Minister Kenney

Good day and thank you all for being here.

It is a great pleasure to be in Toronto to speak with you today.

I would like to thank the Empire Club for providing this forum, and for the work they do in promoting discussion and debate about issues of public interest.

As you know, those of us who have made a career in politics seldom like to brag about our accomplishments.   

That being said, I recently received an honour I can’t help boasting about.  It came from Huffington Post Canada, which named me as one of the “Best MPs on Twitter”.

Well, the fourth-best MP on Twitter, to be exact – just short of the Twitter Olympic podium.

At the risk of singing my own praises, which politicians never do, I’m going to read for you the short blurb that accompanied my fourth-place award. It reads as follows:

 “Jason Kenney’s Twitter stream often resembles a travel journal. The Immigration Minister spends a lot of time travelling the country and it shows in his feed and photos. Something else we’ve learned from following Kenney? He loves purple ties.”

I don’t have much to add about fashionable neckwear, but I will say that I do have the great privilege to travel frequently throughout the country meeting Canadians of many different backgrounds and from many different communities.

And yes, I do occasionally post photos – and 140-character descriptions – from my travels in my Twitter feed.

And yes, in a number of those photos, I am wearing purple ties.

Over the past few months I have been travelling even more frequently than usual to every part of the country – from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, and every province in between.

I have been talking with Canadians about the future of our immigration system. In fact, today’s gathering is, in a sense, a culmination of my recent travels, because I’d like to take the opportunity to give you a big picture view of what I have been talking about in individual announcements.

I’ve been Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for three-and-a-half-years now.

In that time, we have implemented many positive reforms to Canada’s immigration system – reforms that have begun to change the system to better serve immigrants, and to better serve Canada.

What I have been particularly excited about lately – and certainly happy to talk about at all of my cross-country stops – is that I believe we have arrived at a point of transformational change to our immigration system.

The changes we are planning are long-needed and part of our commitment to ensure the immigration system is managed so as to maximize the benefits to Canada, as well as to new Canadians.

We will do so while sustaining our commitment to family reunification and refugee protection. In particular, we are maintaining one of the world’s largest refugee resettlement programs from overseas at a time when other countries are reducing theirs.

I believe that our plans will bring tangible benefits both in the short term and the long term.

Rationale for Change

In January, Prime Minister Harper spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At that influential international gathering, he made clear that Canada’s immigration system is a key priority and an integral part of our economic future.

The Prime Minister said – quote:

“We will… undertake significant reform of our immigration system [and] make our economic and labour force needs the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future.”

The Prime Minister also pointed out that Canada was one of the only developed countries that maintained high levels of immigration during the recent global economic downturn.

Following up on the Prime Minister’s words, earlier this spring, the Government tabled Economic Action Plan 2012.

It laid out a vision for “a fast and flexible economic immigration system whose primary focus is on meeting Canada’s labour market needs.”

What does this mean in practice?

It means the reforms we intend to make in the coming years will foster an immigration system that can fill significant labour shortages across the country and help us meet our economic needs more quickly and efficiently.

We envision a “just in time” system, in which the entire process for a skilled immigrant to apply to come to this country, and then to be accepted and admitted to Canada, and gainfully employed here, takes only a few months instead of many years.

It is an ambitious goal, to be sure, but also, in my view, a necessary one.

Without changes, the immigration system we have now will not get us to where we need to be.

The problem is really a kind of paradox.

Canada is experiencing huge and growing labour shortages. It is a phenomenon experienced in almost every region of our country, and in a wide variety of sectors of our economy.

As I talk to employers, political leaders and working Canadians, I hear similar stories everywhere I go.

The reality is that far too many of the immigrants we welcome here end up unemployed or underemployed.

In fact, unemployment for recent immigrants with university degrees is four times higher than among native-born Canadians with university degrees.

That is a waste of the talent and energy of newcomers and erodes their morale.  It also under serves Canada.   

We are bringing in historically-high sustained levels of immigrants, the highest relative levels in the developed world, yet many of them are facing unemployment or underemployment in an economy with huge and growing labour shortages.

