ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At the Vancouver Board of Trade
Vancouver, British Columbia, July 19, 2011

check against delivery

Good afternoon. Thanks for coming. And thank you for giving me another reason to visit beautiful British Columbia.

Immigration has always been an important part of the Canadian story. It has been a sustaining feature of Canada’s history and continues to play an important role in building our country.

From Confederation to the global transformations of recent years, Canada has opened its doors and welcomed millions of hard-working people from all over the world. Their skills, entrepreneurial talents and culture have made our country the true north, strong and free.

I come before you today, slide show in hand, to do two things. First, I want to talk to you about immigration. Then, I want to make an announcement that is of some importance to you and your business.

As you may have read, this summer my department — Citizenship and Immigration Canada — is in the middle of consulting with Canadians on what we call as a kind of shorthand in the department, “levels” and “mix”. That is, how many people do we invite to immigrate to Canada, and who are they? We’re also looking for feedback on how we can better manage the system to make it more efficient.

I’m going to talk about some of the issues around levels and mix for the next few minutes. In doing so, I’m going to try to have the slides behind me tell a little bit of the story. Yes, the government is catching on. We are now using 1980’s technology to tell our story!

Levels since Confederation

Levels since Confederation

Canada’s immigration story is almost entirely a story of success. But, somewhat paradoxically, with success comes new problems. I’ll come to some of those problems as we go along this afternoon.

While the number of immigrants admitted into the country has fluctuated since 1867, immigration has always been part of Canada.

Governments increased levels at times to meet specific objectives, such as the needs of Canadian farms and factories in the early part of the 20th century. At other moments, levels were reduced in response to recessions or other global events.

By the early 1990s, a new consensus emerged in Canada around the importance of sustained levels of immigration for meeting Canada’s long-term economic needs.

In recent years, admissions have been fairly consistent

In recent years, admissions have been fairly consistent

I agree with this consensus.

Today, Canada maintains one of the highest per capita rates of permanent immigration in the world. We accept so many immigrants that one in five Canadians today was born outside Canada.

Since 2006, Canada has welcomed an average 254,000 immigrants every year. This is the highest long term average in our history. Las year, we welcomed the highest number of immigrants since 1957.

There is a reason why we need so many immigrants.

Composition of the Canadian labour force, 2010

Composition of the Canadian labour force, 2010

As you can see from this slide, most of our labour force continues to come from the Canadian-born population. However, immigration will play a more important role in the near future.

With an aging population, the number of retirements from the Canadian labour force is increasing. Very soon, the number of new entrants from Canadian schools and universities will equal — or fall short of — the number of retirees. That means that, if we want our labour force to continue to grow, it will have to come from immigration.

Immigration also has an impact on population growth. In 2009-2010, for example, the number of births exceeded the number of deaths in Canada by about 134,000. Net international migration added about another 255,000 individuals to the Canadian population, making immigration responsible for about two-thirds of population growth.

Distribution of Population by Age Group

Observed (1971 to 2010) and projected (2011 to 2036), Canada

Source: Statistics Canada, Estimates of population by age group (CANSIM Table 051-0001) for 1971 to 2010, and Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2009 to 2036, Cat. no. 91-520-X for 2011 to 2036 (medium-growth M1 scenario).

Text version: Observed (1971 to 2010) and projected (2011 to 2036), Canada

But while our population may continue to grow, what should concern us all is our shrinking manpower.

Today, about 70% of the population is of working age. In 25 years, only 60% will be of working age. That means 60% of the population will have to work to provide social services for the other 40%.

The percentage of people working would be even lower without immigration, but immigration isn’t going to change the fact that an increasing percentage of our population will be senior citizens.

Several studies have concluded that we would have to quadruple immigration levels from 250,000 to more than one million annually in order to maintain the age ratio in the Canadian population. But that’s not going to happen. It isn’t going to happen for two reasons.

First, the government has focused a great deal of its effort to ensuring that any immigrant we do welcome to Canada can integrate fully into society. Simply put: we do not have the resources or ability to integrate a million new immigrants every year.

