First of a five-part series See related stories by Stoffman on pages B4 and B5 WHY CANADA MUST REASSESS ITS WIDE-OPEN IMMIGRATION POLICY Pounding at the gates
The world is on the move.
By some estimates, as many as 100 million people from poor countries want to make new homes in the exclusive club of rich countries, a club that includes Canada. But the rich countries can’t employ or accommodate more than a small fraction of them.
Heartless as it may seem, the rich countries don’t need these people and aren’t going to let them in.
Yet through the 1990s and beyond, an ever-growing tide of people from the poor nations will be pounding on the gates of the rich.
Four babies are born every second. In less than two decades, the Third World’s labor force will contain 700 million more people than it does today, an increase equal to the existing labor force of all the world’s industrialized countries.
Because of television and movies, people who live in the teeming cities of the Third World know that a better life awaits them in the rich countries if they can only get through those gates. You can’t blame them for trying. All they want is what the immigrant ancestors of today’s Canadians wanted – a better life for their children.
They want it so badly that if one rich country refuses them entry, they will try another. One place many will be sure to try is Canada.
Canadian immigration policy used to be about seeking immigrants to populate a new country that was in the process of nation- building. It’s not about that any more, although many people still think of it in these archaic terms.
Immigration policy today is about finding a way to cope with the swelling tide of humanity that wants in. It is in Canada’s best interest to select only a few of the millions of people who would like to come here – the ones most likely to become productive members of Canadian society.
That is why Parliament is debating measures aimed at giving the government more control over who gets in. And that is why policy- makers in Canada and other rich countries are belatedly waking up to the need to plan Third World development aid with the aim of curbing migration by creating jobs in those countries.
It is clear that we must buy the goods and services that the poor countries are offering or they will send us their excess populations.
This new global setting provides an entirely new context for Canadian immigration policy. A national debate is long overdue.
Yet, until recently, there has been little debate over immigration policy in Canada. This is surprising because the current five-year plan calling for immigration of 1.2 million people represents the world’s largest wave of newcomers since the turn of the century, except for the special case of Israel. (The foreigners seeking admission to Germany are not immigrants but asylum-seekers, most of whom are expected to leave. But even if it gets 500,000 newcomers this year, Germany’s intake will still be much lower than Canada’s on a per capita basis.)
No other country in the world receives immigrants on a scale even close to ours.
It’s hard to have a dispassionate and serious discussion on this vital issue. That’s because, more than any other area of public policy, immigration is encrusted with empty rhetoric, emotionalism, exaggerated claims and quaint, romantic notions that simply don’t make any sense.
Both those who favor Canada’s policy of massive, unselective immigration and those who are against non-white immigration and multiculturalism rely on a variety of myths to bolster their arguments.
Some of these ideas hark back to Canada’s pioneer days. They are worthless as a basis for a modernized immigration policy suitable to the rapidly approaching 21st century. Before we can even start to talk about immigration policy in the ’90s, we need to reassess these outdated ideas.
Here are a few of them:
* Canada can absorb many immigrants because it is so big. This is the most widespread, and the most foolish, of all immigration myths. It has been more than 70 years since immigrants came to settle empty land in Canada. Today, all immigrants go to big cities because that is where the jobs are and where other people of similar backgrounds live.
* Immigration brings in skilled people we need but don’t produce ourselves. Just when industry is desperate for highly skilled workers (and offers fewer opportunities than ever for the unskilled), we find ourselves with an immigration system that, in effect, gives priority to uneducated people. Immigrants, as of the 1986 census, were three times as likely to be functionally illiterate (i.e., have less than Grade 5 education) as native-born Canadians. Yet in 1971, immigrants were three times as likely as those born in Canada to have a higher education.
* Immigration is essential to the economy. There is no evidence that this is true. In fact, there is a consensus among economists who have studied immigration that it does nothing to raise the incomes of those already here. The world’s three major immigrant- receiving countries – Canada, the United States and Australia – do not outperform other industrialized countries that traditionally have had little or no immigration.
* Immigrants cause unemployment and are a drain on social services. Wrong. In the past, immigrants have contributed more to the public coffers in taxes than they have taken out. Studies have shown time and again that, while immigration may depress wages and cause unemployment in certain industries, it has no permanent impact on the over-all unemployment rate.
* Canada’s refugee determination system is the most generous in the world. True. But, by international standards, it is not really a refugee determination system. It is a parallel immigration program in which self-selected immigrants are given landed status as “refugees” although most would not be so defined anywhere else in the world.
