Hon. Bryce Mackasey (Minister of Manpower and Immigration):
Mr. Speaker, in 1967 Parliament passed the Immigration Appeal Board Act and eliminated elements of the Immigration Act legislated 14 years earlier. At the same time as this new legislation came into force, new immigration regulations were passed by Order in Council. These regulations for the first time allowed visitors to Canada to apply for landed immigrant status while in our country. At the same time, we reaffirmed the advantages such as extra credits for prearranged employment and better preparation for those who applied while still in their home countries, the traditional method of immigrating to a new homeland.
The 1967 legislation refined appeal procedures and included for the first time the right of sponsoring Canadian relatives to appeal on behalf of people still in their home countries. The regulations provided objective selection criteria, based on education, skill, occupational demand, language capability, age and other factors. They eliminated what may have been unintentional discrimination under the earlier systems. A person's race, colour, creed or sex is not a factor in selection as an immigrant.
The 1967 regulations were based on recognition of the fact that an open immigration policy goes hand in hand with the economic and cultural growth of our country. Our present problem in immigration is not the calibre of the thousands of persons applying in Canada to become landed immigrants. It is rather the unexpected volume of desirable and worthy persons from many countries who are caught up in what is, in fact, a very thorough and equitable appeals system. It is interesting to note that in 1971 there were 122,000 immigrants to Canada, of whom nearly 40,000 were landed while here as visitors.
Five years ago no one could have forecast the tremendous impact jet-age world travel would have on immigration. More than 38 million persons visit Canada each year and thousands of these visitors want to settle here permanently after becoming enamoured with this land.
Whatever changes may be desirable in the Immigration Act, and these are being considered with care, are not relevant to solving the problems of today. Those problems must be met by coping with the situation we have. We have not had the administrative flexibility to clear, one way or another, the great number of cases requiring decision. In human decency and fairness, decisions must be given and given soon. Legislative changes are for the future. They can wait.
The result of our inability to cope with the large numbers who could not immediately be granted landed immigrant status has been a large build-up in backlogs at two levels of procedure, that is, in the immigration inquiry system and at the Immigration Appeal Board. Unintentionally, this has created hardship for many people anxious to become Canadians. As an example, abnormally long delays in determining the final status of immigrants have caused financial hardship forcing some immigrants to take employment without authorization. It is our objective to eliminate these delays so that this situation will not arise in the future. While I intend to remove the immediate hardships and eliminate delays, I do not intend to change the basic policy under which persons coming to Canada are prohibited from taking employment without permission.
I want to say that the program we are instituting now is not in the category of a general amnesty such as we have had in former years. Rather, the plan calls for action on two fronts: first, to streamline and improve current procedures to prevent a further build-up of the backlog of cases and, second, to eliminate this backlog of some 13,500 applications now awaiting hearings by special inquiry officers who determine in the presence of the applicant and his counsel whether an applicant should be landed or ordered deported.
The department's field strength is being increased by 260 persons so that backlog cases can be reviewed and be assessed and delays in the handling of current applications can be drastically reduced.
The prospective immigrant's performance in Canada will be reviewed, taking into account how he has been able to adjust to Canadian life while awaiting his departmental hearing. Consideration will be given to his financial stability, trade and language training, participation in community activities and his employment potential.
We hope this will result in the granting of landed status to some 50 per cent of the applicants whose cases have
June 22, 1972
been caught up in the backlog. Those not immediately accepted as landed immigrants will have their departmental hearings continued with full protection of their right of appeal to the independent Immigration Appeal Board.
Each applicant in the backlog will be notified that the department is undertaking a review of his case. He will be informed of the factors on which this review will be based and invited to provide any new information to show that he has in fact successfully established himself in Canada. He will also be asked to produce letters of recommendation from Canadian citizens or other permanent residents of Canada. For purpose of this review, we will be prepared to seek relief by Order in Council from the application of the relevant immigration regulations for those persons who have established themselves successfully in Canada.
In regard to new applications, our objective is that any future applicants for landed immigrant status from within Canada will be assessed within one month, and if a further hearing is necessary it will be held without delay.
It is expected that this rate of processing new applications can be achieved by January 1, 1973. No additions will be made to the existing backlog after that date. A target date of April 1, 1974 has been set to eliminate the remaining departmental inquiry backlog.
Although they cannot be resolved directly by any administrative measures, the department will also reexamine its files on some 10,000 cases now before the Immigration Appeal Board. Since I am a party to all appeals I shall, through my representatives, make submissions and arguments for favourable consideration wherever possible. It must, however, be emphasized that the board as an independent tribunal makes its own decisions on the basis of the law and the evidence adduced in each individual case.
Subtopic: ANNOUNCEMENT OF MEASURES TO ELIMINATE
Sub-subtopic: BACKLOG OF APPLICATIONS AND PREVENT FURTHER BUILD-UP