Frnds... PLZ GO THRU THIS.....
Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and MulticulturalismThe government's vision for an immigration program focused on job creation, economic growth, and prosperity;
April 4, 2012
Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
We're here today to talk about an important subject. As you know, at his major speech in Switzerland on transformative changes for Canada's economy earlier this year, Prime Minister Harper emphasized the importance of transformational change to our immigration system. And this is one of the central themes of the Economic Action Plan, the budget tabled in Parliament last week by my colleague, the Honourable Jim Flaherty.
Canada's story is one of immigration. Ours is a country of openness whose prosperity has always been fuelled by the hard work of newcomers from, generation after generation. And I always celebrate the fact that ours is one of, perhaps the only major western democracy, that really has a broad and deep public and political consensus in favour of immigration. And we have a very positive myth about immigration to our country. We can think about 100 years ago when the government put up posters around the world advertising Canada as the last best west when we had millions of people settling virgin territory out west.
We had the Chinese workers who came in to literally link the country together through the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the 1880's, when we had the first South Asian, largely Sikh immigrants, coming to the west coast and being the pioneers in our lumber and fishery industries. And we think of Quebec and the French settlers who founded New France in the 17th century.
We are talking about people who were willing to leave behind what was familiar in order to reach out across the world to take a huge chance on an uncertain future. And together they built this amazing, prosperous and free country. And today, as we sit here, not very far from us at Lester Pearson Airport, dozens of new Canadians will arrive.
They'll get off that long transoceanic flight, they'll go up to the Border Services desk, they'll present their permanent residency visa that's been issued by my officials and a CBSA officer will put a stamp on that paper welcoming them to Canada as new members of this amazing community.
And they will then set out to begin their Canadian stories. Filled with dreams, with a sense of hope and optimism, with a belief that if they work hard, they'll be able to do better for themselves, their families and especially their children. They'll be coming from all around, over 180 countries of origin. And I'm here today as Canada's Minister of Immigration to tell you that we must do everything we can to ensure that they do realize their dreams, that we maintain the promise that if they work hard, they will succeed and to the fullness of their potential.
We must ensure that they can contribute significantly to Canada's prosperity. And that they don't find themselves stuck in survival jobs, bewildered and disappointed, uncertain as to why they are unable to work in their profession or trade and just feeling a sense of shame, of uncertainty that they're not realizing their potential, but just bearing through it and gritting their teeth to provide that opportunity for their kids.
That too often and for too long, has been regrettably the immigrant experience in Canada. We see it in this room, people who have succeeded fabulously. We all know the stories of people who arrived here with nothing. I know some of the folks in this room very well who arrived here, the classic story, with virtually nothing in their pockets, virtually nothing but a work ethic and who are now massively successful entrepreneurs and multimillionaires who have created hundreds and thousands of jobs. We all know that that is possible and that continues to be the dream that draws people to this country.
But at the same time, we also all know that person who's stuck in the survival job, the foreign trained professional, the medical doctor and the engineers whose working the graveyard shift at a convenience, who is making minimum wage as a security guard, and you know the joke and it's not funny, is that the safest place in Toronto to have a heart attack is a taxi cab since the chances are that your driver is a cardiac surgeon. That is typical Canadian humour, by the way. I don't think people outside this country would understand it, but you all do.
And I'm here today to tell you that in our budget last week, we are signalling a program of transformational reform of Canada's economic immigration programs to ensure that the future for the people stepping off the plane today at Pearson, ends up like the future of so many of you in this room..... people who have realized Canada's opportunity rather than a future of disappointment, of barriers, of hurdles, of underemployment and indeed of unemployment.
Now let me tell you some of the bad news, and then the good news. The bad news is that, for the better part of three decades, we have seen the economic outcomes for immigrants on the decline. Higher levels of unemployment compared to the general population and lower levels of income. In fact today, the unemployment rate amongst native born Canadians is about 7 per cent, but amongst immigrants to Canada, it's 14 per cent. The unemployment rate for Canadians with university degrees is about 5 per cent, but amongst foreign born Canadians with university degrees, it's about 15 per cetn –three times higher.
That's just not good enough. And in fact, all of the think tanks who have looked at the data say newcomers to Canada have not been in a net cost position in terms of fiscal transfers, benefits received versus taxes paid. Far, far too many of the new people that we invite to this country find themselves unemployed and underemployed. Now, there's a paradox that makes that even more peculiar. We have in our economy right now large and growing labour shortages in many regions and industries.
Now I think some people in this region, in Toronto, might think I'm just talking about people working in the energy industry in Northern Alberta or something. No. There are labour shortages in industries in every part of Canada. Some of you have businesses here in Toronto and you know what I'm talking about. There are businesses even here that have a hard time finding people to fill positions across the entire skills spectrum. It's true that this problem is particularly acute in Western Canada but it's true even in regions with historically high unemployment, in parts of Atlantic Canada – large and growing labour shortages.
