Integration of Economic Immigrants and RefugeesPublished on 4 October 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
We know from research conducted by your department that the economic outcomes of refugees and individuals who immigrate to Canada under family reunification policies lag far behind people who enter our nation as economic immigrants. We understand your policy objective seeks to move away from an emphasis on economic immigration to more family reunification and more refugees.
In my province of New Brunswick, JD Irving Limited has made a point of hiring refugees instead of temporary foreign workers, for example, for seasonal tree planting. That is an example of what the private sector can do.
Can you tell us what your government is planning to do to ensure that those individuals who come here are more quickly adjusted to the economic realities of Canada?
Hon. John McCallum, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, Mr. Senator, for your question.
I think your question has two parts: one, the settlement and integration of refugees and, two, economic immigrants.
In terms of refugees, you are right that refugees tend to settle slower than economic immigrants. If you think about where they are coming from, it is hardly surprising that the Syrian refugees, the government-assisted ones in particular, tend to have very little education and almost no ability to speak English or French, so naturally it takes them longer to settle down. We knew that when we got into this because we wanted to help the most vulnerable, and so we understand that it takes longer for them to become integrated.
But over the medium term, past waves of refugees have also been good investments and over time they do extremely well. The children of refugees do just as well or better than Canadian-born of the same age. So it is a humanitarian act in the short term, but it is also an economic investment for the country in the medium and longer term.
In terms of the second part of the question about economic immigrants, yes, in our first year we had made a commitment on refugees. We had made a commitment to speed up family class unification, but that does not mean going forward we would neglect the economic class. The economic class is still by far the largest of any three, and to the extent there is growth in immigration, the preponderance of that additional growth will be economic class.
Not only that, we were taking measures to reform express entry to facilitate the entry of international students, to facilitate the entry of high-value people in high-tech and IT sectors, and so it is our hope that with these reforms new immigrants will settle in quicker than they have in the past. They will be employed faster at higher paying jobs and, indeed, they will often facilitate the hiring of more Canadians so that they will make a contribution through their own work efforts to Canadian economic growth and also through the hiring of other Canadians.
Senator Day: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your comments with respect to economic immigrants who have helped to build this great country. You have also stated publicly that your government intends to make it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers.
Will you have to reduce the number of economic immigrants to permit your objective of improving family reunification and welcoming refugees and bringing in more temporary foreign workers?
I’m concerned that your government may be choosing to address bona fide labour shortages with more temporary foreign workers instead of more economic immigrants. Would you give us your assurance that this is not the direction your government is going?
Mr. McCallum: I don’t remember making the statement of bringing in more temporary foreign workers. I do not believe I said that. That issue was before a parliamentary committee. That report has just been released, and the government has not yet responded to those recommendations.
In terms of spousal or immediate family reunification, yes, we think it is unconscionable and unacceptable that the processing time be in the order of two years. We think it should be much less, and we are working to that end. In the current year we did admit more people in that category to speed up the process.
Going forward, the demand for spousal unification will depend on the number of Canadians who marry foreigners, and that number tends to go up gradually. It is not going to be a major factor in terms of the displacement of economic immigrants. As I said earlier, the great majority of any increment to immigrants will indeed be economic immigrants. We are in the process of taking measures to ensure that those economic immigrants are better equipped to integrate quickly into the Canadian economy.
Senator Day: Thank you. That is reassuring.