* Canada is under- populated. The issue is not whether Canada is under-populated but whether Metro Toronto and other large cities are under-populated because that is where immigrants settle. Our cities are undergoing unprecedented stress – homelessness, food banks, violent crime, traffic congestion, air pollution, overflowing landfill sites. Is more population the answer to these problems? Few urban residents think so, yet the Progressive Conservative government relentlessly pursues a policy of high immigration that makes rapid urban growth inevitable.
* Immigrants form ethnic ghettos and refuse to adopt Canadian cultural values. This is a crude overstatement. Governor-General Ray Hnatyshyn’s ancestors probably had less in common culturally with the native-born Canadians they encountered on arriving from Ukraine than do today’s new arrivals. New immigrants have always been “different”; succeeding generations have always integrated and it’s still happening. A survey of British Columbia high school students in 1986 by Charles Ungerleider of the University of B.C. showed that immigrants and their children knew as much about Canadian values as defined in the Charter of Rights as Canadian-born students and were equally loyal to those values.
* Canada requires immigrants to pass a points test to show they have useful skills. Rarely. In fact, fewer than 15 per cent need to prove any kind of worthiness, compared with 32 per cent 20 years ago. By encouraging family reunification beyond the immediate family, even before immigrants have obtained citizenship, Ottawa has created a stream of self-selected immigrants who don’t need to speak one of our languages or have any education or skills to enter Canada by right.
* Immigration is diluting the Canadian national identity. If Canadians have only a frail sense of national identity, that is not the fault of immigrants. Most new Canadians are ready and willing to accept the Canadian identity as their own. But first we have to articulate clearly, both for their sake and our own, what that identity is.
* Because of our low fertility rate, Canada’s population is shrinking and we need more immigrants to fill jobs. Wrong. Because we have so many women of child-bearing age, our population would be growing even without any immigration. Canada, according to the most recent Statistics Canada demographic report, has “the strongest rate of population growth in the industrialized world.” Our fertility rate of 1.8 children per woman is among the highest in the Western world. (By comparison, Italy and Spain have the lowest fertility in the world at 1.3 children per woman.) Meanwhile, Canada’s unemployment rate is stuck at a lofty 11 per cent, a figure that does not include people who have dropped out of the labor force.
* If we don’t have a lot of immigration, our population will go down eventually because Canadians aren’t producing enough babies to replace the existing population of 27 million. This is true, but what does it really mean? It means that because a couple now in their 20s decide to have only one child, the Canadian population will eventually decline by one. But that decline won’t likely happen for at least another 50 years when the mother and father die. In an over-populated world, there are far more pressing things to worry about than that. Anyway, no one can prove that a Canada of 20 million people in the middle of the next century would be worse off than a Canada of 30 million, 40 million or 50 million. The environment would benefit from a smaller population and, because we would be forced to invest more in training and technology, our economy would become more competitive.
* Without high immigration there won’t be enough young people to pay for the social programs to support all the old people we are going to have as society ages. This is most unlikely. European countries already have the high percentage of older people that we will have in the next century and they are doing fine. “Even with ordinary increases in productivity the whole question of supporting an aging population just disappears,” says Mike Murphy, who headed the federal government’s review of Canada’s demographic future.
* A tidal wave of people is on the move and you can’t stop a tidal wave. Yes you can, if you decide you really want to. Italy sent back boatloads of Albanians and the Albanians stopped coming. When the West said it would no longer accept Vietnamese refugees and proved it by forcibly repatriating them from camps in Hong Kong, the boat people stopped coming. The fatalistic notion that countries can’t prevent mass influxes of unwanted migrants is unsupported by any evidence.
Once we’ve dispensed with the mythology, what are we left with? Well, we’re left with 250,000 people a year leaving crowded cities in other countries to come to crowded cities in Canada. We know why they want to come: most will enjoy a better standard of living and a lot of them have relatives here.
Furthermore, in Canada they can live in peace, get enough to eat, and vote in free elections, which is a better deal than most countries are offering these days.
But immigration is supposed to be a balance between the needs of the people who want to come and those of the people who already live here. So what’s in it for us? Why do we want to cram so many new people, half of whom can’t speak either official language, into our largest cities every year?