Whether it's, in Labrador or in Nova Scotia, where they have these new shipbuilding contracts that they're preparing or even in parts of Quebec there are unemployed people and yet labour shortages exist. And so what a paradox it is, that some of the people landing at Pearson today as new permanent residents may end up amongst those 14 per cent of immigrants who are unemployed or amongst the considerable number who are underemployed, employed under their skill level, while at the same time there are business owners who are desperate for skilled people to fill the work.
How does this make any sense? It doesn't. And so it's it's solving that paradox which is really the overarching goal of our transformational agenda for immigration reform. It's to invite to Canada the people who can fill those labour shortages. It's to connect the immigrants with the jobs of today and the future. It's to ensure that the person who lands at Pearson in the future, steps off that plane not with a sense of foreboding uncertainty, but with a spring in their step, with a sense of optimism and confidence because they know where their job is.
They have already got the job lined up and they know that it's something that corresponds to their skill level. They'll know that they'll be able to realize their potential. They know they won't have to go through this period of the survival job period, scrambling to find a job while feeding their families. They know that in the future they've got a better than even chance of getting their credentials recognized by a Canadian licensing body. They'll know they have a fair chance and that's what they want, that's what we owe them. So that is the vision. It's to ensure that newcomers who arrive here with their skills, their talent and their work ethic can put those to work as soon as possible after arriving in Canada. Because we owe it to them and we need them in those jobs.
Now, how are we going to do that? Well first of all, let me talk about what have we done. As a government, we I can say with absolute confidence, that we have the most robustly pro-immigration record in Canadian history. We have welcomed the largest number of immigrants per year, on average, in Canada's history, over 254,000 new permanent residents on average, per year, which is the highest sustained level of immigration in our country's history. When other developed countries were cutting immigration levels during the global economic downturn, we were maintaining historically high levels because Stephen Harper understands that we need newcomers to fuel our prosperity with our aging population and with the large and growing labour shortages.
It wasn't done haphazardly, it wasn't done for political reasons, it was done for hard-headed economic reasons. We are maintaining the highest per capita level of immigration in the developed world, adding 0.8% of our population per year through immigration. That's now going to be, I think, six times higher than the United Kingdom and 50 per cent higher than Australia per capita, as a point of comparison. One of the first things we did as a government was to cut in half the so-called right of landing fee that was imposed on new permanent residents. So families were coming in paying thousands of dollars in this kind of entry tax. We cut that in half to give them a break so they could actually have more money in their pockets to get their Canadian lives started.
We launched the Foreign Credential Referral Office, with pre-arrival counselling for, for economic, selected economic immigrants in our missions overseas to give people practical advice on how to get a job lined up, begin the process of credential recognition in licensed professionals and understand the basics of integrating in Canada. We tripled funding for settlement and integration services, like free language classes, job search skills and Canadian life skills to help newcomers in, in their initial stages in Canada.
We made significant changes that have finally resulted in a good geographic distribution of immigrants. By expanding the Provincial Nominee Programs, we have now see that the number of immigrants settling in, for example, Manitoba has tripled, in Saskatchewan has quadrupled, in Alberta has doubled, Atlantic Canada has doubled, and more immigrants are moving to the interior of British Columbia. So this is a good story because it used to be at 90 percent, nine out of 10 newcomers, would settle in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, even if that's not where the best job opportunities are. But now we finally have a much better geographic distribution and that's good economically.
And we've made, brought in the Action Plan for Faster Immigration which is allowing new applicants for a skilled worker program to get into Canada within a year of their application, making it a much better chance that they have a job lined up and their skills are relevant to the labour market. As a result of these changes, finally after three decades, we are beginning to see in the data a turnaround in incomes and employment for immigrants. That's the good news. But the turnaround isn't big enough, as I said. There are still too many immigrants who are unemployed and underemployed. And so fundamental reforms must be made. This is what we began announcing in the budget.
First of all, the vision is to go from a slow, rigid and passive immigration system, to one as I've described it, with underwhelming outcomes overall, to a fast, flexible and proactive system where we're linking the newcomers who arrive with the opportunities that exist. From slow, rigid and passive to fast, flexible and proactive. In order for us to get to a fast system, in order for us to ensure that a much larger percentage of our economic immigrants have jobs lined up when they get to Canada, in order for us to attract those younger immigrants who we know according to our data are more likely to succeed over their lifetime, for us to get to that system, we must deal decisively with the huge legacy problem of backlogs in our immigration system.
