Canadian immigration has cut permanent residence backlog by 40% since 2008

The Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney gave a somewhat self-congratulatory presentation at Mississauga, Ontario on March 26th 2013 in which he laid out the actions that his department had taken since 2008 to reduce the backlog of cases waiting for decisions on Canadian permanent residency applications. Mr Kenney's Conservative Party came to power in Canada in 2008.

Mr Kenney also released a statement through the CIC website in which he said 'Backlogs and delays prevent Canada from attracting the best and brightest from around the world and ensuring that our immigration system is contributing to economic growth and long-term prosperity'.

Mr Kenney said that the pressures on the Canadian immigration system were such that drastic action was required. He said that simply increasing the number of applications being processed through the immigration system by Canada would not have been enough to reduce the backlog. The pressure on the system was such that backlogs would still have continued to grow and new applicants would have had to wait for longer and longer periods of time before having their applications dealt with.

CIC figures show that the total number of cases in the backlog today stands at 616,269, down from about 1,000,000 when Mr Kenney launched his 'action plan for faster immigration'. This includes all immigrants both family class and economic class. Mr Kenney said that this reduction is down to the actions that he and CIC have taken. If no actions had been taken to cut the backlog, and processing of Canadian visa applications had continued as before, the backlog would currently stand at over 1,700,000 and would reach nearly 2,250,000 by 2015.

Controversy over termination of FSWP applications

The steps that Mr Kenney has taken to achieve this reduction have not been uncontroversial. Perhaps the most controversial step he took was in June 2012 when he terminated all applications for permanent resident status made under Canada's main skilled work programme, the Federal Skilled Worker Program that had been made before March 2008.

Mr Kenney then suspended the FSWP to new applicants and said that he would reform it before reopening the FSWP in May 2013. He said that this would allow a further reduction of the backlog and allow the remodelling of the FSWP to make it more responsive to the needs of Canadian business. He has succeeded in cutting the FSWP backlog by about 500,000. It was 624,516 before July 2012. It now stands at 91,403. As already mentioned the total backlog for all types of Canadian immigration applications is 616,269.

CIC forecasts predict that the backlog will be only 10,221 by 2015 allowing Canada to remodel the FSWP to make it more like the Australian government's 'expression of interest' system and also enabling Canadian immigration to reduce the waiting time for CIC decisions on applications to six months.

Case awaiting judge's decision

However, Mr Kenney's decision has been challenged in the courts by some of those affected on the grounds that it was unconstitutional so it is possible that this is not the last we will hear of the applicants whose applications were terminated. The case is currently awaiting a decision from the judge.

Whichever side wins the case, it is likely that the losing side will appeal. Mr Kenney says that it was not practical to leave the backlog in place. If he had not taken the action he did, he says, the FSWP backlog would have grown to over 1,500,000 by 2015 which would have meant a 15-year waiting list for new applicants.

Mr Kenney said that similarly drastic steps were necessary in the parents and grandparents backlog. By 2011, there was a waiting list of 167,000 people and a processing time of 8 years. If he had he not acted in 2011, Mr Kenney says that by 2015 typical processing time for these applications would be 15 years and there would have been 250,000 in the backlog. His current plan will see the waiting list reduced to about 50,000 by 2015 with a processing time of about two years.

Business visas also a problem

Business class visas were, if anything, even more of a problem. Based on CIC forecasts, if nothing is done, by 2015, the case backlog would have reached about 250,000 and there would have been a waiting time for new applicants of about 20 years. That is why Mr Kenney said he introduce a moratorium on new applications under the Immigrant Investor Program in 2012. CIC figures predict that the waiting list will be reduced to 75,000 by 2015 with a 6 year waiting time for new applicants.

Mr Kenney is also facing legal challenges from some applicants under the immigrant investor program.

Mr Kenney's statement read 'We still have work to do but by taking clear and decisive action to deal with backlogs, we will attain our goal of having a fast and a flexible immigration system. Newcomers will arrive with skills and talents that are in short supply in Canada and contribute to our economy. The immigration system must work for Canada which is why we will continue to reduce backlogs and speed up the system so that people spend less time waiting and more time participating fully in the Canadian economy'.

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