Would you believe me if I told you the amount of money that international students put into our economy is more than what we get from the exporting of softwood lumber, from the exporting of wheat, from our financial services and an equal amount of money to our exports of automotive parts?

 

Ahmed Hussen

EXCERPTS from a speech delivered by Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, at a luncheon at the Canadian Club of Toronto:

 

WHAT we are doing in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is to, for example, maintain and grow our tradition of being a progressive country that welcomes those in need, not shying away from our international obligations to provide protection for those who are fleeing war and persecution. Equally – if not as important – to make sure that we allow for avenues for Canadians to reunite with their family members and loved ones and also make sure we have mechanisms in place and continue to pay attention to the aspects of immigration that allow us to compete, to get the best and the brightest to Canada, to facilitate their way here.

In order to do that this year in the whole picture we are set to welcome and land 300,000 permanent residents in Canada. That is a historic high and it reflects all those three ambitions that I spoke about. 40,000 of those 300,000 will be refugees, government resettled refugees 25,000, double what the previous government used to invite to Canada, 16,000 privately sponsored refugee spots, almost quadruple what used to exist prior to 2016 and the remainder is asylum seekers who we can never predict based on global migration patterns.

172,000 of that 300,000 are economic immigrants, skilled labour, talent, people who are coming here to scale up their start-up company and make sure we have the environment and the ecosystem to do that. I’ll mention a few of those programs to show you what we’re doing in that regard. Express Entry – 80,000 of the 172,000 skilled immigrants will come through the Express Entry program. This is an objective program that awards points based on age, language proficiency in English or French or both, post-secondary education and work experience.

That program was working really well. Last year we made some reforms to it that have rejigged the system to enable international students to be more advantageously taken care of in the Express Entry program so we can capture and retain more international students who come to study in Canada but decide to remain. Why wouldn’t we want to hang on to these people? These are already people who are proficient in English and French or both and who have a post-secondary education in one of our fine institutions.

The other program is something we have announced as a government. It’s a whole of government approach but will be launched in June, the Global Skill Strategy. It came from listening to many of those in this room who called for government to help in the facilitation of getting talent here very quickly. It has three aspects. One is the global talent stream to enable companies to get people here so they can grow and create even more jobs for Canadians.

How does that work? It reduces and removes the onerous aspects of the labour market impact assessment and replaces it with a labour market benefit plan so that we look at what this new person is bringing in terms of jobs to this company. The second is a dedicated service channel which already exists in my department whereby if a company tomorrow calls us up and says we want to move our headquarters to Canada, we have the mechanisms in place to get them here in under a month and make sure that all their work permits and everything else is processed in record pace.

The final one is something that makes sense; that will make it so much easier for border officials to deal with this. It’s short term exemptions for work permits for people who are coming here to do short term consultancy, 15 to 30 days a year, or for highly skilled research by academics in maximum 120 days out of the year.

Why should we require those people to have work permits? We’ll give them an exemption to get them here, do what they have to do and then go back to their particular ecosystem.

The other one is the Start-up Visa where we identify promising start-ups in conjunction with industry associations and venture capitalists. They designate those people and we give them permanent residency and process them to get here quickly so they can come to Canada, scale up and create more jobs for all of us and prosperity for each one of us.

 

… WE welcomed as a country refugees from Hungary. Our opening of doors to Vietnamese boat people, 60,000 in the 1970’s was literally the reason why we now have a private sponsorship of refugees. It started from the private sponsorship of Vietnamese boat people.

The truly national effort we had with respect to Syrian refugees where school children in 2016 were putting lunch money and pooling it together to help a Syrian refugee family, where seniors in a seniors home were pooling their resources together to sponsor a Syrian family, where people were – you know my predecessor John McCallum used to go around the world and Canada and he would say he’s the only Immigration Minister in the world who can’t get refugees fast enough to meet the demand and the generosity of Canadians.

We take these things for granted but it speaks a lot about Canada.

… One of the first things that we did when we formed government was we tackled the backlog in spousal sponsorships because that was a clear irritant in the community. We processed 20,000 backlog spousal cases. It used to take 26 months up to 3 years or more to reunite spouses. We now have a new standard in the vast majority of cases of 12 months or less and most of those cases actually much less than that.

If you wanted to renew your PR card it used to take 10 to 18 months. We are now talking about 54 days and we’re not satisfied with that. We’re going for 14 days. If you look at temporary resident visas, another irritant, the industry standard is now in our department 14 days. Does that mean all the visa offices are there? Absolutely not. But I’ve been visiting a few of them already and I continue to engage to make sure that we bring that down.

I don’t want an international student to go to the UK because his visa took too long. I don’t want someone to defer or deflect or go somewhere else with their investment because they didn’t have fast processing times. One of the key things that blew my mind when I took over this role and I think it will for you is just one stream of immigration, just one that we process is international students.

Would you believe me if I told you the amount of money that international students put into our economy is more than what we get from the exporting of softwood lumber, from the exporting of wheat, from our financial services and an equal amount of money to our exports of automotive parts? Yet Australia which is not in our hemisphere attracts more Mexican international students than us. We can’t accept that. We can and will do more.

Last year we brought in and approved 367,000 international student visas. That’s a jump of 22% of the previous year so we are doing better but we can do much more. There’s so much room for improvement. Part of it is processing times. Part of it is client service. I went to Germany and the UK and Switzerland. At each stop everyone was raving about our settlement and integration infrastructure, how we do settlement so well. I was happy about that but I thought we could still do better.

For example in Germany I learned how the Germans were taking young refugees, putting them in apprenticeships in skilled trades where the Germans are really good and teaching them for example how to manufacture high speed trains while teaching them the language at the same time, not consecutively like we do. They were doing it concurrently. Is that an idea we can learn from? How do the Swedes do integration better than us, especially for young people?

Those are the kinds of lessons I want to bring back to Canada on our settlement plan. Settlement eats up 40% of IRCC’s budget so we have to ask ourselves can we do better. The only way we can do that is to ask ourselves are we having the maximum impact on that newcomer to enable him or her to restart their lives and succeed in Canada so they can contribute to our common prosperity.

… As I talk about immigration and I talk about the things that we’re doing right, as I talk about the generosity of Canadians I want to come back to some of the programming I spoke about earlier, Express Entry, the Start-up Visa. We also recently announced in this year’s budget a targeted employment strategy for newcomers. We want newcomers to hit the ground running so they can use $27.5 million.

Some of that money will go to assist them to expand pre-arrival services so that skilled immigrants can start the licensing and credential recognition process abroad before they even get here so they can hit the ground running. When they get here a lot of them don’t practice in their fields and so they don’t earn their potential and we lose out on their skills. Why? Because they can’t pay for their exams, they can’t pay the application fees, they can’t support their family.

We are giving them loans in order for them to be able to pay for those exams and those application fees. I’m already meeting dentists and electricians and nurses who have already become professionals in Canada as a result of those loans. The third aspect of that employment strategy for newcomers is creation of paid internships so they can get that valuable Canadian work experience, connecting them with mentors, job matching and so on, pilot programs to see what works.