When our government came to office, I quite honestly think we didn't fully understand the depth of the problem of backlogs in our system. We found out that there were 840,000 people waiting in our immigration system for an answer on their application. Why did that happen? Very simply because for years, the previous government, I'm not trying to be partisan about this, this is objectively true and a policy mistake was made, I'm sure in good faith. I don't think they made this mistake in malice or deliberately but they didn't correct it. And the mistake was simply this: they created a system that ignored the fact that, around the world, there's an infinite number of people who want to come to Canada obviously.
But there's obviously a finite number of people that we can accept in a given year because we want to ensure that they integrate. So we had a system with no control, no limit on the number of new applications that would come into our system. So here's what happened. Year after year after year, we were accepting 400,000 to 500,000 applications for immigration to Canada, but admitting on average about 220,000. It's a very simple analogy I use. We were selling twice as many tickets for the plane to Canada as there were seats available.
And so every year, a couple of hundred thousand people ended up in the waiting room with their tickets and then the next year, they'd be joined by another couple of hundred thousands, and before you know it, by 2006, there's nearly 900,000 people in the waiting room who have their tickets, have, that is to say, they made an application for immigration with an expectation of a decision but there were only 220 to 240,000 seats on the plane. It was a massive mistake. It is one I regret was made.
We have made real efforts to correct that legacy problem that we inherited. In 2008, we passed an amendment to the Immigration Act finally to control the number of new applications coming into the system to rationalize this so that we weren't selling fewer tickets for seats, than were seats on the plane. So we could bring o to the plane some of the people that had been waiting and start clearing the backlog. We've had some success. As a result of the Action Plan for Faster Immigration, we've managed to reduce the old backlog in our skilled worker program by about 50 per cent. That's the good news.
But, again, this is all about good news and bad news. The bad news is that there's still a huge backlog left and in fact, 460,000 waiting in that program. Now friends, we could do one of two things. We could continue to keep those people waiting, meaning our system is grindingly slow, taking us eight years to get people an answer, meaning that it would take years, almost the end of this decade before we could finally get to that fast just in time system that we need so that we can link people up with jobs or we could make a tough decision, which is what we were elected to do, was to make tough decisions in the best interests of the Canadian economy.
And so the tough decision we made was to take decisive action to reduce that backlog so that within a year or two, we will have that just in time immigration system. That's why we announced in the budget that we're bringing forward legislation to authorize us to return applications representing some 280,000 people in the skilled worker backlog. We are returning the application fees that people sent to us and we are inviting them to reapply, if they still want to come to Canada, under our new and more flexible immigration programs. By doing this, by 2014, 18 months from now, Canada will finally have a just in time immigration system where we will be able to process applications that we get within a matter of months and bring new applicants to Canada on a, on a just in time basis.
And this means that new applicants in our new system who have a job lined up will go to the front of the queue and will be admitted to Canada within just a few months of their application, helping to guarantee their success. So I've spent a lot of time explaining that, because the stuff is complex and it's easily misunderstood. ‘Why is the government sending all those applications back? That's not fair. What about those people, they've been waiting their chance, their turn; they've been waiting their time in, in the queue?' And I understand that.
But frankly, you know, let me be honest. We didn't create that problem, but we have to solve it because just to keep the problem festering was not a solution. Telling those people they were going to still have to wait eight years was not a solution. Waiting until the end of this decade until we could get to a fast system that gets better results was not really, in my view, an option. And so we are inviting all of those folks again, if they would like, to reapply.
Now we'll be doing a number of other things this year that will get to this vision of a faster, more flexible system with much better employment and incomes for newcomers. We, this summer we will be pre-publishing regulations for a new points grid for the skilled worker program based on all the data research and consultations that we have done, which indicate that younger economic immigrants tend to do better over their lifetime. I guess they come, they're more flexible, they pick things up more quickly and they've got more years frankly to work and pay taxes, which is a good thing.
Secondly, for those who want to come into regulated licensed professions, we're going to say that they have to have a solid minimum level of proficiency in one of our two official languages. Because, you know, one of the problems with credential recognition is even when we do have foreign trained professionals who get their licenses, if their language skills aren't up to the Canadian standard, then they just don't find employment. So we're not doing them any favours by bringing them in to face underemployment and that's why, for licensed professions, we're going to require a reasonably high language benchmark.
But we're also going to create more flexibility in the system by creating a skilled trades stream. For too long, it's been almost impossible for the hardworking skilled tradespeople, whose skills are much in demand in Canada, to get through our skilled worker program because they didn't have university degrees. And so we'll be creating a new pathway for those folks and if you're employers who need and employ skilled tradespeople, this is good news for you. And also, and most excitingly, we will be creating a system of pre-assessment of the education, and eventually of the professional qualifications, of applications for immigration to Canada.