It is – as I said – a paradox. And it’s one of a number of arguments for changing the way we operate the immigration system in Canada, particularly our economic immigration system.

That being said, we have made significant progress in recent years to focus and direct the immigration system to better meet the high expectations of those it serves, be they immigrants themselves or the broader Canadian public.

Reforms we have undertaken over the past few years have helped to reduce backlogs, reverse wait times, gain better control of intake, crack down on fraud and abuse of the system, and improve the timeliness of the services we provide.

These reforms have better focused our immigration system on fuelling Canada’s economic prosperity.

For example, the Government has placed a high priority on finding people who have the skills and experience required to meet Canada’s economic needs.

Provinces and territories now have the capacity to address their labour shortages through an expanded role in selecting immigrants.

But there is still more work to be done to put into effect the plan I described a few minutes ago: An efficient “just in time” system that best meets Canada’s economic needs.

To get there, we plan to make a number of changes. Let me specify what we plan to do.

Federal Skilled Worker Program

As many of you know, our main economic immigration program has traditionally been the Federal Skilled Worker Program. In fact, more immigrants still come to Canada through this program than through any other.

And what it does is encapsulated very well by its name: It is a federal program that selects skilled workers to become permanent residents, based on criteria that correlate with their ability to become economically established in Canada.

Pre-2008 FSW Backlog Elimination

For the immigration system in general – but especially for the Federal Skilled Worker program – one of the greatest challenges comes from the large backlogs of applications that have accumulated in the system.

The reason they have accumulated is a matter of simple math.  In some immigration programs, the number of applications we receive each year far surpasses the number that we have decided to process and admit, consistent with Canada’s needs.

Not only this, but prior to legislative amendments that our government made in 2008, the law required Canadian officials to process every single application they received. 

More applications than admissions create a surplus of applications, that we were required by law to process.  Surpluses year after year become a backlog. 

And a backlog means wait times as new applicants have to wait until earlier applicants are processed – wait times that were extending to six or seven years, or longer.

Since 2008, we’ve limited the intake of new applications to occupations that are in high demand and to applicants with qualifying job offers. This has helped us to reduce the backlog of pre-2008 applications by half, from more than 600,000.

But the fact is that we still have a backlog of nearly 300,000 skilled worker applications, and wait times of several years, rather than months. 

Until we solve this issue, we can’t get to where our economic immigration system needs to be.

Measures proposed in our Economic Action Plan 2012 will help align the system more closely with our economic needs.

They will enable Canada to eliminate the large backlog of old federal skilled worker applications that is gumming up our immigration system.

We are closing the applications and returning fees to all affected individuals.

We understand that these individuals will likely be disappointed, and I regret the impact on individual applicants who have waited patiently in long queues. But Canada’s interest must be my priority, and we cannot wait until 2017 or beyond to fix this problem.

Of course, applicants whose fees and applications are returned may reapply under the terms of the new FSW program, or any other programs for which they may qualify, such as the Provincial Nominee Programs or the Canadian Experience Class.

If they possess the skills Canada needs now, they are likely to receive much faster processing than they would have by simply waiting in the backlog – new FSW applications are processed within 12 months.

By moving quickly to eliminate this longstanding backlog, we will be able to shift our processing priority towards newer federal skilled worker applicants who will be evaluated under a new points system that will better ensure they have the current, in-demand skills that our economy needs.

This will, I believe, transform the system.

Potential Creation of a Pool of Skilled Workers

In recent months, I have spoken about going further in the future than just passively accepting immigration applications. I have talked about the need to actively recruit people to come to Canada to fill specific skills shortages.

As we move toward a “just in time” immigration system, we are looking at international best practices in this regard.

In recent years, New Zealand and Australia – countries with immigration systems similar to ours – have made their systems nimbler, more flexible and more responsive to modern labour-market realities.

Like us, New Zealand legislated an end to its backlog in 2003 and put in place a system where prospective applicants can be selected from a pool made up of prospective immigrants with the skills, experience and education that are most needed in that country.

Australia is introducing a similar system this year.

Rather than having to process all applications, regardless of whether an applicant’s skills match current labour market needs, their resources can now be put towards actively matching the best recently qualified applicants to current economic needs and even to specific companies, who can use the pool of applicants as a pool of prospective recruits.

