Yesterday, IRCC Minister – Hon’ble Sean Fraser discussed challenges and his ministry’s strategy as well as plan to deal with backlog in 2022 and upcoming years. We understand the diversity of our audience from different countries. As usual we are presenting the transcript of this interview and option to translate it into your preferred language by selecting your language below.
Host (Deepinder Singh): Welcome to Prime Asia TV minister Fraser
IRCC Minister (Sean Fraser): Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here and “Sat Shri Akal” to you and your audience
Host: “Sat Shri Akal” to you too Mr. Fraser. Minister, we have tried to cover some of the critical categories being impacted by the current state of affairs pertaining to immigration and we would like to start, you know one-by-one on these categories. My first question to you is about the immigration targets for 2022. Now there are about 1.8 million application inventory pending with IRCC.
Out of which, about 500,000 are pending under various PR categories. The number exceeds your immigration target for the year 2022. This is about 411,000 applications which we are targeting, but there is a pendency of almost 500,000 applications with us at IRCC. So, how do you see this. Like do you see no more applications coming in until we clear this backlog or how are we looking at it?
IRCC Minister: No, I see it a very different way and look before I answer the question on how we’re going to address the challenge that I think you’ve outlined.
It’s worth reflecting on the how the challenge came to be. This is a temporary problem in my view, and it stems directly from the COVID19 pandemic. As you can appreciate, we resettled a record number of permanent residents last year in Canada exceeding the target of 401,000, but in order to do that we had to take a new approach to resettle many people who were already in Canada.
Because we were dealing with a period of time where the border was actually closed to many people who would like to have come here during that period. We also saw an increase in the number of people who were applying to come to Canada. So, we have more than two years (normal years) worth of applications that are in the inventory. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to consider new applications.
Because our immigration system works in a particular way to make it easier for people who are positioned well to make an enormous contribution to our communities whether that’s through economic migration whether it’s through family reunification or coming as a humanitarian case of some kind. But if we look at the economic case, there are going to be people who continue to arrive as international students who may not have applied. There will be people who qualify under the express entry system because of their score in the process that allows them to come in.
Canada’s history is defined by immigration. My family came here several generations ago from Scotland and we’re very ubiquitous in Nova Scotia today. We’re everywhere, but these diaspora communities right across Canada define aside from our indigenous communities of course, define what Canada is and the future of Canada’s economy depends on continuing to grow the number of newcomers who come to Canada.
So, to those who are thinking of coming to Canada and would like to make a contribution, I would encourage you to read more and consider applying as a newcomer to Canada under one of the many programs that we have available.
Host: Thank you so much for your answer minister because your answer will definitely give a ray of hope to people who are listening and watching this interview outside of Canada also, and who are planning to apply for immigration in Canada. So thank you for your answer. My second question is about the visa status of the current work visa holders in Canada. Now, as you are aware there has been no draw in Canadian Experience Class since September 2021 and no draw at all for Federal Skilled Worker application since December 2020.
And, as you are aware the international students working on postgraduate work permits and other skilled workers need to rely largely on CEC category, it is likely that these aspirants work status are expiring shortly and will need and my question is will they need to leave Canada or is IRCC doing something to address this problem. Are there some special work permit extensions which are being worked upon for this category of people, so that they can maintain their status in Canada?
IRCC Minister: So, I think it’s really important that we don’t treat the entire group of people who are seeking to apply through these particular programs as one and the same. The factors for one individual who are applying may be different than the factors for another one. Of the things that I think’s very important to reflect upon is that we were able to welcome a record number of economic migrants last year to meet the needs of the labor force. I expect we will be able to do that again next year.
This includes a significant number of international students who may be ordinarily would have considered the Federal Skilled Worker program, but instead had access to the new TR to PR stream. There are different elements of my mandate letter that are going to require me to look at the kinds of solutions that will facilitate the possibility for more newcomers who are currently international students to remain in Canada. But, we haven’t taken final decisions on exactly what those different programs will look like.
With respect to the Federal Skilled Workers, program and applicants who might be waiting for future draws, the pause is a temporary thing and it’s something that we’re working through right now. Because we do have these significant inventories, again which were driven by the unique some circumstances around the pandemic, we do intend to return at one point to a position where the Federal Skilled Worker stream will continue to welcome new people to Canada. But the individual circumstances of a particular case may differ from one person to another quite significantly.