That is a difficult and complex question. I know because I have been asking it for the past year. It was a year devoted to investigating immigration policy – conducting scores of interviews in Canada and the U.S. as well as in Mexico City, Brussels and Geneva, and examining countless reports and studies.
Defenders of the existing policy argue that rapid population growth is essential for economic growth. By this analysis, the citizens of China and India should be the richest people on Earth while those who live in small countries with stable populations – Switzerland and the Netherlands, for example – should have starved to death long ago.
The truth is that immigration helps some Canadians economically, hurts others and makes little difference to the vast majority. It’s time for a more realistic assessment of what immigration can do, both for Canada and for the people who want to settle here.
Immigration is a way of:
* Providing a haven for genuine refugees.
* Getting some capital and useful skills, while keeping in mind that these benefits, though helpful, have no great economic impact.
* Reuniting immediate families, that is, spouses and dependent children.
* Preventing too steep a drop in population.
Finally, there is an intangible but vitally important reason why Canada receives immigrants: because it is a nation of immigrants. Canada was built by immigrants and all of us, except for aboriginals, are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Recharging our batteries with a flow of new arrivals is an essential perhaps the essential element of our national character.
In this, says Doris Meissner, an expert on immigration at the Carnegie Foundation in Washington, Canadians, Australians and Americans differ fundamentally from Europeans for whom “membership in society is tied to ethnicity and nationality.”
In the immigrant-receiving countries, ethnic diversity is seen as a good thing and membership in society is based not on ethnicity but on a shared commitment to democratic values.
We should stop looking at immigration as an economic panacea; it isn’t. Nor should we view immigration as a demographic necessity; there will be no demographic disaster if we have much less of it. Instead, we should celebrate immigration as a reaffirmation of who we are – a nation of immigrants.
But we should be clear about how immigration is changing the country: who we are, and who we are becoming, is different from who we were.
Until the 1960s, immigration policy in Canada, the U.S. and Australia systematically excluded visible minorities. Then all three immigrant-receiving countries, with Canada leading the way, traded in their racist policies for egalitarian ones. The implications of that decision were not debated then and, in Canada, they still haven’t been.
The implications are these: the vast majority of the immigrants to Canada now are non-white. This fact, coupled with a low birth rate and the concentration of immigrants in the largest cities, means that non-whites will eventually become the majority in these cities.
When the politicians quietly changed the policy a quarter of a century ago, nobody thought this would happen.
In both Canada and the U.S., politicians actually thought they could have a non-racist immigration policy without changing the ethnic makeup of their respective countries. Most immigration to North America had always been from Europe and that was the way it would always be, or so they thought. In the Third World, said Nicholas Katzenbach, who was U.S. attorney-general at the time, “there are not many people who want to come.”
The thinking in Ottawa was the same, recalls Orest Kruhlak, a political scientist with a special interest in immigration and head of Ottawa’s multiculturalism program in Vancouver. “The bureaucrats and politicians thought that immigrants would still come from Europe,” he says.
Kruhlak, who is of Ukrainian background, thinks few Canadians are racist but he thinks many are like his mother-in-law.
Like her, they observe our society changing because of non- European immigration and they feel “a sense of uncomfortableness, a sense of unease. My mother-in-law is 80-years-old, was born and raised in Alberta, and is of British and Swedish origin. She used to know the signposts of life. She didn’t have to have an explanation. Now the symbols are changing and she isn’t as comfortable. In her terms, we’ve changed the rules of game. She says, ‘Nobody asked me.’ “
When the rules were changed, only 3 per cent of Toronto’s population was made up of visible minorities. Today, they are 25 per cent and by 2001, they will be 45 per cent.
Meanwhile, an Angus Reid poll last June found that 55 per cent of Canadians think racism is a serious and escalating problem and 71 per cent of Torontonians expect more rioting like last spring’s rampage on Yonge St. following the police shooting of a black man.
Even members of minority groups are less comfortable in Canada than they were before Brian Mulroney’s government decided we needed a huge influx of newcomers. A poll by Goldfarb Consultants this year found that only 47 per cent of minority group members were “very satisfied” with life in Canada compared with 73 per cent in 1985. As well, 26 per cent felt prejudice against them was increasing compared with 17 per cent in 1985.
Change is always stressful, especially rapid change. Canadians will have to accept that, in an increasingly multicultural world, the ethnic composition of Canada will change. But, not unreasonably, they prefer gradual to rapid change. That is why opinion polls consistently show strong support for lower immigration levels.