One of the lessons from New Zealand’s experience with a “just in time” system, is that backlogs do not accumulate, because there is no obligation to process every application, only those of the skilled workers selected from the pool of applicants for immigration.

We want to explore with provinces, territories and employers approaches to developing a similar pool of skilled workers who are ready to begin employment in Canada.

The goal would be a simplified and expedited immigration process that selects the applicants with the best and most in-demand qualifications and, at the same time, eliminates the scourge of backlogs, which, as we have seen, can bring an immigration system nearly to a standstill.

FSWP Points System

As we explore options for a more significant overhaul of the applications system in the coming years, we are already taking steps to improve our economic immigration system in other ways.

We are currently working to improve the points system for our Federal Skilled Worker program to bring it more in line with the needs of our modern economy.

In 2010, we completed an extensive evaluation of the FSW program which suggested that overall it is working well and selecting immigrants who perform well economically.

It also showed that selecting applicants based on human capital criteria has led to dramatically improved outcomes.

“Human capital criteria” is one of those terms that policy wonks and officials use, and which politicians love to throw about because it sounds clever and cutting edge.  Really, it’s an unfortunately impersonal bit of jargon for very important, very personal attributes.

Here is one example: Official language proficiency. The data clearly show that skilled immigrants who speak French or English well will be more successful in the Canadian job market.  Not only will they be better positioned for their first job, they will also be more resilient if they are laid off and have to find another job, perhaps even in a different field.

Beyond this, another strong indicator of success is pre-arranged employment. Skilled workers do better if they immigrate to Canada with a job offer in hand. 

In fact, our data show that federal skilled workers with an arranged employment offer earned an average salary of $79,200 three years after landing, compared to $44,200 for those without.

This is common sense, but our current points table does not adequately reflect this fact.

So we need to simplify the process for employers to hire the skilled workers they need and to get them here sooner.

Based in part on our extensive data on outcomes for skilled workers, and also on recently-completed public consultations, we intend to propose changes in coming weeks to the selection criteria that will include more emphasis on language ability, youth, arranged employment, and other factors that experience has shown are good predictors of success.

Our goal is to have a better FSW program in place by the end of this year.

Skilled Trades

Another notable change is coming to the FSW program. We intend to create, for the first time, a separate stream for skilled tradespersons, which would allow these applicants to be assessed based on criteria geared to the reality of their specific qualifications rather than false hopes, putting more emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal education.

I am talking about workers in construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries that are in high demand in Canada, particularly in the natural resources and construction sectors.

During our consultations last year on improving the Federal Skilled Worker Program, stakeholders agreed that changes were necessary to make the program more accessible to tradespersons, who have traditionally been disadvantaged due to criteria in the points grid that is better suited to professionals.

So we are taking concrete steps to do a better job of welcoming skilled tradespersons to the country.

Provincial Nominees

While the Federal Skilled Worker Program is still our largest economic immigration program, in recent years, provinces and territories have begun to play a much bigger role in selecting economic immigrants under the Provincial Nominee Programs.

The PNP, as it’s known, has, in fact, grown over the past decade to become the second-largest economic immigration program after federally selected skilled workers, and not far behind.

As of this year, the Provincial Nominee Program will have grown sevenfold from just over 6,000 permanent residents in 2004 to planned admissions of 42,000 in 2012.

The expansion of the PNP has also brought about a better distribution of newcomers across the country.

The majority of newcomers used to settle in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, even though strong job opportunities were available in other regions.

Thanks in large part to the PNP, 37 per cent of all economic immigrants in 2009 intended to settle in cities outside of the “Big Three.” Immigration to the Prairie Provinces has tripled and, in Atlantic Canada, it has doubled.

So, not only has this program been good for regional economic development, but I would argue that it has been an exercise in nation-building, expanding the benefits of immigration to every corner of Canada.

We have supported enormous growth in the number of provincial nominees in recent years because it makes sense for the provinces and territories to have the flexibility to meet regional needs.

But we must ensure the Provincial Nominee program complements federal immigration programs, and that provincial nominees can have a lasting impact on our economy.