We can’t teach them English or French. We can’t flood our taxpayer-funded services like health care and public education. We can’t put such high pressure on housing and real estate markets.

Second, Canadians do not want significantly higher levels of immigration. Recent polls show that nearly 80% of Canadians are opposed to significantly higher levels of immigration.

Even if we don’t increase the number of immigrants we admit, we still have to talk about the type of immigrants we welcome.

The levels mix

The levels mix

Roughly 26% of immigrants come to Canada as part of the family class — this includes spouses and partners, dependent children, parents and grandparents of people who are already in Canada.

About 14% of immigrants are refugees.

That means 40% of those immigrating to Canada do so for completely non-economic reasons.

The remaining 60% are what we consider economic immigrants, but that doesn’t tell us the full story.

Less than half of those who come in as economic immigrants are principal applicants — their spouses and dependents are also included in this category.

It is true that a sizeable portion of these spouses and dependents eventually join the labour market and become economic actors. However, this does not change the fact that, for every 10 immigrants we welcome into the country, only three are here because we have selected them on the basis of their necessary skills or arranged employment offer; because we wish for them to immediately contribute to our economy.

Let me be frank here. There are a lot of pressures on how to divide the immigration pie, on how to set the mix. As I travel around the country, I hear a lot of different voices asking me for a larger part of the mix.

The business community wants more economic immigrants. Families want to bring in more family members. And refugee advocates want us to accept more people on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

But if the size of the immigration pie is more or less fixed, changing the mix will mean tradeoffs. And I’m not talking here simply about tradeoffs between the different categories of immigrants. I’m talking also about tradeoffs within each of the categories.

Let me delve a little deeper into that by focusing for the next few minutes on the economic part of the mix.

Economic Class admissions, 1980-2010

Economic Class admissions, 1980-2010

One of the things I’ve heard as Minister — and certainly we’ve responded to — is calls to be more responsive to labour market needs. Our economic class is labour market focused, and we’ve made a number of changes to make it even more responsive to labour market needs.

The Provincial Nominee Program is one of the ways we’ve done this. The program recognizes that provinces and territories are well placed to recognize and react to labour market needs in their jurisdictions.

Traditionally, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and have attracted a disproportionate share of skilled immigrants coming to Canada. But, thanks in large part to the provincial nominee programs, 26% of economic immigrants accepted as permanent residents of Canada are now destined for provinces other than British Columbia, Ontario, or Quebec, compared to just 11% in 1997.The top three provinces for provincial nominees are Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

We recognize the importance of nominee programs in spreading out the benefits of immigration around the country. That’s why I’m pleased to announce today that we intend to welcome a record number of provincial nominees this year.

In 2011, we plan to admit about 40,000 immigrants in the provincial nominee category, five times more than the 8,000 welcomed in 2005. The previous high was 36,428 provincial nominees in 2010.

We also created the Canadian Experience Class in 2008, which is an avenue for temporary workers and foreign students already here to apply to stay in Canada and become permanent residents. People who have left Canada are also eligible.

The Canadian Experience Class helps make our immigration system more responsive to Canada’s labour market needs by attracting a diverse skills set among newcomers. It also helps support the economic integration of immigrants by selecting those who are most likely to succeed in Canada’s labour market; they have Canadian work experience and education, and are proficient in one of our official languages.

In 2010, there were 3900 admissions in this category, and we expect that number to increase as newcomers become more aware of this program.

TFWs present in Canada

Temporary Foreign Worker present in Canada

Our Temporary Foreign Worker program is another way we’ve made our immigration program more responsive to meet several labour market needs. It provides work permits to individuals with job offers on a short-term basis in both high-skilled and low-skilled occupations.

Over the past decade, there has been very strong growth in the number of TFW entries. Last year, close to 32,000 former temporary workers immigrated to Canada permanently — an increase of over 130% from 2005.

In addition to the Canadian Experience Class, these workers can also stay permanently through what is known as an Arranged Employment Offer with a Canadian employer under the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

This brings us to another interesting question to think about: how much of the fixed pie should be focused on relatively short-term labour market needs?