Canada’s three major parties have decided that this majority view should not be permitted to have political expression. Immigration policy in Canada is conducted as if it were none of the public’s business.
Instead, it is the preserve of advocacy groups, ethnic communities, politicians representing those communities, and lawyers whose livelihood depends on having a large supply of immigrants to represent.
These people form a sort of immigration establishment and they resent the idea that immigration policy should reflect the national interest. Instead, they insist that it conform to the wishes of prospective immigrants and their Canadian relatives. And because most new immigrants are non-white, advocates of lower, more selective immigration risk being accused of racism.
It is the same in Sweden, says Jonas Widgren, a former Swedish secretary of state for immigration. He now heads the Informal Consultations, a Geneva- based organization that provides a forum for the 16 developed countries that are the most frequent destinations of asylum-seekers.
“In Sweden you have to hate racism,” he says. “So you can’t even discuss immigration because that is being racist.”
This situation allows the terms of the debate to be set by the far right, which is unafraid of being called racist, and creates a political vacuum on a crucial public policy issue.
We should not smugly assume that Canada is immune to the sort of anti- immigrant backlash now underway in Europe. It could happen here if the pace of immigration continues to outstrip the country’s ability to absorb newcomers.
The government’s proposed changes are a welcome beginning at restoring an element of national interest to immigration policy. But they are only a first step.
The government still hasn’t got around to explaining why Canada needs the biggest per capita immigration intake in the world. And, intellectually, it hasn’t caught up to our Commonwealth cousins in Australia, who have accepted the fact that immigration’s impact on the economy is neutral. Our policy is still based on exaggerated claims of its ability to boost prosperity.
When the Indochinese boat people came to Canada during the 1970s, they were dispersed around the country in cities and towns where private sponsors volunteered to help them get settled. None of these Indochinese got a better reception than the hundreds that settled in Cape Breton.
The Cape Bretoners, famous for their warmth and generosity, did everything they could to make the newcomers feel welcome. But today, none of the Indochinese is left in Cape Breton. Gradually, they all drifted away to the big cities.
Immigration is an urban phenomenon. The people who make the decision to emigrate are not peasants but residents of overcrowded Third World cities. It is natural that their destinations in Canada will be Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. In these cities they get support from existing ethnic communities and they have a better chance of getting jobs.
Forget the idea that Canada can receive huge numbers of immigrants because it has a vast, sparsely populated land mass. Immigrants do not settle on empty land or in small towns like Summerside, Horsefly, B.C., or Wawa. Nor do they go, except in very small numbers, to such medium-sized cities as Kingston, Kamloops or Regina. They go to the three big cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – and, if we continue with our program of massive immigration, those cities will get bigger and bigger and bigger.
In its report on immigration, the Economic Council was clear about the consequences for cities of high immigration levels. Take the case of the Toronto region, which gets 40 per cent of all immigrants to Canada. Depending on the numbers of immigrants Canada admits, Metro Toronto’s population in 2015 will be either 4 million, 5.1 million or 6.3 million. The latter total results from an immigration level slightly higher than what we now have but far lower than the 700,000 per year that Immigration Minister Bernard Valcourt has said he favors.
International surveys have consistently rated Canada’s three major cities as among the most liveable big cities in the world. But the reasons they are rated as liveable is because they are large enough to be lively and yet small enough to escape the congestion, pollution and crime that characterize such huge centres as New York or Mexico City.
With an immigration policy that causes rapid growth, we are deliberately making our cities less liveable.
“I see increasing friction in Vancouver from high (immigration) levels,” says Don DeVortez, an economist and expert on immigration at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. “We are reaching critical points in some of our social programs and in ESL (English as a second language) training. There is also traffic congestion. When you add another 20,000 to 30,000 foreign-born to Vancouver, it’s not a small number when they all drive over the same two or three bridges.”
Canada, as a whole, always will be among the least densely populated countries in the world. Only eight countries are less densely populated, among them Greenland, Mongolia, Botswana and Australia.
But only a tiny portion of Canada is habitable and much of that is already densely populated.
Bill Lane, former chairman of the B.C. Land Commission, calculated the population density of the lower mainland of B.C., including all the land from the Pacific Ocean to the Fraser Valley city of Hope up to the 500-metre point of the Coast Mountains, which is as high as water can be pumped. The result was 361 persons per square kilometre, which is more than the most densely populated country in Europe, the Netherlands, which has 359 persons per square kilometre.