While we consider the overall program to be a success, there is room for improvement. In the short term, we see that provincial nominees are actually doing better financially than federal skilled workers. But research shows that federal skilled workers tend to do better financially in the longer term. 

Part of the reason is the federal system’s emphasis on language proficiency, which allows workers to adapt their skills and move more easily within the national job market over time. That is why a recent evaluation of the PNP recommended that we establish minimum language standards for all provincial nominees.

We are taking action on this front. As of July 1, provincial nominee applicants in semi- and low-skilled professions will have to undergo mandatory language testing and achieve basic proficiency in comprehension, speaking, reading and writing.

Language is an important component of the economic and social well-being of immigrants.  I am happy to see that the provinces will be doing their part in making sure that immigrants have the language skills they need to succeed.

At the same time, the Government will work with the provinces and territories to better focus the PNP on direct economic and regional labour market needs and to eliminate overlap and duplication between the federal and provincial programs, including family reunification, investment, and student streams.

Canadian Experience Class

Our newest economic immigration program – which has already had quite a bit of success since we introduced it in 2008 – is called the Canadian Experience Class.

This program allows temporary foreign workers and international students with skilled work experience and/or education in Canada to apply for permanent residence.

The idea to create such a program was driven by common sense backed by hard data, which tell us that those immigrants who already have some Canadian work experience or education do much better than those who don’t. 

The CEC is an effective program because applicants already have valuable Canadian work experience, and often Canadian diplomas and degrees that will be immediately recognized by Canadian employers.

In many cases, they already have a job lined up. In short, they are set for success.

The program has been growing quickly since it was introduced, with admissions increasing from about 2,500 new permanent residents in 2009 to more than 6,000 last year. Even more are expected in 2012.

Currently, to be eligible to apply, applicants under the temporary foreign worker stream of the CEC must have 24 months of full-time work experience in Canada within the last 36 months.

Under new proposed regulatory changes, however, we will be reducing the requirement to 12 months of Canadian work experience.

This change goes hand-in-hand with another proposed change to provide new graduates of Canadian universities and colleges a two-year open work permit, to encourage them to stay and settle in Canada, and to use their Canadian qualifications in the Canadian labour market.

Another major benefit will be to make it easier for skilled tradespersons working in Canada to transition to permanent residence and become a permanent part of the Canadian labour market.

Immigrant Investor Program

Another immigration program we will be improving is the Immigrant Investor Program, or the IIP.

Our goal in this regard is to best determine how we can encourage more active foreign investments in the Canadian economy.

There are, for example, many very well-off people who would like to come to Canada and who are prepared to invest in our economy, but up until now we have only required that they provide an $800,000 interest- free loan to the government, which they get back after five years.

In essence, an “investor” receives permanent residence in Canada for the carrying costs of a five-year guaranteed loan.  That’s not a particularly good bargain for Canada.

We need to ask more from foreign investors.

When you compare our Investor Program to those in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, you see that they require an active and durable investment in their economies, which we do not.

We need an investor program that brings in real capital, to ensure we have long-term growth in jobs and the economy.

We need a dynamic program that allows immigrants to invest directly in the private sector, without overly cumbersome government involvement.

Instead of just lending money to provinces and territories for five years, we will explore ways in which to attract immigrants who want to invest in Canada’s future by making significant investments in private sector innovation and growth, such as through venture capital.

I need to be clear here that improvements to the existing IIP would be rolled out over a longer timeframe, as any changes would require extensive consultations with provinces and territories, particularly Quebec, which operates its own Investor program under provisions in the Canada-Quebec Accord.

We will also be consulting with the private sector, which, after all, is the real source of economic growth and the repository of knowledge of what is best for the Canadian economy.

Federal Entrepreneur Program

We are also hoping to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit that so many immigrants seem to have by developing new approaches for a Federal Entrepreneur Program.

Last summer, we implemented a temporary moratorium on applications. This was another example of a program that was plagued with a large backlog –and with unacceptable processing times of 5 to 6 years. In addition, the criteria for inclusion in the program tended to favour small, safe business ventures rather than innovative or entrepreneurial ideas.

