Immigration Cutbacks Essential

Immigration Cutbacks Essential

Diane Francis
Financial Post
Published: Saturday, July 03, 2009

It's the issue that dares not speak its name, but the time has come to consider curbing immigration during this emergency period, except to fill skilled trades vacancies.

Canada hosts more immigrants and refugees per capita than any other developed country, but as unemployment will continue to climb and as many workers need retraining, it's time to cut back on the number of newcomers, Canada admits.

It's politically incorrect to question, much less criticize, immigration. This is because of the influence of the immigration “industry,” which is embedded in all parties and provinces. The lobby includes the politicians, lawyers, consultants and special interest groups that make hay off the flow of people into the country.

But setting aside politics, just ask yourself: Would a company keep hiring workers and increasing overhead if it had to lay off people?

Similarly, nations are like corporations, and immigration departments (not humanitarian refugee policy) should function like company personnel sections. This means that for the sake of all involved, hiring should be based on filling otherwise unfillable positions.

By the way, this would mark a return to Canada's pre-1986 immigration policy. In 1986, the government of Brian Mulroney broke with several decades of successful strategy when it unilaterally decided that a permanent quota of 250,000 immigrants per year was the way to go (and permitted family reunification in the broadest sense as a way to meet the quota).

A return to the previous policy is needed. Entries were based on economic and specific labour market conditions in Canada. This helped the economy run better and insured immigrants jobs in their fields.

The Department of Manpower and Immigration would allow 60,000 immigrants in during tough times and more than 120,000 during good times. (Refugees are a different policy.)

I arrived in the late 1960s under this regime and was offered plenty of work, as others who immigrated were too. I believe a nation that invites people to leave home and migrate has a responsibility to insure that there are jobs for all. I also believe that a nation that invites people should make sure these newcomers are not a burden to existing Canadians because they cannot find work.

Currently, there are 1.55 million Canadians out of work, both immigrants and native-borns. The national average is 8.4% unemployment; Ontario is 9.4% and climbing (where 60% of all immigrants go); and more than 13% in some parts of Atlantic Canada.

It is foolish, if not reckless, to continue to let 250,000 people into this economy in its current state.

There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Canadian students hitting terrible job markets these days and for the foreseeable future. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Canadians who need bootstrapping economically. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Canadian workers who are unemployed, soon-to-be-unemployed or underemployed and need to be retrained in order to fill New Economy or growing jobs markets.

The new reality is that the world has taken a coup le of giant steps backward, and Canada, while in relatively good shape, will suffer a lot of pain for the next few years.

I have long argued for a return to the pre-1986 point system, based on filling jobs with people who can do them. This served Canada exceedingly well. The current blind quota system does not and will simply add to the country's financial woes. Now's the time to revamp immigration policy. Francis will return on July 18.