It’s a fair comparison because virtually all of the Netherlands is habitable while only 5 per cent of B.C. is, he says.
“People look on the map and say we are bigger than France but they forget that people in B.C. are living in a few islands of habitable land in a sea of mountains,” he says.
As part of its new immigration bill, Ottawa is proposing to increase the dispersion of immigrants by getting some of them to promise to stay in areas facing occupational shortages for a designated period of time.
Experts are skeptical about the practicality of this idea. It’s fine for doctors, nurses and dentists who are assured of work. But it is less feasible for, say, carpenters and accountants who may not be able to earn a living in a small town. Even if they do start their Canadian careers in small centres, chances are many of these immigrants eventually will wind up in the cities.
“Immigration can’t affect in any significant way the distribution of people,” says Mike Murphy, who headed the federal government’s Demographic Review. “Immigrants will go to smaller centres when all Canadians start to move there. Immigrants are more sensitive than native-born people to economic and social pressures. They are indicators of where the opportunities are.”
When too many immigrants go in search of those opportunities, it causes problems for the big cities. In Toronto, ESL instruction is costing Metro property taxpayers $85.7 million this year, or 4 per cent of the school budget.
Yet even this isn’t enough to give foreign-born children the language skills they need. In the opinion of Suzan Hall, chairman of the Etobicoke board of education, local taxpayers should not be forced to foot the whole ESL bill because the problem is caused by Ottawa’s immigration policy.
Hall is a rarity among municipal leaders in being willing to connect an urban problem to federal immigration policy. The majority of local politicians and officials behave as if immigration levels were something that just happened, rather than being a conscious decision of government.
In a heavily ethnic city like Vancouver or Toronto, the immigration issue is dynamite.
“I suspect there is quite a bit of sensitivity around raising this as a local issue because it could easily be interpreted as racist,” says Ann McAfee, associate planning director in Vancouver.
The federal government consults with the provinces and cities before it sets immigration levels.
“Here’s how the consultations were done last year,” says Joyce Preston, Vancouver’s social planning director. “I got a letter from the minister that laid out what they were going to do and if I had any problems they would be pleased to hear them. So we scrambled and wrote the classic bureaucratic brief, never heard back, and that was it. I don’t consider that consultation.”
Preston says Vancouver did not oppose the current immigration levels because the city lacks the resources to do the kind of research on which to base such a recommendation. In other words, the city has to operate on the dubious assumption that Ottawa knows what it is doing when it decides to bring in 1.2 million people over in five years.
Lorne McCool, chief planner for Markham, says an integrated approach involving all levels of government is needed to plan immigration levels.
So far, the municipalities have taken a strictly “reactive” stance, he says. That is inadequate because Ottawa’s decisions on immigration have a major impact on local school boards as well as putting pressure on amenities such as roads and sewers.
Urban planners may need to rethink their assumption that population growth is not controllable, he says.
“When population increases are based on immigration and on a federal policy that lets certain numbers in, it means that a portion of population increase is controllable,” he says.
McCool thinks rapid immigration may be causing some “stresses and strains” because levels have not been adjusted for the fact that Ontario is deep in economic recession. Although he is in charge of planning for one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the country, he has never been included in Immigration Canada’s consultation process.
At the local level, there is a worrisome communications gap on the issue of immigration policy and its consequences. Federal politicians, with the acquiescence of local ones, have opened Canada’s gates wide in the full knowledge that almost all new immigrants will go to the large cities. If the cities are going to accommodate these new arrivals and remain good places to live, major changes to the way cities are designed will be needed. Yet the politicians have done little to prepare public opinion to accept these changes.
In Vancouver, says Alan Artibise, director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of B.C., 25 per cent of the land is occupied by roads and parking lots. Some of that land will have to be given over to housing to accommodate more people but that means car-loving Vancouverites will have to convert to public transit, something they have so far shown little inclination to do.
They will also have to accept that single-family homes with spacious front and back yards will no longer be the norm. Yet when a development proposal for the former Arbutus industrial lands was presented last year, local residents opposed it because it would bring in too many people. The residents didn’t want high buildings but they did want more parks, although the area is already rich in parkland.
Something, says Artibise, has got to give. “If Vancouver wants to be friendly to immigrants and remain liveable it has to change attitudes.”
Few Canadians realize that we are in the midst of the most radical immigration experiment in our history.
