Immigrants want less immigration
Posted: March 10, 2010, 9:30 AM by NP Editor
It is widely believed that most immigrants support high immigration levels. Political parties in particular buy into this assumption, assuming that bringing in large numbers of newcomers will increase their support among ethnic voters. Research in the United States, however, suggests that this is a mistaken premise and that immigrants think immigration levels should be lowered.
A recent poll commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., found that 56% of Asian-American voters surveyed thought immigration levels in the United States were too high, 7% thought they were too low and 14% just right. Among Hispanic voters, the results were not that different, i.e. 57%, 5% and 18% respectively.
It is true that some newcomers do not want immigration levels reduced particularly those who hope to bring in large numbers of extended family members. For many immigrants already in the country, however, the arrival of a great many more in our larger cities means increased competition for the jobs they themselves are seeking.
There is no shortage of data, moreover, showing that immigrants who arrived in recent decades have been much less successful economically than those who came before 1980. Their earnings have been much lower and their poverty rates significantly higher, with estimates that the benefits they receive over what they pay in taxes is in the order of tens of billions of dollars every year.
While research suggests that a number of factors have contributed to their weak economic performance, one of them is almost certainly that we are bringing in far more people than we need and can successfully integrate into the economy. This is particularly the case during a recession as was demonstrated during the economic downturn in the early 1990s, when new immigrants fared particularly badly on the job market and never really recovered after the skills they brought with them became dated before they could find suitable employment.
Why then do political parties persist in maintaining such high immigration levels if they are so costly to Canadians in general and not even popular among most immigrants?
Because those who claim to represent newcomers often have agendas of their own that differ significantly from the interests of those whom they are supposedly serving. Most notable are organizations that purport to represent ethnic communities but that dont reflect the concerns of the latter.
Chief among these are groups that receive government funding to assist in the settlement of newcomers and provide such services as English language training. Were immigration intake to decline, their level of public funding would decline accordingly. Such organizations also have a vested interest in the continuous growth of the ethnic communities they claim to represent since this will give them greater political clout.
An example of such divergent interests could be seen in the late 1990s when a report commissioned by the federal government recommended that newcomers have a working knowledge of English or French when they arrive in Canada since research showed clearly that such an ability was key to their successful integration. The proposal was successfully attacked by organizations that could stand to lose significant government funding if newcomers arrived already proficient in English and French and did not require language classes after their arrival.
Interestingly, a poll was carried out in the Vancouver area at the time showed that not only 75% of Canadian born but 73% of immigrants themselves supported the reports recommendation that newcomers be competent in English or French when they arrived.
Surveys show far more Canadians want immigration levels lowered rather than increased. This is particularly the case in large cities such as Toronto where inhabitants are concerned about large-scale immigration for such reasons as stress on educational and health-care systems, cost to taxpayers, impact on the environment, effect on the employment market, difficulties with integration into the social fabric of Canada, etc.
Such concerns are largely ignored at election time in the expectation that most people born here do not care enough about the problems of immigration to make it a voting issue while immigrants do care about immigration policy and will vote for whatever party supports increased intake.
If the American survey results are any guide to the situation in Canada, the assumption that most newcomers support high intake is wrong and suggests that our political parties have been listening too closely to those who claim to represent immigrants rather than to the immigrants themselves.
Martin Collacott is a former Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East and lives in Vancouver.