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

At a news conference to announce that the immigration backlog been reduced by about 40%, paving the way for a faster and more effective immigration system in 2013 and beyond

Mississauga, Ontario
March 26, 2013

As delivered

Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming to what I think is a very exciting announcement. I’m Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I have an exciting announcement today about enormous progress that we have made in reducing immigration backlogs in getting toward our goal of a fast, flexible, and fair immigration system.

One of the great privileges that we enjoy in Canada is that people from all around the world want to move here and join us as Canadians. In fact, a couple of years ago Ipsos did a global poll of developed countries for the Historica-Dominion Institute and estimated that some two billion people would like to migrate to Canada. Well, as open and generous as we are, of course, we can’t accommodate two billion people.

That’s why we have a managed, planned, limited immigration program. Every year, I table before Parliament an annual immigration plan estimating how many newcomers we will receive as permanent residents. Now, typically, our range for immigrants in our annual immigration plan is between 240,000 and 265,000 permanent residents, and usually our operational target is around a quarter of a million.

But the problem is that in our old immigration system, before we began our Action Plan for Faster Immigration, there was a legal obligation on the Government to process all of the applications that we received, with no limits. In a world with almost infinite desire to immigrate to Canada, you might well imagine that every single year we received more applications than there were positions available for immigration to Canada in our levels plan.

You see the endless infinite billions of prospective immigrants. You see the number of immigrants that we choose as a country to select through our annual immigration plan, which is, I should add, a very high number. In fact, since 2006, we have been admitting, on average, 256,000 permanent residents per year. That is the highest sustained level of immigration in absolute terms in Canada’s history, and it is the highest per-capita level in the developed world.

In many years, we were receiving about 450,000 applications, about 200,000 more than there were positions to admit people. So we would then process applications towards our target. A certain number would be accepted, a quarter of a million on average. A certain number would be rejected as being not qualified. But every year, year after year, we had a surplus of immigration applications over our capacity to admit people based on our immigration plan. That’s what led to the backlogs.

What does this mean? One way of looking at this is to imagine that Immigration Canada is like an airline. Let’s call it Air Immigration. On the airplane, we have a quarter of a million seats. In our whole inventory, on an annual basis, we have a quarter of a million seats to bring foreign nationals to Canada. That’s 250,000 seats, but every year we were selling something like 450,000 tickets, meaning that there were a couple of hundred thousand people who had bought their ticket but couldn’t find space on the plane.

We would do that one year followed by another year, overselling the plane, and the crowd in the waiting lounge of people who had bought tickets got bigger. Then we did it a year after that, and the crowd got even bigger. This is how through, frankly, neglect, and you might even say incompetence by politicians who were unwilling to impose sensible limits on the number of new applications, we ended up with a massive backlog, in fact a backlog of over a million newcomers.

Let’s see how this worked over time. As I said, under our current Government, we’ve been targeting a little over a quarter of a million new permanent residents a year. That’s a little higher than under the previous Government. They admitted about 222,000 permanent residents per year.

Let’s say that’s the target. That’s the effective limit, is the quarter of a million a year. Year after year, we were receiving far more applications than that. Some years, more than 600,000 applications, many years about half a million applications, when there were only half as many positions available. That excess of applications over time led us to a backlog of a million applicants for permanent residency, waiting typically for seven to eight years for us to even look at their application. 

That wasn’t working for them. It wasn’t working for Canada. Now, some people including my colleagues in the opposition parties, suggest that this problem could be easily solved just by increasing immigration levels – they say, for example, to 1% of the population, or 340,000 permanent residents per year. Let’s take a look at that.

First of all, here is the actual backlog. It peaked out at a million for several years, and now, as you can see, it’s on a steep decline. If we had not taken action as a Government, starting in 2009 with our Action Plan for Faster Immigration, if we had just continued to allow unlimited numbers of applications into our system, today we would be on track for a total backlog of over 2.2 million people waiting for 12 years and more in many programs by 2015. 

Let’s take the advice of some of my friends in the Opposition and let’s address this by raising immigration levels from 250,000 a year to, let’s say, 340,000 a year, which is what they propose. What impact would that have? Whoops. It turns out that even if you increase substantially the number of permanent residents admitted – it would be the equivalent of 1 % of our population, up from 0.75% of our population – the backlog would continue to grow.