It goes back to a point I made earlier about how the success of our immigration program and the success of the immigrants who come to Canada are linked. Presumably, we want to attract people with the skills to adjust and succeed should the labour market change.

Entry earnings have been uneven for much of the past 15-20 years

Average Employment Entry Earnings (one year after arrival) for Skilled Principal Applicants (2008$) by tax year, 1995-2008
Average Employment Entry Earnings (one year after arrival) for Skilled Principal Applicants (2008$) by tax year, 1995-2008

We know this from experience. During the IT boom of the 90s, we invited a lot of immigrants to Canada who had information technology skills, but who were lost in the Canadian labour market once that bubble burst.

An ideal economic migrant program is designed to be responsive to labour market needs and to recruit immigrants that are flexible and adaptable to finding long-term success in Canada’s labour market, whose future none of us can predict.

We have tried to take a two-pronged approach to create such a program. First, I have issued ministerial instructions to put applicants with experience in a few identified occupations and those with job offers from Canadian employers in front of the immigration queue.

A recent evaluation of the Federal Skilled Worker Program confirmed that immigrants selected under this stream enjoy stronger economic outcomes than other economic immigrants.

2005 to 2011: PNP and FSW Admissions

2005 to 2011: Provincial Nominee Program and Federal Skilled Workers Admissions

Second, as I mentioned, we have made a conscious effort to allow the provinces who are more aware of local needs to play a bigger role in selecting our economic migrants. We understand the desire of provinces and territories to identify their own economic immigrants and that is why we have continued to increase nominee admissions each year.

So this is another one of the difficult questions in trying to get the mix right. Should we consider increasing the federal or provincial share of the pie? And should we be taking into account various outcomes, such as labour market success, in all economic categories, including provincial nominees, when we set levels?

Let me begin to wrap up here by talking about backlogs.

CIC has many years’ worth of admissions in the inventory

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has many years’ worth of  admissions in the inventory

Right now there are more than one million people awaiting a decision on their applications across all categories. You can see from this slide that we have enough applicants to meet our levels targets for several years in many categories.

We have enough parent and grandparent applicants for seven years, and this problem is getting worse. The federal business class, meanwhile, has enough applicants for six years. And we have enough live-in caregiver applicants for permanent residence for more than two years.

Lots of tax dollars are spent to manage the backlog. And as these backlogs grow, our service standards decline. So in 2008, I introduced new laws to help us manage the backlog.

We no longer have to process every single application that we receive and we can now focus our efforts on bringing in people with the skills that we need.

We have also capped the number of applications we accept. If we know we can only welcome 250,000 people, it makes no sense to take applications from half a million people.

By limiting new federal skilled worker applications, we’ve been able to stop the growth, and bring down the backlog of old applications.

Federal Skilled Worker backlog

Federal Skilled Worker backlog

In just three years, in fact, we’ve been able to get more than 300,000 people out of the lineup — that’s close to half the number of applicants who were awaiting a decision in 2008.

The question is — should we expand the instructions?

So far we have used them only in the economic class. But the backlog for parents and grandparents in the family class is large and growing larger. Do we leverage the success we’ve had to date and think about using instructions in the family class?

There’s a lot more I could talk about — and a lot more I could show you.

As I said off the top of this presentation, in some respects the issues we are dealing with here are mostly, paradoxically, problems of success.

People want to come to Canada because we are a model for the world. We can’t, however, take all who want to come. There is a limit.

That limit is set, in part, by our capacity to help newcomers integrate and provide the services they need to succeed. We must also be very careful not to jeopardize the generally very positive and welcoming attitude towards immigration and immigrants that Canada enjoys.

Within that limit, how do we determine who we accept, and how do we best ensure that those who come will succeed? Their success is a large part of the reason why our immigration program is so successful.

These are important issues, and I would encourage you — if you are interested — to provide us with your thoughts on Canada’s immigration program… how we make it and the immigration experience even more successful.

Thank you.


Subscribe to news

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: