Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement on improving and modernizing the immigration system

Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement on improving and modernizing the immigration system

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser make an announcement on improving and modernizing the immigration system, which will help to improve processing and client experience.

Ottawa, Ontario

January 31, 2022

As delivered

Good morning, everyone and thank you so much for joining us here today. And before I begin let me first acknowledge that I’m joining you virtually from here in Halifax which of course is part of the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. I also want to say thank you to those who are working under somewhat challenging circumstances given the situation in Ottawa who are members of the press, the work you do is essential to our country and to our democracy and I want to say thank you.

Thank you so much for joining me here this morning.

I’d like to reflect to open things on the fact that with the exception of indigenous peoples, everyone in Canada has an immigration story somewhere in their past. Canada has been a land of opportunity for millions of people whether they’re from Scotland like my ancestors or from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and everywhere else, immigrants have helped to build our great country as to what it has become today.

Canada’s story is largely built on many stories, millions of stories of immigration and our country is a destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of people from around the world every year. Canadians have long been proud that so many people wish to come here and begin a new life in our country.

Now we’ve shown the rest of the world how people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world can live peacefully together to create one of the most prosperous and inclusive countries on the planet. Newcomers have long been major economic contributors to our country and the last two years in particular have underscored just how crucial immigration is to Canada and to our communities.

Newcomers are key to addressing the labour shortage that Canada faces and to building back stronger from the pandemic. Newcomers have played an essential role on the frontlines of the pandemic in our hospitals, in food production, working in agricultural operations on farms big and small right across the country, working in the manufacturing sector making sure we have access to the goods that we need and the transportation sector to make sure that we can have those goods not just produced in Canada but that we have access to them in our communities.

In recognition of immigrations importance to Canada and in spite of the pandemics many challenges Canada was still able to achieve record setting admissions last year. We welcomed over 405,000 new permanent residents in 2021 which is the largest number of permanent residents ever welcomed in Canadian history. The high levels of immigration create many opportunities for our country but they’re not without challenges.

As we know, especially over the past two years, there have been significant challenges and let me just reflect on the first few months I’ve had the good fortune of being in this position. I’ve been doing a lot of listening, I’ve been hearing from folks who said it’s very impressive, very important that across the system you were able to process a record number of newcomers.

But at an individual level the user experience has been defined for many people by frustrations that they have when they try to come to Canada. These are people who are trying to come, fill gaps in the labour forces so Canadian businesses can make more money and put more Canadians to work as well. These are people who are trying to reunite with their families, who’ve been missing their spouses or their kids. And for far too many, some of the delays that we’ve seen over the course of this pandemic and the long response time for application updates have caused them to put their life on hold.

Now one of the things I want to drive home is that these challenges are not by design, they are a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. It’s difficult when you try to welcome a record number of newcomers at a time when public health guidelines and border closures and travel restrictions worldwide have created unprecedented obstacles for people to come to Canada and in turn for our immigration system in Canada.

Given these challenges we had to pivot our strategy and we made the most of talent that existed within our borders already during the pandemic which was the right thing to do at the time. The majority of new permanent residents last year were already in Canada on some kind of temporary status and 62% were economic immigrants who are going to help us rebuild our economy.

And though this is a bright spot for those who were here already it did create significant inventories and processing delays for many of our overseas applicants, the human beings who want to come to Canada who were most affected by travel restrictions. Now we know that many talented and skilled newcomers have been waiting for a very long time and we understand that they simply want to come to Canada as soon as possible and I want them to know that Canada wants you here too. I want you to know that we’re doing everything we can to process your application as soon as possible and our department at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is working to deliver the best possible client experience for all those who use our services both in Canada and overseas. But frankly I’m more than willing to admit that we can and we must continue to do better.

Now that brings me to the purpose of our discussion today, I want to walk you through certain measures that we’re introducing to build upon some of the steps we’ve already taken that will help reduce processing times and if I may categorize them in two buckets so to speak. The first is efforts to reduce processing times with the $85 million that was included in the recent economic and fiscal update. The second is new functionalities that have recently come online or will be coming online soon as part of our effort to transform Canada’s immigration into a modern and digital platform.

We’ve been taking action to reduce certain application inventories that grew during the pandemic and I want to draw your attention to a few key ones with the recent economic and fiscal update measures. There are specific lines of business that we want to be targeting. Let me start with work permits. In my conversations with Canadian businesses and the organizations that represent them they say it’s incredible that we’ve seen such a strong economic recovery to date with more people working today in Canada than were working before the pandemic.

But there’s also a major labour shortage and we want to make sure that we can get our workers here on time. As a result of the investments in the economic and fiscal update and other measures we expect to see work permit processing times return to the service standard this year, potentially sooner.

For those international students and the institutions that seek to bring them here I want you to know that we are, despite the fact that we’ve processed over five, almost 560,000 study permit applications in 2021, which by the way corresponds with a 32% increase over pre pandemic levels which we thought were pretty big back then, we’re going to be putting additional resources to get the study permit processing times back to our service standard this year in hopes that we can get as many students here on the schedule they need to complete their academic programs.

We also are going to be making sure that we’re putting additional resources to produce processing times for temporary visitors to Canada because as the pandemic allows, reaches a stage where we are allowed to welcome more people who want to visit Canada we want to make sure that the process of getting them here is efficient so more people can come and spend money in Canadian businesses in sectors that have been hit particularly heard.

In addition we are going to be putting additional resources towards expediting the proof of citizenship for individuals who’ve made it through the citizenship process and are waiting those documents to confirm their status, and we also will be putting additional resources towards permanent residency. In particular we do expect when it comes to permanent residency card renewals we will be able to eliminate the inventory and get back to a stage where we’re managing these card renewals as they come in.

