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

At a news conference to announce measures to cut the backlog and wait times for family reunification
Mississauga, Ontario, November 4, 2011

As delivered

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us for an important announcement here at Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Mississauga. I’d like to thank especially our citizenship judges who are here in attendance and visitors as well. Today I have an important announcement to make.

This week, we tabled Canada’s immigration plan for 2012, proposing to maintain Canada’s historic high levels of immigration. This is because we need newcomers to build our country and to ensure our future prosperity. The challenge is for us to ensure that the newcomers who arrive in Canada succeed because, when they succeed, Canada succeeds.

I’m going to run through some of the challenges that we are facing, particularly with respect to a very important program to welcome parents and grandparents, and allow them to be reunited with their family members and loved ones here in Canada. Today I’ll also be making an announcement about the first phase of our Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification.

Ladies and gentlemen, Canada is a very desired destination. Last year, Ipsos did a global poll of OECD countries and estimated that some two billion people in those countries alone said they would like to move to Canada. And so that’s a good problem to have, I always say.

But there are far more people who would love to come to this great country than we can actually receive. And that’s why we have a managed immigration system with fair rules for everyone, to ensure that we can properly integrate and accept the people who come. We want to ensure that they will contribute, while at the same time discharging our humanitarian obligation for refugees who need our protection. And we must ensure that we give access to Canada for family members and loved ones, because we understand how important it is for Canadians, including new Canadians, to be able to live with their loved ones.

Now, over the course of the past five years, our government has been proud to maintain the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history. Since 2006, we have welcomed on average 254,000 permanent residents each year. That’s an increase of 14 percent over the previous average and, in fact last year, as you’ll recall, we admitted 280,000 permanent residents – the highest number in six decades.

So we’ve got this huge, almost infinite pool of people who would like to come and we are doing our best to accommodate them and grow our country through historic high levels. And we are also maintaining the highest per capita level of immigration in the developed world with I think, the sole exception of our friends in Australia.

Now, as I’ve said, family members are obviously an important part of our immigration program. That’s why, over the course of the past couple of decades, the vast majority of immigrants coming to Canada are actually the family members of the primary economic immigrants who are typically the head of the household or refugees who get protection in Canada.

On average, about two thirds of those coming to Canada are either the spouses or children of immigrants welcomed to the country; or spouses, children, parents and grandparents who they subsequently sponsor. In fact, only about 20 percent of the immigrants we admit are selected based on their experience and education – their human capital. So I think it’s very important in this debate to keep this in mind. I sometimes read these ridiculous articles and sometimes opposition politicians say Canada’s closing the door to family immigration. In fact, the opposite is true. We are maintaining the most generous family immigration program of any developed country in the world, bar none.

Part of that generosity extends, of course, to parents and grandparents. And, over the past many years, we have maintained a fairly consistent average intake of parents and grandparents who have been sponsored for reunification, representing about 6 percent of the total number of immigrants admitted to Canada.

Notwithstanding that, notwithstanding our historic high levels of immigration – the highest in the developed world – notwithstanding our generosity towards family reunification, we’ve ended up with some real challenges in the system: long backlogs and unacceptably long wait times.

This is why I indicated earlier this year that I was committed to introduce an Action plan for Faster Family Reunification; that we would increase the admission of the number of parents and grandparents in 2011 above the levels in 2010; and that we would consult with Canadians about how to make this program move much more quickly and much more sustainably. Because, the bottom line is, that the government wants to ensure that parents and grandparents can be reunited with their family members much more quickly.

Now, how has this problem developed? It really is very simple. When the number of applications exceeds the number of people admitted to Canada over time, we end up with long and growing backlogs. For example, over the course of the past several years, we have been receiving almost 40,000 applications per year for the parents and grandparents program. But, over the last two decades we have, on average, admitted 17,000 people in that program. So we’re getting twice as many applications as admissions.

Friends, the challenge we’re facing is a problem of math, it’s also a problem of the heart that families are divided, but the backlogs and wait times are a result of math. When the number of applications exceeds the number of people admitted in a particular program, we end up with a growing backlog and longer wait times.

In fact, in 2006 we inherited a backlog in the parents and grandparents program of nearly 110,000 applications pending a decision, with average wait times of about six years. Since then, we’ve just seen the number of applications continue to grow at about 40,000 a year beyond our ability to admit those people. Notwithstanding our historic high levels of immigration, because there are obvious practical limits to how many people we can admit, particularly those who are not coming through economic streams to contribute directly to the Canadian tax base. We need to change the math.

If we do nothing, the backlog will just continue to grow. So taking no action is not an option. The time has come to act. The time has come to take some necessary and responsible decisions to first stop the growth in the backlog, to begin reducing it so we can welcome moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas much more quickly. If we take no action, we will see, within the next few years, the wait times go over 10 years. And by the end of this decade, we will see the backlog reaching well over 300,000 parents and grandparents waiting for a decision. Again, that’s not acceptable.