In 1984, the year the current government came to power, only 88,000 people were admitted as immigrants to Canada. This year, 250,000 newcomers will arrive, well above the postwar average of 150,000 a year.
In the past, the immigration tap was always tightened during economic hard times and opened wider when the economy rebounded. The current recession is the first time we’ve done the reverse.
In addition, in 1990 Ottawa announced a five-year immigration plan, calling for 1.2 million arrivals by 1995. This, too, was a departure from the previous practice of setting levels on a year-by- year basis.
“We’ve never sustained a level of 250,000 a year for more than one year,” says a senior civil servant, who worries about Canada’s ability to absorb so many newcomers so quickly. “It’s a unique experiment in immigration that is not based on any clear rationale.”
One thing is certain: Canada is the undisputed world champion when it comes to immigration. The three major immigrant receivers are Canada, the United States and Australia. But the Aussies and Americans are barely in our league.
If we took immigrants in the same proportion as the U.S. relative to population (about 1 million a year, including net illegal immigration of about 200,000) we would be admitting only 108,000 people this year instead of 250,000. If we had immigration on the same scale as Australia’s planned level of 80,000 for next year, we would greet only 131,000 newcomers.
The world-beating level may be only the beginning. Immigration Minister Bernard Valcourt has said he would like to see an intake as high as 700,000 a year, a rate that would bring at least 280,000 people per year to the Toronto area, doubling its population in 10 years.
A recession is just when you should boost immigration levels, argues Jim Hawkes (PC – Calgary West), former chairperson of the parliamentary committee on immigration. “It increases demand. Immigrants have to buy winter clothes and furniture. And they work more hours to get started, which means they produce more than they use.”
But both the parliamentary committee and the Economic Council of Canada recently have urged lower levels. In a major study of immigration last year, the council argued that too big an influx of immigrants could trigger social problems and unemployment. “A breathing space is needed,” it concluded.
David Foot, an economist at the University of Toronto and one of Canada’s best-known demographers, says the practice of trimming immigration during a downturn is sound public policy.
“Instead, the government raises it just when we head into our worst postwar recession. This is an insane thing to do.”
First of a five part series. See related articles by
There are two kinds of immigrants: the ones Canada selects and the ones who select themselves.
Although the Canadian immigration system contains 11 categories of immigrants, the only meaningful distinction is between these two groups. The distinction is important because, according to Immigration Canada’s research, the immigrants Canada selects do much better once here than those who select themselves.
Canada prides itself on having invented a points system (since copied by the Australians) to select, in a fair and non- discriminatory way, those immigrants most likely to become productive citizens. Yet, without ever announcing publicly that they were doing so, Canadian governments have systematically downgraded the points system over the past 20 years.
In 1971, 32 per cent of immigrants to Canada were chosen by qualifying for points for such personal assets as education, ability to speak English or French, and job prospects.
Last year, only 15 per cent of all immigrants had to prove in advance that they could make a positive contribution here. These were the independent immigrants who are subject to the points system, assisted relatives (independent immigrants who get extra points for being related to a Canadian resident) and business-class immigrants who promise either to invest money or start businesses here.
The rest got in because they were related or engaged to someone already living in Canada or because they claimed to be refugees. (The distinction sometimes made between refugees and other immigrants is irrelevant because, unlike other countries, Canada accepts most refugee claims and gives all successful claimants the right to citizenship.)
The result of the increase in self-selected immigrants at the expense of selected ones is that new Canadians are now more likely to be functionally illiterate and less likely to be skilled and educated than they were 20 years ago.
The government’s proposed overhaul of the immigration system is intended in part to increase the percentage of selected immigrants. The key element – and a first in Canadian immigration history – is the introduction of firm quotas on classes of immigrants.
Quotas could be used to reduce the flow of certain categories of immigrants – parents of immigrants already here, for example.
The case of parents is an interesting and important one. In Australia, working-age parents can’t get into the country except through the points system, although they get extra points as “concessional family members.”
Prior to 1978 in Canada, parents had to be 60 before they could be sponsored for entry. Then, a change in regulations gave citizens or landed immigrants the right to sponsor their parents, regardless of age.
That was the worst blunder ever made in Canadian immigration policy, in the opinion of Charles Campbell, who spent 10 years on the Immigration Appeal Board in Vancouver and has since been a persistent critic of Canadian immigration policy.