And is there something being done to increase the approved workers for students. Looking into this paucity of resources which we have, we’re looking at different options. One of the things that is specifically included in my mandate letters looking for new streams to permanent residency for international students. I think it’s an enormous opportunity when we look at international students in the social and economic outcomes that follow when they are resettled as permanent residents. They do incredibly well in Canada.
Look there are certain problems that we have with all streams of immigration, but when I actually look at the performance of international students in particular, you’re dealing with people who’ve gained incredible skills incredible language training that are meeting gaps in the labor force and often have a support network and a job. When they’re done, so I’m very interested in exploring new ways to make it easier on a permanent basis.
Going forward for international students to consider their study as a springboard to permanent residency one day in Canada. There’s some work that needs to be done to get there and I’m committed to doing that way through because I think these are those young minds which come from the countries with aspirations and then they train the way Canada wants them to train. So, I think it’s a very useful resource and we should make the best out of it.
Host: Thank you so much for your answer minister. Moving on my next question, is about express entry program. Now, we are going through some internal memos of IRCC which said that the express entry program can take up to three years in decisioning. So, don’t you think it is a question mark on the very intent of the program which is named as express entry program. What’s your take on this?
IRCC Minister: So, I covered to a certain degree, the challenge around the Federal Skilled Workers portion of the express entry system, but make no mistake the provincial nominee program continues through the system in a way that we rely on heavily and will continue to rely on this is the kind of thing that is a challenge for me to sort through, because there are a significant number of people who want to take part in our immigration streams.
Some of these people who may have been looking at an application through the Federal Skilled Worker program, would have potentially qualified through the TR to PR stream, and may have an application in fact in the queue now. So, to suggest that everyone who’s in this circumstance is going to be waiting for three years is not a fair assessment and it’s something that we’re looking at working on now.
There is however a temporary pause as we seek to clear some of the inventory by welcoming more people here. Part of the things that I’m working on right now is looking at continuing, trying to increase the number of newcomers who arrive in Canada; both as temporary residents and permanent residents and then making it easier for the people who arrive here to gain that permanent residency status over the long term.
So these are the kind of short-term challenges that we’re dealing with as a result of the pandemic as I arrived into this job just a few short months ago, but their challenge is worth solving because the people who come in these economic categories tend to make an extraordinary difference and as a result of the fact that we are dealing with a labor shortage of nearly a million workers that we could use right now, I think that immigration including through federal programs to welcome highly skilled workers. Whether that’s this particular stream, international student opportunities OR provincial nominee programs OR otherwise is a major opportunity that we need to embrace.
Host: So, three years is an extreme extreme case if we talk off right. So that’s not something which is going to happen but it’s just that it may happen in some cases.
IRCC Minister: Look there are all kinds of different examples uh that can cause delays. I think particularly when we’re relying on information from partners in third countries who may take a significant period of time to come up with documentation that needs to be provided there are examples uh that you can find in the system that take an extraordinarily long period of time. My hope and desire as the minister is to shrink the time that people have to wait to come to Canada and there is an issue that we need to sort out with the inventory of cases that have built up, that’s caused a temporary pause on Federal Skilled Workers. But that’s a problem that I’m working to solve every day.
Host: Because I personally came to Canada through express entry and my application was processed, I think in record 21 days, so it was about three and a half years back. So, I really agree that you know the spirit of this program is great and you’re working on the right track. Thank you so much. Moving on to my next question.
This is about the delay in the processing time of work permits. So now in Canada, we have a huge shortage of skilled and unskilled workers to work in essential occupations during COVID19 pandemic. The department currently is holding decisions on applications for work permits. The IRCC website says that processing time of 50 weeks in the New Delhi office, whereas you know 50 weeks and we have come across few cases where people have been waiting almost for 18 months for getting their work permits.
So if we look at Trudeau government helping Canadian businesses during pandemic scenario, where employers are struggling to find people to work for them and are not being supported to fill up the documented labor shortage due to today. So, how do we plan to address this issue?
IRCC Minister: Look this is a really important, question. You’re absolutely right to highlight the labor shortage facing the Canadian economy and for what it’s worth. As of today, 100 of the growth that we see in Canada’s labor force is coming from immigration. Our population growth with people who are already in Canada is not growing fast enough to displace the people who are aging out of the labor force, so immigration is going to be part of the solution.
