we have instituted a new processing time in the caregiver program of 12 months.
But today’s announcement on family reunification and the reason why we’re here today is on the parents and grandparents program. We recognize that parents and their children and their grandchildren just want one thing: they just simply want to be together and they don’t want to be kept apart. And the faster we can do that, the better. And the most spaces that we can do that in, the better.
So parents and grandparents, as we know, often care for children. They often they help their families, they increase parents’ ability to work, they increase their children’s ability to work or go to school and, therefore, make meaningful contributions to Canadian society. They also contribute to their families’ financial household, either by reducing child care costs or contributing financially to the household. So in other words, when these families are able to come and integrate into our Canadian society, Canada succeeds.
But it’s not just a program for newcomers. This is a program that also helps Canadian citizens, because Canadian citizens may also wish to sponsor their non-Canadian citizen parent or grandparent from abroad. So, in reuniting Canadian citizens and permanent residents with their parents and their grandparents, we not only help those families to succeed because, of course, emotionally and financially, they’ll be better off, we also help our entire country to succeed because reuniting them supports our economic prosperity. It further strengthens our communities.
When parents and grandparents and their children are together, they can integrate faster into Canadian society and our communities are stronger, and we have to contribute to that.
So the diversity that it brings, when Canadians from all walks of life sponsor their parents and grandparents, they come from all walks, they come from all corners of the world, which contributes to our diversity right here at home. And we know very, very surely that diversity is a strength for Canada. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau frequently says, and I agree with him and we all do, diversity is a strength. Canada is strong because of its diversity, because of the diverse nature of our communities, and not in spite of that diversity.
And while previously only 5,000 spaces were available in the parents and grandparents program, we promised to double that number as soon as we got into office and we kept that promise. We went from 5,000 spaces for parents and grandparents to 10,000. But there was more demand. So this year, we had more people who wanted to sponsor, who were qualified, and so we were able to find a little bit more space in our immigration system and increased that number to 17,000. So again, that means more families are able to be reunited.
But today, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to join my fellow colleagues, Members of Parliament, I’m proud to announce that in 2019, we will further increase the spaces for parents and grandparents and we will accept 20,000 applications under the parent and grandparent program. Increasing the parents and grandparents program to 20,000 applications is four times the number of applications accepted when the program reopened in 2014, when the cap was set at 5,000 applications.
This increase is largely possible because we were able to bring down dramatically the backlogs under this program. There were 167,000 parents and grandparents applications in a backlog. We were able to reduce that backlog, as of June this year, to 26,000 applications. We have reduced that backlog by 84%, ladies and gentlemen. That is a huge endeavour, and we will continue to reduce that backlog to zero and further increase those allocations.
And the final announcement that I’ll make today is we’ll, again, part of the reason we have succeeded in the immigration program, why we’ve been able to eliminate backlogs, and why we are able to speed up processing times in all the streams of immigration, is because of our engagement with communities. It’s because of Members Parliament like Randeep, Ken Hardie, Dan Ruimy and Sukh Dhaliwal, and listening to Canadians on cross-country tours, in immigration roundtables that we encourage every Member of Parliament to do.
And so in those roundtables, we heard very clearly from Canadians that the random selection process could be improved and they gave us ideas on how to do that. Now, the previous process was a very unfair process. If you were willing to spend way more money than the next person who was applying, you would have higher odds. If you lived closer to the processing centre, if your postal code was closer to the processing centre, you had higher odds than the next person. That was not a fair system. It didn’t treat everyone equally.
And so the random selection process, the so-called ‘lottery system’ that we implemented, yes, made the system fairer but, as we listened to communities, they said that we should further refine the program and make it even more accessible for individuals. So, after listening to stakeholders and examining the program, in 2019, we will no longer randomly select potential sponsors to submit applications. Instead, we will now invite them simply at the beginning of the year to get on a computer, to submit an interest to sponsor form online and we will simply accept people based on the order that they submit that form.
And so we will just accept everyone until we reach a cap of 20,000. And that is a fairer first-in system that treats everyone the same and doesn’t rely on agents or spending more money. We’re working, therefore, to make the necessary changes to our application system to adapt to this new fairer system. We will have more details, of course, on those improvement, in the fall, but friends, we’re very proud of our achievements and that is why we are here today. But there’s more work to be done.
In just a few years, we’ve been able to eliminate backlogs, we’ve been able to speed up processing times, we’ve been able to make substantial improvements in the parents and grandparents program, to reunite families faster. And now we’re accepting even more applications this year, 7,000 more applications this year and 10,000 more applications next year. And overall, as part of the timeline of our government, we are accepting four times the applications for parents and grandparents than we did before we got into office.
We understand the role that parents and grandparents play in our society and I’m very glad that we’re now able to reunite more families under this program, and I know that Canada will benefit from that.
I’m also confident that the details I’m announcing today will benefit not only newcomers, but all people in Canada.
Thank you very much.
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