So we consulted with industry associations on how to develop a program for innovative entrepreneurs that would bring the best and brightest entrepreneurial talent we can to Canada.

The idea is to proactively target a new type of immigrant entrepreneur, people who have the potential to build companies that can compete on a global scale and create jobs for Canadians.  In the race for global talent, countries that do not open themselves up to highly mobile entrepreneurs will quickly fall behind economically.

We will not stand by and let Canada miss out as creative minds look for a place to locate their start-up businesses.  We want to send a clear message that Canada wants them, their talent, their ideas, and their businesses.

Foreign Credential Recognition

One issue that touches economic immigrants across all of our different programs, and one I hear about everywhere I travel, is Foreign Credential Recognition.

Canada needs immigrants who are ready, willing, and able to fully integrate into Canada’s labour market, particularly where there are existing skills shortages.

But we also need to make sure the skilled immigrants we choose are the ones Canada in fact needs and that, once they arrive here, that they are able to put their skills to use.

Nous devons nous assurer que les immigrants qualifiés que nous choisissons sont ceux dont le Canada a besoin et qui ont les meilleures chances de réussir une fois qu’ils sont établis au pays.

One of the historical mistakes we need to correct is the common situation where skilled immigrants come to Canada only to discover too late that their credentials aren’t recognized here or require significant investments of time and money to be brought up to Canadian standards.

Economic Action Plan 2012 commits us to continue our work with provinces, territories, regulatory bodies and national associations, to speed up and streamline the credential recognition process for regulated professions, creating – as much as possible – a common national approach for the assessment of foreign credentials.

This collaborative process is called the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications. It’s a long name for something with a simple goal: To give applicants for licences in fourteen target occupations an answer, within a year of applying, on whether their credentials will be recognized or whether they need more training. 

To date, we have processes in place for eight regulated occupations, and an additional six are currently working to meet the Framework’s principles by December.

Eventually, as part of the transformational changes that we are looking at making to our immigration program, we would like to propose moving to a mandatory assessment of foreign educational credentials as part of the selection process for Federal Skilled Worker Program applicants.

This would mean that, before we accept them, applicants would be required to have their educational credentials assessed by a designated and qualified third party to determine their value in Canada.  They would then only receive credit for their qualifications if they are equal to Canadian qualifications. 

It’s important to note here that the process I am describing is separate from the more in-depth assessments that regulatory bodies use to license professionals from other countries.

In an ideal world, applicants would come to Canada with their qualifications fully recognized and fully accredited, or at least well on the way to accreditation by Canadian licensing bodies, to allow them to integrate immediately into their profession in Canada.

But that is a long term project, and one that will require the provinces and independent licensing bodies to step up and work closely with us. 

In the meantime, we need to at least give people some comfort before they arrive in Canada that their degree will be considered equivalent to a Canadian degree, so they can have realistic expectations when they arrive, and so Canada can be sure we are bringing in people who have the tools to succeed.

Our goal with this change is to better select immigrants, so they can hit the ground running once they arrive by integrating quickly into our labour market.

Parents and Grandparents Program

I’ve mentioned backlogs in the context of our economic immigration programs, but they have also been a problem in what we call our “Family Class.”

Perhaps the best-known of our Family Class immigration streams is the Parents and Grandparents Program, which allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their parents and grandparents from abroad.

As of last year, this program suffered a huge and growing backlog of 165,000 applicants, with processing times of seven years.

We began to take action on this last fall, when we announced the first phase of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification. It included an increase of about 40% in the number of sponsored parents and grandparents that Canada will admit from 15,500 in 2010 to 25,000 this year in order to help clear the backlog.

At the same time, we initiated a temporary pause of up to 24 months on the acceptance of new applications, to give us time to redesign the program.

We also introduced a parent and grandparent multiple-entry Super Visa, which is valid for up to 2 years. This enables parents and grandparents living overseas to visit Canada as many times as they want without placing an undue burden on Canada’s generous health care system and other social benefits.

We plan to have a new and sustainable Parents and Grandparents Program by the fall of 2013.

