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September 11, 2014

Canada's immigration policy moving in the wrong direction

Reuel S. Amdur

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Canada's immigration policies have been more successful than those of the United States and European countries. That was the view expressed by Irene Bloemraad, a sociology professor at the University of California, in a talk given to the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Parliamentary dining room on April 3.

Others have suggested that the reasons can be laid to two major factors, our point system and our remoteness from countries with large numbers of very poor people.  She suggests another reason.

Immigrants to Canada are for the most part on a path to citizenship.  Other countries, by contrast, place more emphasis on temporary admissions.  As a result, immigrants to these other countries tend not to identify with their receiving countries.  According to Bloemraad, “Temporary immigration without a clear road to citizenship is bad for immigrants and for the countries where they live.” 

In Canada, 85% of the foreign born identify with Canada.  And we need immigrants because of the demographic shift.  Our median age is 40.6 years.  “Seniors are almost as numerous as children.” 

Canada has some temporary admissions, for example for education and for live-in helpers, but for both of these categories there are pathways to permanence.  However, Canada has more recently been moving to expand temporary worker admissions.

We as a country have been more positive on immigration than the U.S. and Europe.  26% of Canadians have a negative attitude toward immigration, while in the U.S. the figure is 54%, 66% in Britain, and an average of 50% among the European countries.  Anti-immigrant sentiment is especially strong when it comes to Muslims.  One reason for the attitude of Canadians toward immigration is that a fifth of our population is foreign-born.

There is a marked contrast between the U.S. and Canada in the composition of immigration.  In Canada, two-thirds of immigrants are economic, while in the U.S. two-thirds are family sponsorships.  Less than 10% of Canadian immigrants are admitted for humanitarian reasons.  Another difference is in the level of supports for settlement of immigrants.  In the U.S., support is limited, while in Canada grass-roots groups and agencies partner with government at all three levels to help. 

Bloemraad is concerned about the growing tendency in Canada to use temporary workers.  If we bring pipefitters in, why not bring them in as landed immigrants rather than temporary workers?  Experience in both the U.S. and Europe is that a number of temporary workers refuse to leave at the end of their work permit and simply go underground.  The United States has initiated major campaigns to expel illegals, but there are more undocumented  residents in the U.S. now than ever.  The experience with “temporary” immigrants in the United States and Europe should give us pause, she urged.

She was asked to comment on the Harper government’s charge that refugees come to Canada for free health care.  Bloemraad noted that in the United States few people come for reasons related to social programs.  90% want to be part of the labor force.  Her remarks addressed normal immigration, not the arrival of refugees fleeing persecution, often to avoid physical assault and even death.  As for cutting off health care, “Everyone should get health care,” she said.  We don’t want people wandering around with tuberculosis. 

There were Members of Parliament present during the presentation.  One hopes that they heard.

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