Government: A Commitment to Canada

The Honourable Jason Kenney evaluates the last year of immigration with us and offers a glimpse of what is coming.

By Dale Sproule

When addressing the topic of asylum system reforms, Jason Kenney begins with the assertion that prior to achieving a broad consensus to go ahead with the balanced reforms that will come into effect in 2011, “politicians were unwilling to touch such a sensitive issue.” Probably nothing defines Kenney’s tenure as Canadian Minister of Citizenship Immigration and Multiculturalism (CIC) better than this very blend of pragmatism, fearlessness and decisiveness. He is dedicated to fixing what is broken and getting measurable results.

With the refugee system, he points out that, “Qualified asylum seekers now have to wait 22 months before they get a hearing and decision and certainty of their status in Canada.” After the new reforms are in place in 2011, the same process would take only three months. On the flip side, he explains that bogus asylum claimants will be through our legal system and removed within a year of making their claim.

That process of identifying problems and making the necessary changes, was first witnessed with CIC’s Action Plan for Faster Immigration. Kenney claims that this has reduced wait times with the skilled worker program from about six years to about ten months average. “Similarly,” he explains, “we’re implementing the global case management system which will finally bring CIC into the 21st century – harnessing the power of information technology that will increase our efficiency, bringing faster decisions on both temporary and permanent resident visa applications and much better information to our clients so they’ll know what stage their application is at in the process. It will also help us identify and target problematic applications.”

“When we came to office the backlog on the federal skilled worker program was 680,000 cases. It’s now 340,000. What matters for most people is if they applied to come to Canada through the skilled worker program in 2006 they would have had to wait about six years to get an answer back from CIC. Now? If they qualify under the skilled worker program and they apply, they’ll get an answer, typically in about eight or nine months time.

“Australia and New Zealand were providing six month turnaround for immigrant applications while we were offering six years. Instead of looking to Canada, the best and the brightest were going straight to our competitor nations. Now we’re in the game, competing for many of those best and brightest.

Once you are here

“The principal budget for settlement services is about 600 million a year,” said Kenney. “When we came to office it was about 180 million. We’ve more than tripled our investment in settlement services but we’ve made other huge investments as well. Just as an example… we cut the Right of Landing fee in half when we came to office in 2006, we estimate that saved newcomers cumulatively more than 400 million dollars. It’s revenue that would have been coming to the federal government and instead it’s staying in the pockets of new Canadian families making it easier for them to get settled when they arrive. We’ve also invested 109 million dollars in new money to implement our action plan for faster immigration which has come to result in much faster processing times, locations as well, and this year’s record high intake of economic immigrants.

“We continue to move forward on ensuring better outcomes for newcomers once they’ve arrived, through our modernization of settlement services across the country. We want to see more newcomers improving their language skills and getting better jobs faster. And we continue to work to ensure that the selection of newcomers is aligned to our economic needs and that’s reflected in the ministerial instructions for occupational categories under the action plan for faster immigration, as well as the expansion of the provincial nominee programs. This very successful program has us working with the provinces and employers. The data indicates that economic immigrants who’ve arrived through the provincial nominee program are getting better economic results earlier on… most of these people are coming through pre-arranged employment.”

Why is getting measurable results so important? That question goes to the heart of the philosophy Kenney describes with his assertion, “We cannot take for granted public support for immigration in Canada. We need to constantly demonstrate that immigration is an economic benefit.”

“The way to do that,” Kenney assures us, “is to attract young bright immigrants who are going to succeed economically.” And this government is not afraid to put its money where its mouth is.

New projects

“One thing that’s coming out of our modernization is the Business Express Service that we have piloted in India. We have been working very successfully with major employers who send a lot of workers to Canada on business trips… when they vouch for someone, those applicants are getting pretty much 100 percent approval on their visa and work applications and about 24 hour turnaround.

“We used to have a lot of complaints about slow service for frequent business travelers – those complaints have fortunately disappeared out of India. Because of some operational efficiencies in our department and the hard work of some officials we’re just seeing a lot more visas processed. We’ve doubled the number of visitor visas issued to internationals over the past ten years and we see a huge increase in the number of foreign students from India – tripling over the last few years – so there should be some recognition that we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Becoming Canadian

The minister winds up by explaining the strong emphasis this government is putting on citizenship. “What we are trying to do is give greater meaning and value to Canadian Citizenship.

We want people to understand that it’s not just a legal status that gets them a passport, that it’s not political insurance. It requires them to have a basic knowledge of Canada – its values, symbols and institutions… a basic knowledge of one of our two official languages, and a strong and abiding commitment to the country.”

For that same reason, the ministry has dealt with the phenomena of non-resident Canadian citizens passing their citizenship onto their great-great grandchildren. They’ve now limited that practice to one generation to ensure that families have some kind of ongoing obligations and commitments to Canada – so they can’t practice non-resident citizenship forever.

“We brought in a new citizenship test. We have a new guide, Discover Canada – which has been extremely well received. And we’re also looking at standardized literacy and language testing for citizenship applicants.” Following a dramatic pause, Kenney puts it all in context. “So all these things send a message that yes, we are an open and welcoming country, and if you want to stay here and make Canada your new home, you’re welcome to apply, but we expect you to really make a commitment to the country in the long run.”

cnm