Our redesigned program will be designed to avoid the problem of future backlogs, while being sensitive to fiscal constraints, bearing in mind Canada’s generous health care system and other social benefits. It will be a program that is fair to all Canadians.

Safeguarding the integrity of the Immigration System

As we move forward with these changes, we will continue to implement policies that safeguard the integrity and security of our immigration system.

I always like to stress the fact that the security and integrity of the immigration system go hand in hand with that system’s ability to best serve our society and our economy.

By developing laws, policies, and practices that make our immigration system more secure, we ensure continuing support for immigration, which in turn allows us to maintain the open, generous approach to immigration which has served our country so well throughout our history.

I like to quote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on this topic.

He once wrote that when an immigration system has integrity, it makes the population at large more secure about immigration “and able to think through this issue more calmly.”

Friedman was writing about his own country’s immigration challenges, but I think we can all agree that we’d never want Canada to lose the ability to discuss immigration policy calmly and intelligently, without the shrill demagoguery we sometimes see in other countries, on both sides of the political divide.

The most prominent recent example of our efforts to bolster the integrity of   the immigration system is obviously Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which is currently before Parliament.

If passed, this Bill would implement long-needed reforms to the asylum system; crack down on human smuggling; and enable the introduction of biometric technology for the mandatory screening of temporary resident applicants.

Another area in which we are taking action is in combating marriage fraud: marriages of convenience that are used by some as a quick and easy route to Canada – when these individuals never intended to stay with their spouse or partner.

Tragically, some spouses are duped into marriage fraud, although others are themselves complicit in such plots.

In order to combat this abuse of our immigration system, we are bringing in new regulations that would require spouses or partners in new relationships to remain together in a legitimate relationship for two years following receipt of permanent residence status in Canada for a sponsored spouse.

Another recent measure, which came into effect in March, placed a five-year bar on a person who comes to Canada as a sponsored spouse from, in turn, sponsoring a new partner or spouse themselves.

Finally, we are making efforts to better regulate the immigration consulting business and to tackle immigration fraud by cracking down on unscrupulous individuals who try to cheat the system.

Visa scams and application fraud cause tremendous damage to the immigration system and to individuals and families who want to come to Canada as immigrants, temporary workers, or visitors.

We know we must take aggressive action against the activities of those unscrupulous representatives who facilitate fraudulent schemes and who defraud innocent victims.

Bill C-35, which came into force last summer, imposes penalties on unauthorized representatives who provide, or even offer to provide, advice or representation for a fee at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding.

Through that Act, we were able to designate a new regulator for immigration consultants – the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or the ICCRC – which has been doing a great job so far in combating fraud and in helping to safeguard the integrity of Canada’s immigration processes.

Thanks to other provisions in that legislation, we were able to enact – just a few weeks ago – regulations that will allow my department, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration and Refugee Board to disclose information about the professional or ethical conduct of immigration representatives to those responsible for governing or investigating that conduct.


I am glad to have had the opportunity today to talk with you about some of the transformational changes we are planning for our immigration system.

We think we have made significant progress in recent years to focus and direct the immigration system to better meet the high expectations of those it serves, be they immigrants themselves or the broader Canadian public.

Reforms we have made have better focused our immigration system on fuelling Canada’s economic prosperity.

We believe this is good for Canada, and for new Canadians.  We believe that most people come to Canada to work and make a better life for themselves and their children.  The best way we can help them is to ensure that our immigration system is designed to give newcomers the best possible chance to succeed. 

We believe we have done that with our changes to date.

But I am convinced we need to do more and to deliver further changes that will better generate economic growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians, new and old.

Canada needs a system that recruits people with the right skills to meet labour market needs in every part of the country, that fast- tracks their applications, and that gets them working in Canada as quickly as possible.

Because I’ve talked to thousands upon thousands of newcomers to Canada, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that that is what new Canadians want.  And it’s what Canada needs.

Thank you very much.

Share this page

Do You Need Immigration Help?

Contact us for professional assessment, review of eligibility and immigration advice. Our staff is here to help you resolve your immigration matters, provide assistance and answer your questions. We are committed to providing service excellence to our valued clients.

Give Us A Call


Email Us At