Immigration isn’t as beneficial as politicians claim
By James Bissett, Calgary Herald, May 20, 2011
The recent election campaign focused a great deal of attention on immigrant communities. There are good reasons for this. Since 1990, Canada has been accepting about a quarter of a million newcomers each year and these numbers have caused a dynamic transformation in the demographic characteristics of our country.
The pace of change is underlined by research done by Statistics Canada showing the phenomenal growth in the number of so-called ethnic enclaves since the early 1980s. Statistics Canada defines an ethnic enclave as a community where over 30 per cent of the population is of one ethnic group other than English or French. In 1981, there were six ethnic enclaves in Canada. Today, there are 260.
Immigration has also had a powerful impact on our political system. All of the political parties favour large-scale immigration. Every immigrant is seen by them as a potential voter for their party. The politicians justify high immigration levels by claiming immigration is desperately needed to sustain our economic growth, enhance our labour force and combat our so-called aging problem.
Last year, Canada received 281,000 immigrants -the highest number since 1957. In addition, 182,000 temporary foreign workers arrived, so that by the end of the year, there were 283,000 of these workers in the country. There were also 218,000 foreign students here and most of the temporary workers and students will remain permanently. There is also a massive backlog of over one million immigrants waiting to come who have met all of the entry requirements.
These are very high numbers -on a per-capita basis, no other country receives as many immigrants. Clearly, the program is out of control, but our political leaders seem incapable of acknowledging there is a problem and continue to urge even higher numbers.
It is significant that of the 281,000 immigrants who arrived in 2010, only 17 per cent, or 48,800, were skilled workers selected for their potential contribution to our labour force. The remainder were spouses and children accompanying them, relatives sponsored by people already in Canada, immigrants sponsored by the provinces, refugees or others accepted for humanitarian reasons. So much for helping our economy or labour force!
There are few economists today who argue that immigration is a significant factor in economic development. Studies in Canada since the MacDonald Royal Commission Report of 1985 and the Economic Council of Canada’s studies in the early 1990s concluded that immigration was not necessary for economic prosperity. In 2003, Prof. Alan Green of Queen’s University released a study that argued that while immigration had been useful in the past, the economic argument for it had largely disappeared and that the current political posture of using immigration to solve economic problems was no longer valid.
In 2008, Prof. Herb Grubel of Simon Fraser University, in a landmark study, showed that the 2.5 million immigrants who had come to Canada from 1990 to 2002 had received in benefits and services in one year (2002) $18.3 billion more than they had paid in taxes. That amount was more than the federal government spent on health care and twice what was spent on defence in fiscal 2000-2001.
Studies in the United States and Britain have reached similar conclusions.
In 2008, the British House of Lords warned that the plan to admit 190,000 immigrants per year would achieve little benefit and criticized the Labour government for misleading the public by justifying such high levels, which provided no economic benefit and were not needed to fill labour force demands.
Demographic studies in various countries have conclusively put to rest the myth that immigration can help a country overcome its aging problem. In 2006, the C.D. Howe Institute study ‘Immigration Cannot Keep Canada Young ‘ pointed out that to have any significant impact on aging, Canada would have to accept several million immigrants each year.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, our political parties -even the Green party -repeatedly advocate raising our immigration levels, and do so, as they did in 2008, regardless of economic down turn. The name of the game is to get more numbers, because numbers are seen as voters.
In fact, the pressure to increase immigration has become such an overwhelming obsession with politicians that our overseas visa officers do not have time to interview prospective immigrants and the vast majority are no longer seen or interviewed.
The assessment of qualifications is done by reviewing documentation and the visas are issued by mail. Is there an employer in Canada who would hire someone without a personal interview?
Immigration is a critical public policy issue. The kind of Canada we will be in the future depends on the policies we follow today.
The dramatic changes in our demographic composition are being done without public knowledge or debate. This is wrong. There may be reasons why demographic change is desirable, or even inevitable, but if through mass immigration, the traditional society of a nation is in danger of becoming marginalized, then surely it should be done as a deliberate and open policy objective of government -and not driven by politicians competing desperately for ethnic votes.
Immigration has always been an integral part of the Canadian story and has made a powerful contribution to our historic achievements.
We must not allow our politicians to use it as a political game that patronizes the immigrants and damages our national interest.
James Bissett is a former ambassador and the executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service. He serves on the advisory board of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform : http://www.immigrationreform.ca/