Working-age parents provide the opening through which an extended family can move to Canada. Because they can sponsor children once in Canada, it is through them that brothers and sisters of the original immigrant can get in without passing through the points system.
These parents can then go back to the homeland and negotiate a marriage for one of their offspring on the understanding that the fiance’s family will also be able to come because of Canada’s generous family reunification rules.
“The mother is not just negotiating a bride for her son, she is negotiating citizenship for the girl’s whole family in Canada,” says Campbell. “That’s why we have this flood of family class (immigrants).”
And that is an important reason why the proportion of self- selected immigrants has been increasing, squeezing out selected immigrants who are likely to be more qualified. With the right to establish real quotas, Ottawa could determine that only, say, 5,000 parents could enter in a given year.
After that number had been reached, the immigration department could either refuse to accept new applications or make applicants wait in a line that could stretch out for several years.
Used unfairly, the quota device could effectively eliminate certain classes of immigrants. For instance, the U.S., unlike Canada, allows its citizens to sponsor brothers or sisters from abroad. But there’s some hypocrisy involved in this apparent generosity.
“There are 1.5 million brothers and sisters of citizens in the lineup,” says Demetrios Papademetriou, director of immigration policy and research for the U.S. Department of Labor. “That means that if you are a brother and you applied today you will be dead by the time your number comes up.”
The only control Ottawa has over family-class immigration is administrative delay. In 1991, Canadian officials in Hong Kong took 548 days to process an application to sponsor a family member and many other posts were almost as slow.
It’s unlikely that parents will run into the sort of lineups brothers face trying to enter the U.S. But the introduction of firm quotas will give Canada more control over its immigrant flow, says Meyer Burstein, director of strategic planning and research for Immigration Canada.
Critics have protested that the proposed changes leave too much to regulation and ministerial discretion, but Burstein argues that this actually makes the system more democratic. “The regulations and guidelines are going to be transparent and because they have a real bite, the people who lose are going to know it,” he says. “It will result in a much more open system.”
Whether the proportion of selected immigrants rises to previous levels will depend on whether immigration ministers have the political will to use their new powers. To its credit, the Tory government has restored at least some independent immigration – it was cut off completely by the Liberals during the recession of the early ’80s.
Bill Marr, an economist at Wilfrid Laurier University and an expert on immigration, says independent immigrants earn higher incomes and have lower unemployment than working-age immigrants who come in as part of the family class. “This is not surprising,” says Marr. “Independents are chosen on their money-earning potential.”
The reasons the self-selected immigrant has displaced the selected are political. Organized ethnic groups, refugee advocates and immigration lawyers have fought hard to expand family immigration.
“We think it should be much more open than it is,” says Mir Iqbal Ali, president of the Council of Muslim Communities. “Why shouldn’t someone be able to bring his brother?”
Meanwhile, says Marr, “nobody in Canada is an advocate for the skilled immigrants. Employers are the only ones who would fight for them but they are not unified and they haven’t done it.”
Immigrants have good reasons for wanting their families with them. Having everyone together adds to a family’s sense of security and well-being and helps people feel comfortable in a new environment.
“Asians bring more family because they come from countries where there isn’t a social safety net,” says Beverly Nann, executive director of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of British Columbia. “In Europe, you’ve got the safety net that looks after you, so the extended family doesn’t have to take on the responsibility.”
The result of an immigration system dominated by family-class immigrants is the encouragement of a large flow of people from countries where the extended family is the basis of social life and where economic conditions are so poor that it’s worthwhile for a Canadian resident’s parent, still in his 40s or 50s, to emigrate.
At the same time, immigration from Western countries is effectively minimized because those who do get in aren’t likely to be followed by parents who could sponsor other children. “These parents are busy with their own careers and they aren’t free to emigrate,” says Campbell.
The outcome of the proposed rules should be to restore some balance to the immigration flow. A reasonable goal would be to get back to the level of 32 per cent selected immigrants we used to have, which is about the same level Australia has.
But experts warn that one should never underestimate the ingenuity and determination of people who want to migrate. If you change the rules to keep them out, they often find another way to get in.
During the 1950s and ’60s, for example, West Germany imported laborers from Yugoslavia and Turkey as “guest workers.” After 1973, the Germans cancelled their guest worker program but they still needed some extra labor and Yugoslavia and Turkey had lots to spare.
“The workers kept coming but now they called themselves asylum- seekers instead of guest workers,” says Bimal Ghosh, senior consultant at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.