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

At an Association of Canadian Community Colleges workshop for partners in the Canadian Immigration Program (CIIP)

Ottawa, Ontario
February 12, 2013

As delivered

We know that Canada has always been a country of opportunity, one that welcomes newcomers. In the last few years, we have welcomed an average of 260,000 new permanent residents each year, and we have the highest level of immigration per capita in the developed world.

We’ve been maintaining, for the past several years, the highest sustained level of immigration in absolute terms in our history, at over a quarter of a million new permanent residents a year. We are adding the equivalent of just under 0.8 per cent to our population each year, the highest per capita levels of immigration in the world.

We’re doing that for a reason. We’re doing it not just because we have a tradition of openness, but because we need the talents and the hard work, the drive and initiative, the entrepreneurial spirit of newcomers to ensure our future prosperity. We need it especially in the context of an aging population and shrinking workforce.

We need it because one of the most significant challenges facing the Canadian economy today and in the future is that of labour and skill shortages. That is why we as a government – even during some difficult times in the economy and the labour market, and even when many other developed countries were cutting immigration levels – have maintained our openness to record high levels of immigration.

But it’s not good enough just to welcome newcomers. It’s not good enough just to have a general attitude of openness. When too many of those newcomers struggle when they get to Canada and end up feeling disappointed – and sometimes even become depressed – about the lack of ability to work in their trained and chosen profession.

It is unacceptable that we receive so many immigrants who find themselves unemployed or under-employed — professionals with good educations in their country of origin who face incredible challenges integrating economically into Canada.

That’s why we all must do more to ensure the quick economic integration and success of newcomers to Canada. It makes no sense that the rate of unemployment amongst newcomers to Canada is twice as high as the general population. It is unacceptable that the unemployment rate for immigrants with university degrees, recent immigrants, is four times higher than the unemployment rate for people born in Canada with university degrees.

It is, I think, immoral that we have highly trained foreign professionals stuck at the bottom of our labour market, feeling frustration, and that their skills and potential are being wasted, especially given that there are huge labour shortages in our economy. This makes no sense.

That’s one of the reasons we’re undertaking fundamental reforms to have a fast, flexible and smarter immigration system, to ensure that we select people in the future who have the skills that can be put to work upon arrival, fully realizing their potential and contributing to the Canadian economy.

It’s also why we have made considerable investments to support the integration of newcomers and the pre-integration of economic immigrants selected prior to their arrival in Canada. That is the point of today’s announcement.

This is also why we’ve also made important investments in the integration of newcomers since 2006, tripling the federal investment in settlement services delivered by many of the groups and people represented in this room – practical things like English and French language proficiency, job search skills, and mentorship programs.

One of the brilliant programs that Calgary Catholic Immigration Service introduced to me was helping petrochemical engineers and geologists train from overseas to get internships and mentorships with oil and gas companies, going from being stuck at the bottom of the labour market making a minimum-wage income to suddenly with those connections, with very modest investments on our part, ending up with six-figure incomes a couple of years after their arrival in Canada.

Those programs are important, but it’s also hugely important that we give newcomers that we have selected as immigrants a head start. That’s what the Canadian Immigration Integration Project is all about. I wish we had chosen a different name. It’s a bit of a tongue twister. You can clearly see a marketing expert didn’t come up with the title. It must have been a government idea

What matters is the substance of the program, and not its title.

There are people walking off a plane as we speak at Pearson Airport, at the Montréal and Vancouver airports, and they are full of uncertainty. They don’t know what’s going to happen during their first few days in Canada, their first months in Canada. They don’t have arranged employment. It’s possible they haven’t even arranged for housing.

People are stepping off the plane, walking up right now as we speak in our major airports to the immigration desk to get stamped in as permanent residents. Many of them aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen next. They’re going to be lost in a bit of a fog as they try to find that first home or apartment, get their kids enrolled in school and most importantly find the job, the economic opportunity that caused them to leave behind everything that was familiar, their friends and their families, in order to move to this cold, strange new land.

We have to do everything we reasonably can so that when they walk off that plane, instead of being filled with trepidation and anxiety, they’re filled with hope and confidence, with a spring in their step, because at least they know how they will be able to plan and execute their first few weeks and months in Canada.

At best, what we would hope for is that when they step off that plane, they either have work already arranged or a good head start towards employment, that they will already understand the process for applying for and obtaining licensure should they wish to work in a regulated profession, that they will have a road map for their initial integration in Canada.

This was a huge gap in our whole process of settlement and integration prior to the creation of the CIIP. Now, for five years, we have been offering this important program to our major source countries for immigration, our top three countries – China, Philippines and India. As well, we have expanded the CIIP to selected economic immigrants from the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, parts of Europe and the Gulf States, through our London Office, so that now I believe some 85 per cent of selected economic immigrants have access to CIIP pre-orientation counseling.

I know that it has been effective. The Association of Canadian Community Colleges has done the surveys: 91 per cent of the graduates of the program have found it to be useful; 99 per cent agreed that it improved their understanding of how to find suitable work in Canada. I know we’re doing more serious research on the outcomes, but certainly the anecdotal evidence is very positive.

I recently went to Delhi twice, to Manila, Beijing and even London, and I met with immigrants who were selected for Canada and who have graduated from the program. They said it helped them tremendously to prepare for their arrival.

That’s given them so much more confidence, the people I’ve met who graduated in this program in Beijing, Manila, Delhi and London.

I’ve met people who have jobs lined up in Canada before they’ve gotten here, thanks to the connections that were made through the CIIP. In the new world, the Internet world, it’s a lot easier to connect from around the world, but there’s so much information out there and a lot of it is not reliable. Having a reliable counselor point people in the right direction to verify which are the credible organizations and the real jobs, helps avoids misinformation, or even scams.

These are important pointers to give people confidence as they arrive here. That’s why we’ve invested over $15-million in this program since 2010. I’m pleased to announce today that we have just received our 20,000th graduate in this pre-orientation program: Ms. Patricia Soyao, a 28 year old nurse from Philippines. Patricia, there she goes. She’s got her maple leaf mittens on. It’s too bad we can’t introduce her here personally, but she will arrive and begin her Canadian life in Vancouver in April.

I should say to our friends Yuebin Ding and Weizhi Huang – by the way, these are other graduates of the program who arrived in Canada here in Ottawa in November and are having a good start to their Canadian lives – we welcome you to Canada and wish you a very happy celebration of Lunar New Year. I have to say, though, that Patricia was a lot smarter. She planned to arrive in April in Vancouver rather than November in Ottawa. I guess they didn’t tell you about the weather in the CIIP program, or you’re very hearty people. In any event, we welcome you to our Canadian family.

By the way, in addition to this, we have huge, much more robust online tools available through the FCRO, my Ministry, the Working in Canada portal through which 2-million people from around the world have received advice on getting their lives started in Canada or information on how to find employment here.

Of course, as part of our immigration reforms, when we reopen the skilled worker program for new applications this spring, we will be requiring a third-party assessment of education, to make sure that the immigrants who we select have a reasonably good chance of having their degrees and diplomas recognized by Canadian employers, and in due course, working with the professional licensing bodies, we hope by 2015 to also have a form of pre-evaluation of credentials for professionals hoping to work in licensed professions.

To Yuebin and to Weizhi: Congratulations on having chosen Canada. We wish you great fortune and good success in our country. To Patricia, in absentia, and to all of those who have participated in this program and made it a great success, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, thank you.

Thank you very much.

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