The new minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Monte Solberg, agreed to an exclusive question and answer session with Law Times. Below are the answers he provided to some of the burning questions from the immigration bar.
Q: Describe your overall approach to the immigration portfolio and what direction you would like to take it in.
A: As a first step, I will be focusing on the three key priorities identified in the Conservative platform:
Cutting the Right of Landing Fee in half so immigrants can better use this money to cover the costs of starting their lives in Canada;
Introducing new legislation to ease the process of foreign adoptions, extending citizenship to foreign-born children adopted by Canadian parents;
Working with Human Resources and Social Development Canada to create a new federal agency to assist newcomers in their efforts to have their educational/professional credentials and experience recognized.
I will then turn my attention to other challenges facing the immigration system. A key one will be to ensure that the immigration system is more responsive to labour market and community needs. This means focusing on the skilled workers we need to fill labour shortages, which will also contribute to improving immigrant outcomes. Improving client service and overall management of the immigration program is another priority. We want to ensure that employers can have access to the skilled immigrant workers they need.
Q: What policies do you propose to help immigrants get their foreign training recognized in the workforce?
A: Recognizing internationally acquired credentials and experience is a challenge for newcomers and employers. However, it should not be confused with the larger challenge of integrating immigrants into the Canadian labour market. While it is a crucial issue in finding and retaining employment commensurate with an individual's skills and experience, it is one of several interrelated challenges newcomers may face. Other challenges include official language proficiency, obtaining Canadian work experience and understanding the intricacies of life in Canada — particularly in the labour market.
Foreign credential recognition is a particularly challenging issue to be dealt with at the federal level as provinces and territories have jurisdictional responsibility for the regulation of skilled trades and some professions, which in many cases has to be delegated to regulatory bodies through legislation. There are over 400 such bodies responsible for regulating approximately 20 per cent of the Canadian workforce. Of course, the issue of recognizing foreign credentials affects all occupations, not only those which are regulated.
The Government of Canada has committed to creating a Canadian Agency for Assess-ment and Recognition of Credentials to provide pre-assessment of international credentials and experience. This will build upon the work being done by my colleague, the minister of HRSDC, the government's lead on foreign credential recognition.
Q: What approach do you intend to take regarding family reunification?
A: Families play a significant role in helping immigrants adjust to their new lives in Canada, so it's important to make sure that our policies continue to support family reunification. I believe Canada's family class program today is balanced and we will continue to work to improve service for clients.
Q: a) Do you have any plans to revamp the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC)? b) What direction do you think CSIC should take to ensure it remains relevant?
A: a) CSIC is an independent, self-regulatory organization for immigration consultants incorporated by a group of interested stakeholders in October 2003. The society functions according to its bylaws. CIC supported the creation of the CSIC to ensure that individuals wishing to hire a consultant can be assured access to advice and services from qualified and ethical consultants.
b) Consumer protection and program integrity are priorities for the department. However, as previously noted, CSIC is an independent, self-regulatory organization for immigration consultants. I anticipate that CSIC will continue to work towards its mandate of protecting consumers and ensuring the competent and professional conduct of its members.
Q: What is your plan regarding the $920 million funding promised to Ontario by the previous government for immigrant settlement funding?
A: During the election
campaign this government committed to upholding the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agree-ment. The agreement is a comprehensive framework for immigration between the federal government and Ontario. The additional funding of $920 million over five years is to support settlement and integration services for immigrants arriving in Ontario. This includes services that will help to better integrate immigrants into the labour market such as enhanced language training. In terms of when the money will start to be available, the government needs to seek parliamentary authority for the associated funding, which will happen after Parliament begins sitting in April.
Q: Do you have any plans to speed up the existing business immigration program? If so, how?
A: Although I have recently been appointed to this position, I am very aware of concerns regarding processing times, including business classes. I recognize that the business program is an important element in meeting economic objectives. One of our priorities is to improve client service and overall management of the immigration program and that includes processing times.
Q: Any other comments?
A: This government supports a welcoming and well-managed immigration system for Canada based on a fair and transparent process that earns respect and confidence of Canadians as well as the international community.
Immigration benefits Can-ada both economically and culturally. It represents a core component of our past and the key to our future. Newcomers bring ideas, skills, and talents to help fuel the growth of Canada's economy into the 21st century.
We want to ensure that we are successful in encouraging immigrants to make Canada their destination of choice. We also believe in providing new immigrants with the best possible opportunity to use their education and experience here in Canada and contribute to this country's economic and social well-being.
CIC's collective efforts will enhance Canada's reputation as a destination of choice for immigrants and will help secure a bright future for all Canadians.