November 29, 2005
The pickier Canada gets about the immigrants we allow in, the worse that immigrants perform. Planners inside and outside government have an answer to that problem: They want to get pickier still!
Immigration made Canada great, catapulting us into the ranks of the Western world’s most affluent and fastest-growing nations. A century after Confederation, our relatively open immigration system continued to serve us and immigrants well: Given the opportunity to prosper in a land that gave them free rein, the newly arrived immigrants of the 1970s typically caught up to income levels enjoyed by their native-born Canadian counterparts, and often surpassed them.
Then we got greedy, wanting all gain and no pain from our newcomers. “Immigrants don’t all pull their weight,” some critics complained, pointing to family reunification programs that landed parents and other family members past their wage-earning, and tax-paying, years. “We don’t need unskilled workers,” some unions argued, fearing that labour surpluses would depress workers’ wage increases, and union dues.
To oblige, the federal government started to exclude the “undesirable immigrants.” It trimmed back “family class” immigration. It gave preferential treatment to immigrants with money. Nothing but the best for us, the government reasoned, as it barred the door to nannies and labourers in favour of university graduates and PhDs.
But rather than get us the cream of the immigrant crop, the policies came a cropper, to the surprise of immigration experts. Whereas immigrants who arrived in the 1970s caught up to the earning ability of native-born Canadians in two decades, later waves of immigrants lagged behind, especially when compared to Canadians of equal education.
Canada’s immigration planners, to get better results, then further raised the bar. Again the results dropped, StatsCan studies show, with immigrants taking longer still to catch up. We now have the most restrictive immigration standards in our history „Ÿ 42% of the immigrants we now accept have university educations and 54% have high bank balances „Ÿ and immigrants seem to be taking longer than ever to catch up.
Immigration analysts don’t know why they are getting these counter-intuitive results but most do agree on a strategy: To put more shackles still on the potential newcomer. Although the government wants to attract more immigrants, many in government want to force newcomers to move to areas of the country that have trouble keeping native-born Canadians, and to limit newcomers to occupations the government thinks are in demand. Many outside government, meanwhile, desire fewer but better qualified immigrants: They would have immigrants come at the behest of employers, and then be subject to deportation if the job doesn’t work out.
Both camps are delusional if they believe the quality of immigrant will improve under such strictures. When those in foreign countries consider what country to make their new home, the ablest among them will choose to emigrate to where they are most free to pursue their dreams. Not to where they may be forced to work in a Canadian backwater. Not to where they must work for employers who hold the upper hand, able to threaten them with deportation if they don’t toe the line. And not to where they do not have the right to bring their loved ones with them.
The best immigration policy is the freest one. There are now two credible ways to liberalize immigration: Plan A, for those averse to social engineering, and Plan B, for control-minded planners.
The planners who look at the Statistics Canada data and decry the worsening fate of the poor immigrant will see that immigrants from some countries fare relatively well, even under the burden of strictures. Rather than blindly arguing against more immigration „Ÿ just last week a group of immigration analysts with organizations such as Zero Population Growth and the Fraser Institute announced their opposition to a government plan to boost immigrant recruitment „Ÿ control-minded immigration analysts could discriminate by country, allowing many more immigrants to come, but from fewer countries.
The immigrants who fare poorly by Statscan’s measures come from the countries of Northern Europe and East Asia, among others, while immigrants from the Caribbean and, especially, Southeast Asia, do well. A discriminating policy designed to improve economic performance, and to appease some central planners, might ban Swedes and Japanese and put out the welcome mat for extra boatloads of Thais and Trinidadians.
A better, less-picky plan would open the door to all regions, and especially to the poor, for whom there is no shortage of work. This would be a return to the immigration policies of the past, which served to attract highly motivated poor people to our shores. This is Plan A.
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