Economic Goals of Immigration Policy-Highlights

1. This study was done by Alan Green (Department of Economics, Queen’s) and David Green (Department of Economics, UBC) in 1996.

2. It was sponsored by RIIM (Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis) which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; SFU; UBC; UVIC)

3. The aim of this study was to explore the evolution of immigration policy and use that as a basis for addressing 3 questions:

(1) What is the goal of current immigration policy?

(2) How does it relate to past goals and to Canada’s long-term development?

(3) Who wins and who loses from this policy?

4. At different times in Canada’s history, Canada’s immigration policy has been based on a number of different factors such as (a) recruiting farmers to settle the west and acquiring farm labourers and female domestics; (b) increasing the population and GDP; (c) paying attention to the country’s absorptive capacity; (d) filling gaps in the labour force; (e) reunifying families; (f) fulfilling Canada’s international refugee obligations.

5. Canada’s immigration levels policy has moved from greatly varying levels to a consistent level of close to 1% of Canada’s population (currently around 250,00) per year–with the faith that these numbers will generate economic growth, even though the government can produce no evidence for its belief.

6. For most of Canada’s history, immigration policy has been flexible (The act was defined in broad terms.) and kept out of the public eye. At the beginning, immigration was controlled by Cabinet. Over time, control has become more and more centralized in the Immigration Minister’s hands. Neither parliament nor the Canadian public has freely debated Canada’s immigration policies.

7. The government has often said one thing about immigration and done another:

(a) It said it would take immigrants only from some preferred countries, but it changed its policy (1920’s).

(b) It has said and continues to say now that it is admitting people on the basis of skill levels, but the vast majority of entrants for a long time have not been skill-assessed. In fact, those assessed are only around 1/4 of the total admitted.

8. For most of Canada’s history, there has been an ongoing conflict in immigration policy between short-term goals (labour-market shortages/surpluses) and long term goals (generating population growth and economies of scale). The long-term activists seem to have won the conflict.

9. From its very beginnings, Canada’s immigration policy has been characterized by selectivity: preferred races (1910) and nationalities (1919-1923) of origin of immigrants; literacy tests (1919); possession of passports/visas (1919); skills (1869, 1947, 1960,-now); family re-unification (1947-now; refugees (1978-now).

10. The immigration lobby has succeeded in changing government policy:

(1) In the late 1940’s-early 1950’s, Italian immigrants protested limitations on their sponsorship rights. They made more use of sponsorship than did immigrants from traditional source countries. The result was an inflow of many unskilled people. The government wanted to slow down this inflow, but retreated.

(2) In the 1960’s, the government tried to restrict the right to sponsor relatives to people who possessed Canadian citizenship, but it withdrew in the face of immigrant lobby opposition. (The result was the point system.)

11. The government seems to have abandoned the concept of Canada’s absorptive capacity which, since its inception in 1919, has meant that Canada will take immigrants in good times but dramatically rduce those numbers in times of high unemployment.

12. The 1% immigration figure is an historical long run average for immigration, but in the past, that average has been generated from an inflow with a great deal of variability. It has never been 1% every year.

13. Present high immigration levels began with the Progressive Conservative government in 1987 because of fears of population decline/aging dependency issues. However, even after the government’s own research (Charting Canada’s Future) contradicted the need for these fears and high levels in the late 1980’s, the levels were maintained and continue to be maintained today.