Increasing the immigration targets, increasing the number of people admitted, would not have been a solution to the large and growing backlogs and wait times. In fact, they would have continued to deteriorate without our Government bringing in the Action Plan for Faster Immigration and controls on new applications. Here is the good news I’m here to report today. 

As the result of the strong measures that our Government has taken since 2009, we have seen a very steep decline in Canada’s immigration backlog, helping us to move towards a just-in-time fast and flexible system where we will be able to admit applicants for immigration less than a year after their application. We’ve reduced the backlog in the economic categories of immigration from 688,000 since 2011 to only 326,000 now. We reduced the backlog in the family categories from 238,000 to just over 200,000. And that means that the total backlog has been reduced by 40 % from over a million people waiting to just over 600,000. 

I’m pleased to report to you today the progress that we have made has been dramatic. Now, let me just walk through this backlog. When we first came to office, the current Government inherited a backlog of 840,000 people. It did move up. Now, had we taken no action, as I mentioned before, had we not begun to limit, cap or place pauses on the intake of new applications, today, right now, we estimate that we would have a backlog of 1.7 million on track for 2.2 million applications.

Instead, with the introduction of higher, increasing immigration levels a little bit, beginning to reduce and cap the number of new applications, we managed to freeze the backlog at about a million for the past few years, the past three or four years. Then we took more decisive action. A year ago, in the Economic Action Plan, Minister Flaherty announced that we would be taking decisive action by returning about two-thirds of the old applications in the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

That, together with other measures, such as the freeze on new applications for the investor immigrant program, the limits for new applications in the privately sponsored refugee program, the two-year temporary pause on applications from the parents and grandparents program, and other measures, has seen a 40 % dramatic reduction in the past year alone, and, based on the current trajectory, we are on track, by the end of 2015, to be at a backlog of about 436,000, a 60 % reduction from where we began.

There you see the Action Plan for Faster Immigration. That’s where I came before some of you here in the summer of 2009, and as a new Minister, and announced the first installment, which was a 20,000 person cap on new applications for the Federal Skilled Worker Program. Here you can see this expressed by program, again going from a backlog of a million to 600,000 today, on track for 400,000.

Let’s look at each individual program and the progress that we’ve made. Here you see the Federal Skilled Worker Program, where we have seen the most dramatic decline, from 620,000 to 91,000. Now, in 2008, when I became Minister, 625,000 people waited in that program for five or more years. Again, had no action been taken, in this program alone we would today have over a million people waiting for 11 years, and we would be on track for a 15-year wait time for new applications in the skilled worker program, 1.6 million people had no action been taken.

Quite frankly, my friends in the opposition parties recommended that no action be taken. This is where we would have ended up had politicians continued to be irresponsible, had they done what was politically easy than what was in the country’s best interest. You see here, that’s where we introduced the Action Plan for Faster Immigration, and now we’re at under 100,000 in the Federal Skilled Worker Program, with one-year wait times, thanks, in part, to the legislated backlog reduction.

We are on track to have a fast working inventory, meaning that in the skilled worker program, we’ll be processing new applications in a matter of months rather than over a decade. Let’s now look at the parents and grandparents program. First of all, I came before you in August of 2011, after the last election, where we had promised to speed up processing for permanent residency sponsorship of parents and grandparents of Canadians.

When I did so, we were looking at a backlog of 167,000 parents and grandparents, with an eight-year wait time, which is totally, completely unacceptable. Had we not taken any measures, we would be on track to a backlog of a quarter of a million parents and grandparents waiting for 15 years for us even to look at their application, totally unacceptable. Instead, I came before you again in the summer of 2011 and announced the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, which involved four elements.

Firstly, the two-year temporary pause in new applications; secondly, a 60 % increase in the number of parents admitted to Canada each year, going up to 25,000 admissions in 2012 and 2013; thirdly, the introduction of the new Super Visa, the 10-year multiple-entry visa for parents and grandparents; and fourthly, consultations with Canadians on how to restructure the parents permanent residency sponsorship program so that in the future it was fast and sustainable.

