Speaking notes for the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Keynote address at the Canadian Council for Refugees’ national consultation

Speech

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

November 16, 2023

Land acknowledgement

  • Good morning/afternoon/evening, everyone.
  • I’d like to begin by acknowledging that I’m speaking to you today from the traditional territory of the Wendat [WHEN-daht], Anishinaabeg [uh-nish-uh-NAH-bay], Haudenosaunee [Ho de noh SHOW nee], and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Appreciation

Thank you for the invitation to your national consultation and for giving me the opportunity to join you in this important discussion.

First, let me say that our department, and our country, is incredibly fortunate to have organizations like you as members of the Canadian Council for Refugees providing the services you do. It’s our privilege to support you in your efforts to guide newcomers, advocate on their behalf and help them succeed.

Your efforts make an integral contribution to the richness and diversity of our country.

This is at the forefront of what you do, so you are well aware that our refugee and immigration systems are critical to meeting our international humanitarian commitments. The world is facing an unprecedented refugee and migrant crisis, with millions displaced by war, oppression, and economic and political upheaval.

In response, the Government of Canada has increased its capacity and taken steps to improve our processing. Our department will continue working to reduce backlogs by digitizing applications and harnessing automation technologies to increase processing capacity and efficiency.

Despite these challenging times, our work to help the world’s most vulnerable has been making a difference.

Canada continues to be a global leader in refugee resettlement and labour mobility. Last year, Canada resettled more than 47,500 refugees from over 80 countries.

More recently, the Government of Canada met its goal to welcome at least 40,000 refugees and vulnerable Afghans by the end of 2023. This remains one of the largest commitments in the world. We are proud that these Afghans have found safety here and are now building their new lives in Canada and making important contributions to their communities.

This achievement would not be possible without the efforts of provincial and territorial partners, municipalities, resettlement service providers, civil society organizations and thousands of Canadians.

While this 40,000 milestone is significant, we also recognize that many applications from Afghans remain in process and they are facing a dire humanitarian situation. We will continue to process eligible applications submitted under these programs on a priority basis and work alongside our partners to bring Afghans safely and quickly to Canada.

And our efforts go well beyond Afghanistan.

In April, the Government of Canada introduced measures to support Sudanese temporary residents in Canada who were unable to return home as a result of conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces.

These measures make it possible for Sudanese nationals, who are in Canada with valid temporary resident status, to stay and support themselves.

The measures have been extended to October 27, 2024, to show our ongoing support for the people affected by this conflict.

Last month, I announced that Canada will welcome up to 11,000 Colombians, Haitians and Venezuelans through a new humanitarian permanent residence pathway.

Colombian, Haitian and Venezuelan foreign nationals located in Mexico, Central or South America or the Caribbean who have extended family connections in Canada will soon be eligible to apply for this new pathway.

We continue to collaborate with the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration to understand the regional context and humanitarian needs linked to migration in the Americas.

Immigration levels

Earlier this month, our government tabled its Immigration Levels Plan for 2024, 2025 and 2026.

I’m pleased that Canada intends to maintain its targets of welcoming 485,000 new permanent residents in 2024, including 27,000 refugees and protected persons, then 500,000 permanent residents in 2025, and that same number in 2026.

I believe these levels strike the right balance to bring in the skills and talent we need, stay true to our humanitarian goals, and help families reunite.

These levels will help set the pace of Canada’s population growth, while moderating its impacts on critical domestic systems such as housing, health care and other infrastructure planning.

Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot

As a complementary pathway, the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (or EMPP) allows Canada to welcome more people in need of protection. That’s because those coming through the pilot enter as economic immigrants and not resettled refugees, leaving the resettlement spaces for those with greater vulnerability.

There are many refugees— as well as other vulnerable, displaced people—who have enormous skills and talent, but have limited opportunities due to their circumstances. Tapping into this new talent pool not only benefits the people we help, but also helps businesses across the country reduce labour shortages and skills gaps.

This innovative pilot combines refugee resettlement and economic immigration. In addition to bringing these skilled workers to Canada, IRCC recently provided funding to our NGO partner organizations to strengthen their capacity to identify qualified candidates overseas, and to support candidates and employers throughout the immigration process.

We will continue to work with businesses, communities, provinces and territories in need of skilled workers so they can include EMPP talent in their recruitment plans.

This is good news for refugees, but also for our economy and communities that need people. Over the next few years, we are aiming to bring as many as 2,000 skilled refugees and other qualified displaced persons, along with their families, to Canada to contribute to our economy and society.

Now, the challenge is to get the word out, so employers—no matter their size, location or business focus—realize they can tap into a new, motivated talent pool.

I hope everyone here today will help raise awareness about the potential of EMPP to address Canada’s labour shortages and to benefit the vulnerable people you work so hard to help.

Indigenous border mobility

Another area of focus for our government is improving Indigenous border mobility as Indigenous Peoples are affected by the rules in immigration legislation concerning right of entry to Canada.