It’s going to potentially be the main part of the solution to ensure that we have the people we need to maximize our economic potential. Now your question is how we do that, um work permits is part of the issue and look there are certain challenges in the short term and the long term. In the short term, some of the pressures that have been put on IRCC including the shutdown of offices around the world and in Canada as a result of COVID19 and the need to protect our staff from the spread of the virus has impacted our capacity to some degree, but we’ve adopted new strategies.
So, they can continue to process cases including work permits by for example having more of a digital presence where staff in one office may be able to work on applications that exist in another office. More specifically, though in the recent economic and fiscal update that minister, Freeland presented in the house of commons, there was an investment of 85 million dollars included to improve processing times one of the five key areas that we’re going to be focusing on with that new investment is to get processing times for work permits back to the standard service in a fairly short period of time.
In the longer term, one of the things I’m very excited about when we’re dealing with temporary employment programs which are going to help us solve this labor shortage includes the trusted employer stream that will reduce a significant number of the administrative barriers for employers that we know treat people well and that need workers to succeed and grow in the economy.
So, there is no one silver bullet that will solve this problem forever. We have to look at new investments to reduce processing times, we have to work on engaging employers to increase the number of applications that come through these demand-driven programs, and we have to look at reducing the administrative barriers both for the applicant and for the employer who’s going to hire them. This is a top priority for me because I think we can unlock Canada’s economic potential even further despite the fact we’ve already recovered more jobs than were lost during the pandemic, because we have this labor shortage and immigration is going to be the main answer to solve it.
Host: Thank you so much. Just you know another aspect I would ask about in this was that during the pandemic we also realized there’s a huge shortage of healthcare workers in this country. We are struggling to get you know staff on hospitals. There are huge waiting times which we have when we look for treatments in hospital whereas there are a lot of health workers outside of Canada who would want to migrate to Canada, and we can use them, their skills in our economy and our health infrastructure. So, do we have any plans for special programs to bring this kind of talent from other countries
IRCC Minister: Yes, is the short answer to your question but let me just accentuate how important this issue is. If you go back to the 1970s, there was seven workers four or six and a half workers for every senior citizen, today there are three. In a not-too-distant future there will be two if we don’t embrace people coming in. We’re not just going to have a labor shortage but we’re going to have a significantly larger population of seniors which will demand more pressures on our provincial health care systems part of the answer has to be bringing in newcomers not to just offset the demographic balance, but to specifically bring in healthcare workers who are going to be able to take care of our aging population.
It’s going to impact my region of Atlantic Canada first because we already have an aging population compared to the rest of the country. We are processing healthcare workers on a priority basis. Today, it’s something we started doing during the pandemic. There are other things that we can work on with our provincial counterparts to encourage them to do more to welcome people through the provincial nominee program (for example) and we can also work more closely with them to improve foreign credential recognition, so we can allocate more spaces to jurisdictions where it’s easy to have the healthcare worker arrive.
Of course, you’ll be familiar with some of the pilot programs we have around care providers that can come in perhaps in smaller numbers than the general immigration streams that we’ve been talking about. But we have to look right across our systems to figure out how we’re going to bring more people into the care economy because that is what’s going to help protect us against this demographic tidal wave we’re looking at when I see the aging population that’s going to put more pressures on our health care system.
Host: It’s very happy to know your plans minister, Fraser thank you so much for sharing it uh moving on to another important question uh you know uh it has come to the notice that the last year 2021 though you have just taken over the portfolio but just still wanted to ask you the refusal rate for student applications from India in 2021 has increased uh is there any particular reason for the same
IRCC Minister: So just to be clear, we set a record for the number of international students who’ve come to Canada. There were half a million study permits processed last year. This represents a 178% increase from the year before. Now granted 2020 was a bit of an exceptional year because people weren’t coming in as large numbers, but if we compare this to pre-pandemic numbers, we see that it’s still a 31% increase over what we thought was an extraordinary number that was coming in. So, we are welcoming more international students than we ever have before and we plan to continue that trend.
With the specific example you referenced, it’s more of a factor of more people applying to come to Canada and the limited number of spaces for people to study. As a part of it also as well, I would point out though we made a really important change in certain jurisdictions around the world with the introduction of the student direct stream.