I can now report to you that as a result of the initial work we have done on the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, we have seen a dramatic reduction in that backlog, going from 167,000 to 125,000 today, going from an eight-year wait time to a five-year wait time. We will reopen that program for a limited number of new applications, based on the new criteria, in January of 2014. I stress a limited number of new applications to avoid an explosion of the backlog again.

Based on our projections, we anticipate that within a couple of years we’ll be down to a backlog of just over 50,000 with a two-year wait time. Compare where we would be headed without decisive action, a 15-year wait time as opposed to the two-year wait time that we’re headed toward thanks to responsible decisions.

Let’s now look at the business class programs, including the investor immigrant and entrepreneur programs. Again, when we began taking these measures, we were sitting on a backlog of all of those programs combined of well over 100,000 people, and a nine-year wait time for new applicants as investor immigrants and entrepreneurs. In 2010, as you know, I placed a limit, and now a moratorium, on applications in that program, as a result of which it stopped growing. Now, again, had we taken no action, we would be on track for a quarter of a million business-class immigrant applicants waiting for two decades for a decision.

Instead, we are now seeing a reduction, and we are on track to see substantial reductions in the backlog of that program. So I get asked all the time, Minister, when are you going to reopen the investor immigrant program for new applications? Why are you blocking investor immigrants from coming to Canada? Well, first of all, we’re not. We admit several thousand every year. Those several thousand are sitting in the backlog. It would make no sense at all for me to increase substantially the number of new applications in that program only to add to the backlogs and the wait times.

Finally, let’s look at another very popular immigration program, the Live-in Caregiver Program.  Again, here this is one program where we have not made progress, where we do have a problem with which we will have to deal. Because of a surge of new applications in that program a few years ago, we’re now sitting on a 45,000-person backlog with a five-year wait time for live-in caregivers, which is unacceptable. We have to fix this.

If we do nothing, we’ll be on track for a 50,000-person backlog. The only reason that growth has declined a bit is just because we’ve had fewer applications at the front end of the caregiver program.

Let’s look at a couple of other immigration programs. Humanitarian and compassionate: again, we had big backlogs here. It was taking us, at one point, two years to process those. We brought in some new rules, including around the asylum system.

Had we not taken those measures, we’d be on track again for continued growth in that backlog. Instead, with the introduction of the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act and our new asylum system, we are seeing a dramatic decline in applications for humanitarian and compassionate status. That’s a good thing because these people, the bona fide applicants, should be getting status in a short amount of time, and we will be there very soon.

Finally, pre-removal risk assessments. These are applications made by foreign nationals facing deportation from Canada. We have a legal tool in place just to make sure that they will not face risk to their lives or to their safety if returned to their country of origin. Sometimes this has been accessible to failed asylum claimants, but it is generally now accessible to people who have not made asylum claims.

Again, we had a big backlog there. We were on track to see it doubled. Instead, as a result of the reforms we made to the asylum system, the backlog is just about disappearing, and we’ll be processing those applications in a couple of months. So this is all very good news. Again, what I want to report to you is that we have seen a 40% reduction in the overall immigration backlog.

I’ve given you a lot of numbers and statistics, but I want you to understand that behind every one of those numbers lies a human life, someone who has the hope and expectation of coming to Canada. We were doing wrong by them and wrong for Canada by making people wait for eight or nine years. It would be even more wrong to force them to wait for 15 or 18 years, which is where we were headed in many of our immigration programs. 

I cannot go back and undo the mistakes of immigration policy that were made in the past, but I can try to get it right in the future. That’s why we have taken decisive measures, and the news for you today is that those measures are starting to bear real fruit. We’re beginning to see real progress and we are on track to realize our vision of a fast and flexible system that will do a much better job of connecting immigrants, particularly economic immigrants, with the jobs that are available in our economy.

The number one issue that was raised by Minister Flaherty in last week’s Economic Action Plan was this paradox of Canadians without jobs in an economy that has jobs without Canadians. That is to say, unemployed or underemployed Canadians right alongside labour and skills shortages. We need to fix that. We see the immigration system as a key tool in doing so but we will only be able to if it’s a fast, nimble, flexible, labour market-linked system. I’m pleased to tell you that we’re getting there.

For more information, please see the following: Immigration backlog reduced by forty percent (PDF, 2.71 MB)


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