This is a key part of our transformational change. The other day I was in Vancouver at an Iranian community event and a lady came up to me to say ‘Minister Kenney,' – she broke down in tears – “I came to Canada three years ago. I'm a radiologist from Iran. My husband is a pediatric surgeon. We came here three years ago” – and she was speaking flawless English and it was clear, she was a highly educated woman – and she says that “three years later, we are no closer to getting our license to practise medicine in Canada.”
And she became very emotional and said you know, we're taking more courses, we're doing what we can but we're depleting our savings and very soon, she said, ‘I think I'm going to have to go back to Iran.' She said ‘I cannot stand that place because of the government, but if that's the only place I can make an income so that my son can stay in Canada and go through school,' Because, she said, ‘my son's dream is to find the cure for cancer. And I want to support his dream. But if you're telling me I can only do that by going back to Iran, I may have to do that.'
Friends, we cannot underestimate the incredible loss of human potential, the terrible tragedy that's lived by so many people like them who put everything on hold, have now lost their savings and are struggling to get by and think maybe they made the wrong decision for their families. It's wrong. It's wrong to be inviting people if they, and yes, we must get the professional agencies who are the gate keepers to the licensed professions, to open the door of opportunity to remove unnecessary red tape and burdens and hurdles. We must get them to provide a fast and fair process for assessing foreign credentials and we are working with the provinces and, in turn, their professional agencies to do this through the Pan‐Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications.
But I think we also owe it to those highly skilled foreign professionals, to give them a clear picture of the chances of getting licensed to practise in Canada and that's what this pre-assessment is about. It's an idea that we will be copying essentially from Australia, where we will invite applicants to go to a recognized body and to get an evaluation of the qualitative evaluation of their education and their relevance to the Canadian labour market and then, in turn, if they want to work in the licensed profession, go to the national body of that licensed profession in Canada for a pre-assessment. They would still have to get their license in Canada, but at least they would know at the immigration stage whether or not they have a fair shot at getting to work in their licensed profession.
Don't you think we owe it to those people to be up front about their chances in Canada? And finally, we intimated in the budget that we will be working towards something like a system based on what we call an ‘expression of interest,' where applicants will eventually go into a large pool of qualified immigration applicants for Canada, giving us their consent to share their applications with employers and indeed provincial governments ,so that those employers can come into the pool of qualified immigrant applicants and do their international labour recruitment from within that pool.
What does this mean? Well, if you're an engineering firm and as the Canadian engineers start retiring in large numbers, the Baby Boomers retire and you need 10 additional engineers next year and you're looking for engineers within a particular specialized area, you'll be able in the future of our new immigration system, to go into the system, and do a query looking for the qualified perspective immigrants in that field. You'll be able to look at their applications, look at their pre-assessed education and credentials and, if you're satisfied and you want to do your due diligence, offer that person a job. We will then bring in that immigrant applicant on a lightning speed basis. We just want to get them here as soon as possible.
We did some very interesting research recently and we did a full assessment of our skilled worker program, which showed that immigrants who arrive with a pre-arranged job in Canada are earning almost $80,000 as income after their third year, which is much higher than the average. And that is really where we want to go.That's not to say to the exclusion of entrepreneurs and skilled tradespeople, but that idea of coming with the pre-arranged job means you get past the survival job gap, you go straight into employment at your skill level, you're making good money, you're paying taxes so that we can provide for health care and our social programs. And that is why we need the super fast system. That's why we must deal decisively with these backlogs.
Throughout the course of the year, we'll be doing consultations and announcements. We'll be doing consultations, for example, on how to retool our investor immigrant program to ensure that Canada gets more bang for the buck from that program. There are millions of millionaires around the world who would like to come here and invest and share in our prosperity, and I think we can do better than simply asking them to provide a refundable five-year loan that they get back in exchange for permanent residency. I'd like to see ways, and I'd like to invite ideas from you in the ICCC and the ACCE and the broader business community, as to how we can leverage our investor immigrant program to bring foreign capital in this country and keep it here. Not as a loan, but we keep it here as an ongoing job creating investment.
So that will be a consultation we'll be launching later this year. And we'll also be looking at innovative entrepreneurial programs. How can we attract those future Bill Gates, those future Steve Jobs, those brilliant young entrepreneurs who have a concept and maybe have a financial backer in Canada. How can we let them immigrate to Canada on a super fast basis so they build their company here rather than abroadÉ
Friends, I've probably spoken too long, lunch is waiting, but you can tell I'm pretty excited about this. I've just given you an overview, a survey of the transformational agenda for immigration reform that we are about to embark upon. And I want you to know this, that in everything we do, in everything we change in this program, the objective comes down to that one simple idea, that that person who's stepping off the plane in Pearson as we speak will have a future that realizes their dreams, that allows them to truly achieve their potential and to make this a great and prosperous democracy, a land of opportunity for their children and for generations to come.
Thank you very much.