It allows students to apply more quickly and allows us to partner with organizations in the country of origin to ensure that they meet the criteria to facilitate and expedite their application process. For students from India who actually came through this student’s direct stream, we saw a significant improvement in the actual rate of acceptance. It went from 63 percent to 74 percent of the approval rate for the people who came through that stream. I would encourage everyone who’s considering coming to study in Canada to take a look at the student direct stream.
It will enhance the chance of success and make the process less burdensome on you once you submit your application, in terms of the time that you’ll have to wait for the kind of processing that we like to go through. But look my answer is we want more international students to choose Canada because we want them to do well in our country and should they return to their home country after their studies are over, we know that they’re going to take a world-class education to help make the world a better place.
Host: Thank you so much! I think it’s giving a direction to students. Your answer actually helped them to look at the right place for the right streams they can come in and join. So, uh moving on uh to my last question for this interview. So, this is about uh very close to our hearts parent and grandparent program. The process of parent grandparent sponsorship program has, as you know seen some changes over the last few years there were lotteries, they were first come first services, but somehow you know it has always been modern criticism and challenges what are your thoughts about it and can you hint on something what is coming next on this?
IRCC Minister: This is probably the biggest challenge for me as immigration minister when I look at the how the streams can accommodate the people who would like to come to Canada and when you deal with the people who are applying to come through a family reunification stream such as the parents and grandparents program, you’re dealing with people who miss their loved ones who want to be with them, who just want to see their family, which is a very basic thing that so many people would just take for granted, when they’re not uh coming in through an immigration program, but may have grown up in a country or community their entire lives.
One of the things that makes this the most challenging stream is the demand that we have given the spaces that are traditionally available. So in a given year we usually have somewhere in the ballpark of 200,000 applications to come through this for somewhere in the range of ten thousand spaces. The odds of getting in because of this mismatch of supply and demand are much smaller under this stream than our other immigration streams that’s the real issue. Here there are some different people who have different perspectives on a first come first serve versus a lottery basis.
I’m continuously looking at what options we can do to ensure we have the fairest possible process but the one thing that I do feel, some real challenges over is addressing that imbalance between the supply and demand because obviously, we can’t allocate 200,000 spaces for parents and grandparents exclusively in a program that for the first time exceeded 400,000 just last year and typically has much smaller numbers.
So this challenge is going to continue to remain. We’ll look at what we can do to continue to welcome more family members and improve the process but the particular solution on the process, we use to select the families is something that I’m actively considering and seeking feedback from my colleagues on as we speak
Host: Great! So, we can expect some new methodology this time being adopted for the same right
IRCC Minister: Well, I don’t want to prejudge because; although, the lottery system doesn’t work out for everyone. It does put everyone on equal footing. I don’t want to declare here now that we’re making some new program. It’s not that it’s necessarily, unfair, it’s a transparent process. Everyone knows the rules and everyone has an equal chance. If you do it that way, there are some people who suggested maybe we should consider pulling from the pool of people who’ve been in the queue previously. We’re looking at what options will be best and I don’t want to prejudge which system will apply until, I have an opportunity to have further conversations with my colleagues who are also very personally invested in this conversation
Host: Great! so thank you so much Mr. Fraser and in the end would you like to throw some light on anything new which the audience can expect from you, know the immigration process program policy, like anything you would want to say in the end to conclude the interview.
IRCC Minister: Certainly, it looked to conclude; First I want to say thank you and my favorite part of the interview was hearing about your immigration story and how you came to Canada through the express entry system, but my parting message for those who are watching is; Canada – it depends on newcomers for its success today and it will for its success tomorrow, I consider myself very lucky as the immigration minister of Canada because I’m convinced amongst developed economies across the world. I’m the only immigration minister whose biggest problem is that I can’t bring people here fast enough. The welcoming nature of Canadians is a blessing for someone who holds my position.
There may be challenges on this stream or that stream, but we’re in a position where we need to welcome more newcomers quickly to boost our economy in the short term and we need to have a pattern of increasing our immigration levels year over year. If we’re going to help combat the demographic trend that I referred to with our aging population, this is something that I’m very excited to do and I couldn’t be more excited to be welcoming more newcomers in this new role because I think it’s essential for the well-being of Canada, Makes our communities more vibrant and dynamic places to live and I’m so thrilled for the opportunity to discuss these plans with you today.
Kamal Deep Singh, RCIC (Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant) licensed by CICC (formerly known as ICCRC) with member number R708618. He brings extensive knowledge of immigration law and new changes to rapidly evolving IRCC.