I will point out that you may have noticed spousal reunification which is incredibly important as a stream for people to come to Canada was not amongst that particular list and that’s because as a result of investments that have already been made for applications that are made today we have already achieved the service standard of 12 months for those who are coming for family reunification purposes.

I want to pivot a little bit to talk about some of the other things that we’re doing. The digital system that we are building to deal with Canada’s immigration is extremely important and to help accelerate our work on the temporary side of our business we’ve expanded the use of advanced analytics to help sort and process temporary residence applications.

The use of data analytic systems to process some visitor visas over the past few years has allowed IRCC to process routine files 87% faster, helping some applicants get their decisions sooner. But I want to be absolutely clear, an IRCC case officer will always make the final decision. The advanced analytics do not have the ability to make a refusal or even recommend refusal, this is done exclusively by an IRCC officer.

But this system will improve client service and help IRCC manage the increasing volume of visitor visa applications going forward as more people seek to come to Canada to visit. To support those who wish to live in Canada we’re also planning on finalizing permanent residency, 147,000 permanent residency applications in the first quarter of this year which will double what we’ve done during the last year. And importantly we’re going to be expanding the permanent resident online application portal so more clients can submit application documents electronically.

On this particular piece we’ve been running a soft launch and a pilot phase of the digital intake system for 15 different lines of business. By this summer we expect to have all of the cases be directed towards the digital intake system. Presently 10 to 20% of the cases are being directed towards the digital intake system and by this summer we hope to dedicate all of them, or direct all of them rather to the digital system.

We will maintain the paper based system for applications that demand it in the short term, but this is going to be a game changer for those who are seeking to come to Canada and being, applying for their permanent residency status through the digital portal.

Still on permanent residency, and this is a big deal for family reunification, we will be launching the permanent resident case tracker in February of this year for spousal, common-law and dependent clients allowing them to more easily access their own application information online. This is going to address one of the major frustrations that I’ve heard when people who are trying to get through to an overburdened system at IRCC and are calling their MPs offices trying to get updates, they will be able to get those updates themselves by logging into the new system that we’re creating to give them updates on the family reunification lines of business.

And for those who are already in Canada we’ve now developed a portal to allow permanent residents applicants to finalize their process and receive their permanent residency cards without any in person interaction. Over the past half a year or so we’ve seen 225,000 permanent residents have used this new portal. This is particularly important because we’ve seen the impact of different variants on our in person operations in different parts of the world and here in Canada as well.

When the pandemic precluded the ability for someone to go in person and pick up their PR card it meant that they had to wait until that in person service has been restored. With the introduction of this new permanent residency card portal to finalize PR applications people will be able to finalize their PR status without that in person interaction and will allow them to complete the process digitally.

I also want to address another frustration that I’ve been hearing about and that’s the fact that there are 60,000 applicants who are in Canada today currently waiting to complete their Oath of Citizenship that have satisfied the other requirements of the process. Now this is the final stage of the citizenship process and while we’ve already expanded the use of citizenship ceremonies, hosting 300 in virtual ceremonies each month with more than 170,000 new Canadians being sworn in virtually since April of 2020 we know we can do more and we continue to increase the number of new citizens.

Moving forward we’re going to continue to increase the number of citizenship ceremonies and we’re looking at how we can potentially expand the number of applicants who can go through the process during an individual virtual ceremony. But we also intend to introduce an option for those who wish to quickly self administer a digital oath by signed attestation and celebrate their citizenship at a later date. Now once available this has the potential to significantly shorten the waiting time for those who reached this final stage of citizenship.

Finally, and this is important because it responds directly to a concern that has been raised with me on a number of occasions, there’s a lot of applicants who are considering coming to Canada that looks at IRCC’s website for processing times and they see that the broadcast and processing times and service standards don’t necessarily match perfectly with the actual experience. We will be looking in the coming months to give our clients more up to date information by publishing accurate service standards, not just service standards but status updates on the actual processing time during, in different lines of business.

In order to help us attract more of the people we need Canada needs to bring our immigration system into the 21st century and these measures are a step forward in that direction. But let me be absolutely clear, these measures are not a silver bullet. The pandemic has created challenges for our system and they didn’t create them overnight and they won’t be solved overnight but these investments are going to make a meaningful difference, some in the short term and some in the medium term.

There’s lots of work to do to improve client experience in our immigration system and return to service standards that applicants and prospective Canadians could quite rightly expect us to achieve. We know that more investments and changes are going to be needed and I look forward to keeping Canadians updated on the tools that we’re working on to help us reach our goals.

Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen how immigration continues to benefit Canadians, it helps grow our economy, immigration strengthens our communities across the country by making them more vibrant and dynamic places to live. Coming out of this pandemic Canada is going to continue to need newcomers with many different skills and talents and we’re very fortunate that so many people from around the world continue to choose our country as a place to visit and build their future.

Canada in my mind has never been a more attractive place to work, to study and to live and we’ve seen tremendous interest from people around the world who wish to call Canada home. We want to ensure this trend continues and that’s why we need to continue to transform our immigration system, we have to ensure that Canada remains competitive with other countries for the world’s best talent and we’re going to do so by delivering the best possible client service.

With these changes to our system we want to solidify Canada as a top destination of choice for skilled people from all around the world. These individuals will be able to come here more quickly to begin making immeasurable and long lasting contributions that will continue to shape the future of Canada for generations.

But our work isn’t finished and we’re going to move forward to make sure that Canada’s proud history of immigration is matched with a modern immigration system that supports our economic recovery, improves the client experience and strengthens our community. Thank you so much folks, it’s a pleasure to be with you today and I’m happy to take what questions you may have.

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