We recognize the complex border-crossing and migration challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples who are divided by Canada’s international borders.

The Government of Canada is actively engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups, as well as international partners, to advance plans to reform cross-border mobility and immigration policies for Indigenous Peoples.

Looking at the big picture

Helping displaced persons and refugees remain a key government priority, and immigration will continue to play an important role in supporting Canada’s priorities in the years ahead. In turn, organizations like yours will also continue to play a crucial role.

While we tend to measure immigration year-over-year—and put people in the silos of asylum seeker, refugee, or economic immigrant, the reality is that a newcomer’s potential is far greater than the sum of their circumstances. Supporting the newcomer to realize their potential is at the heart of what you do as you advocate for refugees.

The benefits of immigration are really measured in generations.

A child arriving in Canada today could be tomorrow’s inventor, athlete, nurse or entrepreneur. Or she could be a volunteer who supports and inspires the immigrants who come after her.

We don’t just look only at how newcomers can contribute to our economy now, we also look at the broader and longer-term ways immigration benefits our communities and society as a whole.

Changes

Immigration issues have and continue to evolve rapidly, and have done so for a while.

Settlement and integration within this landscape is evolving as well. Canada is welcoming larger numbers of displaced people from different places, for new reasons and with complex needs.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, 110 million people around the world were forcibly displaced as of the end of last year—a staggering 19 million more than the year prior. Those numbers are astounding and tragic.

Canada received the largest number of resettlement arrivals of any country last year, with arrivals increasing by 133 per cent from 2021, almost half of them from Afghanistan.

We also saw a three-fold increase in new asylum applications last year—and our backlog of pending asylum cases increased as well. That said, our department will continue working to reduce backlogs by digitizing applications and using automation technologies to increase processing capacity and efficiency. We have also hired more processing staff.

And we can expect increased population movements in the future from rising global conflicts and climate-related disasters.

With our own country’s demographics and evolving needs in mind, our department has been working hard to stay ahead of all these transformations to better serve our clients and partners.

We’re looking to organizations such as yours to help us come up with innovative ideas to meet the moment and prepare for the future. This includes working with you and other stakeholders on Canadian and international pledges coming out of the upcoming Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

Housing

Take housing, for example. It’s one of the top challenges facing Canadians today. And as you know, newcomers—particularly those with large families—often face additional challenges finding housing that’s both suitable and affordable.

Beyond supporting the initiatives of settlement service providers, IRCC’s role in housing has historically been limited. We don’t have off-the-shelf solutions to address housing issues.

We recognize the ongoing challenges, and our government is focused on affordable housing through the 10-year National Housing Strategy. Our 82 billion-dollar strategy focuses first on the most vulnerable Canadians, including new migrants.

We are also collaborating with provincial and municipal partners to help increase the amount of temporary housing available for asylum claimants.

In addition to federally run hotel spaces, the federal government has provided nearly $700 million in funding to provincial and municipal governments through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, with the goal of relieving some of the extraordinary pressure on housing tied to an increase in asylum claimants.

Through our Express Entry system, we’re also sending invitations to apply for permanent residence to candidates who can help fill labour shortages in the construction industry and build more homes.

And this past year, we conducted an in-depth engagement initiative to explore how immigration policies and programs can shape and support a shared vision for Canada’s future.

Housing was one of the most pressing concerns raised during the review of our immigration system.

It’s vital that newcomers’ housing needs are understood and incorporated into all of our plans. I know the CCR will continue to go to bat for improvements on that front.

Healthcare

In addition to housing challenges, I know your clients have encountered barriers to accessing health care.

It’s difficult for many to find a doctor who’s accepting new patients, or a dentist who accepts their type of insurance. And some in severe distress face extremely long wait times for psychotherapy at community clinics.

Newcomers often look to settlement service providers for help with these challenges.

Unfortunately, the ongoing health provider shortages across the country have affected just about everyone, with equity-seeking groups affected disproportionately.

For our part, IRCC’s Settlement Program plays a role in preventative and non-clinical areas of health and mental health, while our Interim Federal Health Program focuses on helping refugees, refugee claimants and protected persons.

We continue to fund short-term counselling through settlement service providers. And we’re partnering with organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health to support settlement workers and health professionals across Canada in meeting newcomers’ mental health needs.

We will continue to collaborate with stakeholders in the health sector, and with provincial and territorial governments, to help get internationally educated health professionals to work more quickly in Canada and to identify better supports for newcomers. The well-being of newcomers will always be one of the department’s top priorities.

Conclusion

While we were conducting our review, we asked Canadians how our country’s doing. Respondents said we can be proud of our international reputation for responding to humanitarian crises and resettling refugees.

That reputation stems from the important work your organizations do, and the leadership you’ve demonstrated for 45 years.

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. Our department looks forward to continued work with the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Thank you.

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