Immigration carrots and sticks

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
March 23, 2006

Immigrant criminals and immigrant terrorists are giving immigration a bad name. Stephen Harper should live up to his law-and-order image and throw these miscreants out of the country. They do not aspire to the Canadian dream. They do not contribute to society. Canadians owe them nothing.

At the same time, Harper should live up to his family-values work-ethic image and open the door wide to immigration. “New Canadians represent the essence of the Canadian experience and the Canadian dream,” he said prior to the election. “New Canadians bring deeply held values to our shared country. Things like the importance of honesty and hard work, a commitment to children and to family life, and a respect for law and order. These are Canadian values, and these are the core values that I will bring to a new Conservative government.”

Here is how Harper should bring the immigration carrots and the immigration sticks to bear.

First the carrots.

To attract family-oriented immigrants, Harper should end policies that discriminate against immigrants who want to come with their families, or reunite with their families. Through arbitrary restrictions that discourage relatives, the Canadian government’s immigration policy discriminates precisely against those for whom family is foremost, even immigrants who have bona-fide sponsors in Canada, able and willing to assume financial responsibility for them.

The federal government discriminates against family members for one reason above all others: the cost of providing them with health care. Harper can end this poison pill in our health-care system, and make good on his election vow to see that Canadian licensing bodies recognize the foreign credentials of qualified practitioners, by negotiating programs with provincial licensing bodies to fast-track licensing of immigrant doctors who run immigrant practices. The licensing bodies have been foot-dragging on providing full accreditation, in part because immigrant doctors lack the bedside manner and communication skills needed to serve the native-born Canadian population. While such factors may justify going slow on giving newcomers responsibility for the care of the native born, they also argue for making haste in the case of foreign physicians serving familiar immigrant populations, pending their full accreditation.

As other carrots, the federal government should drop its attempts to tell immigrants where to live within Canada. Coercing immigrants to settle outside the major cities, which have the sizeable ethnic communities required to support local ethnic economies, as well as provide friends and marriage partners, is condescending and counterproductive in increasing immigration. Likewise, the government should drop requirements that immigrants land on our shores, their fortunes already made, with money to invest. The typical millionaire in North America is an immigrant who came to our shores with little or no money, and no fear of hard work.

The sticks should be clubs. While immigrants on average have crime rates far lower than those of the native born, immigrants from some Latin American and Caribbean countries far exceed the Canadian average. But regardless of country of birth, deportations of criminals should be the rule, not the exception, and they should be carried out quickly, not dragged out over a matter of years.

To discourage criminals and terrorists from gaining the protections of citizenship, and to make Canadian citizenship a prize worthy of effort, Canada should require immigrants to reside here for 10 exemplary years before becoming eligible for citizenship. Criminal or terrorist conduct should not only lead to deportation, it should also cause harm to a sponsor through loss of a bond, to give pause to anyone who would lightly sponsor a friend or relative about whom he harboured doubt. As a corollary, sponsors with good track records, and upright reputations, should have their friends and relatives fast-tracked. Rewarding those with good judgment, and holding accountable those who have served Canada poorly, will create a virtuous selection process, leading Canada to be increasingly populated by those with good values and depopulated of those who would do us harm.

Sticks would help would-be immigrants by reducing blanket opposition to immigration based on fear of crime. Three in four Canadian city dwellers are now afraid to walk in their neighbourhoods at night, and one in three is “very concerned” that a member of his household will be the victim of a crime. A “good-riddance-to-bad-rubbish” policy will reduce valid concerns that now keep immigrants out.

Such a policy would also serve Canada’s existing citizenry well. Because we now don’t offer immigrants the opportunities they desire, too few come and of those who do, too many leave. Without improving our record, the consequences would be dire: Economic growth will slow and, as the population ages, the diminishing number of young will balk at paying benefits for the elderly. Most of all, the work force will become rapidly depleted, pushing up the cost of labour and thus the cost of living. Harper understands better than most: “All evidence suggests that Canada will only be able to meet its current and future work-force needs by recruiting and taking full advantage of the skills of foreign-trained professionals and trades-people,” he stated. “This is the most important challenge we must overcome in the area of immigration.”

Job No. 1 in attracting the immigrants we need is repelling those we don’t want.

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