If the problem is that applications have consistently exceeded the number of admissions in the program, then the solution is pretty simple. We need to ensure that the number of admissions from the program exceed the number of applications that we receive. So, what if we were to try to do that just by increasing the number of people admitted in the parents and grandparents program? Well, that would not be a solution.

Even if we were to double the number of admissions in this program, we would not eliminate the backlog. So increasing admissions alone is not a solution. On the other hand, if we were merely to reduce the number of applications in half, that wouldn’t be a solution either. That wouldn’t appreciably reduce the backlog. So the solution to the problem has to be both the reduction in applications and an increase in admissions. It’s very simple. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t telling the truth.

That is why today I’m announcing phase 1 of Canada’s Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, the goals of which are first of all to cut the backlog, to speed up processing times and to make it easier for parents to visit. These are our objectives: less of a backlog; faster processing times; and making it easier for parents to visit.

The Action Plan has four elements. First of all, we will be increasing the number of parents and grandparents admitted to Canada to 25,000 a year as our operational target. This is 60 percent higher than the number of parents and grandparents admitted last year, which was about 15,500. And it is substantially higher than our initial operational target last year of 13,500, it is much higher than our revised operational target of 15,500, and it is much higher than our long-term average in the program of 17,500.

This will be the highest number of parents and grandparents admitted in Canada in nearly two decades, and we expect to maintain these historic high levels of incoming parents and grandparents. In fact, we will be increasing the share of overall immigration allocated to the parents, grandparents program from about 6 percent to about 9 percent.

Secondly, we will be introducing our Parents and Grandparents Super Visa. This is exciting news for those who are waiting for their family members to be reunited here in Canada. Starting December 1st, parents and grandparents will be able to obtain 10-year multiple entry visas to Canada and they will be able to stay here for a period of up to two years under those visas.

This is the most generous visa provision for temporary resident visas ever in the Canadian immigration system. In order to qualify, parents and grandparents will have to undergo a medical examination when required, purchase private medical insurance to ensure that the taxpayers don’t have to carry the burden, and have some support from a child or grandchild in Canada who meets the minimum income threshold.

Many families say to me they don’t necessarily want mom or dad or the grandparents to immigrate permanently to Canada, they just want them to be able to come and stay for an extended period, help with childbirth and the kids when they’re young, but also be able to go back home where they’re well settled with other family and friends. The Parents and Grandparents Super Visa that we will be launching on December 1st will allow them to do just that. Even if they’ve been waiting for several years for a permanent residency application, they will be able to come to Canada for extended visits, so long as they meet the healthcare and other requirements.

The third part of the action plan will be widespread consultations. We will be consulting with immigrants, Canadians of all backgrounds, provinces, municipalities and other stakeholders on how to redesign the parents and grandparents program, so that it is sustainable in the long term. So that we avoid future backlogs from developing again. And so that the program is fiscally sustainable, so that we are admitting a number of grandparents and parents who we can afford to support in terms of our generous public healthcare system and other social benefits.

And so we will be consulting with Canadians in the next two years. But, as we redesign the program to make it sustainable, here’s the challenge we have: if we leave the program open for applications during that period of consultation and redesign, we know what will happen – we will get absolutely flooded with a huge increase in applications. Because people will say ‘if the criteria might change, we need to get our application in right away.’ And we’re very concerned about this possibility. This has happened before. Immigration consultants and lawyers will go to their clients and say ‘we’re going to send your application in right now.’ And then we’ll go from 40,000 applications to 50 or 60 or 70,000, and we’ll never be able to deal with the backlog.

That’s why it is absolutely essential that we bring in a temporary pause on incoming applications as part of our action plan. So beginning today, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will no longer be receiving new applications for the program. There will be a temporary pause of up to 24 months. Now, I understand that some people might be concerned about this. But I would point out to them that, if they send their application into our office here today, they’re simply getting in the back of a seven or eight-year long waiting time. They’re no further ahead.

And so we ask those people to be patient, to use the new Super Visa that we’re offering them, so mom and dad can come and visit the grandkids in Canada for an extended period. Allow us a little bit of time to start getting the backlog down and speed up the wait times. Then we’ll reopen the program, a redesigned program in two years time under new sustainable criteria, so that we don’t end up with 10-year wait times.

Friends, I’ll close with this. Our vision in phase 2 of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification will be to end up with a system that works, so that people will be able to get mom or dad or their grandparents permanent residency within a year or two, rather than 10 or 15 years, which is where we’re now headed. We have to make some difficult choices. And that’s what we’re doing. The bottom line will be faster family reunification in a way that is sustainable for our long term. We must ensure that immigration continues to serve newcomers and Canada’s interests.

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