Sponsoring worthy immigrants

(May 16, 2013) As we phase out undesirables entering under the current system, we need to better open doors to the deserving.

(May 16, 2013) As we phase out undesirables entering under the current system, we need to better open doors to the deserving.

(May 16, 2013) As we phase out undesirables entering under the current system, we need to better open doors to the deserving.

This article was first published by the National Post on May 16, 2013

“Last year [I succeeded in bringing in] an Amendment to the Immigration Act … That no person liable to become a public charge can enter Canada, except if he give bonds satisfactory to the Minister that he will not become a public charge.”

So spoke Peter Henderson Bryce, M.A., M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the federal Department of the Interior, and one of Canada’s greatest social reformers, the man who would also expose appalling abuses in Western Canada’s Indian residential schools. Bryce’s speech, delivered in 1907 before Toronto’s Empire Club, had as its purpose not to limit immigration but to praise the country’s achievement in making Canada attractive to those willing and able to work, and unattractive to others.

“We may let in cripples, say a man who has lost an arm, on condition that he give satisfactory evidence that he has an occupation or an art, and is not likely to become a public charge.… [If] a single person who has been admitted, who should not have got in and has become a charge to the public … he can and will be deported.”

One year earlier, in 1906, 52,000 immigrants had come to Ontario in search of opportunity, more than the 51,000 economic immigrants who came to Ontario in 2011, although Ontario’s population was then one-sixth that of today. The country was booming – in the previous five years Toronto’s population had grown by 20%, Winnipeg’s by 90% — and all because the public understood that immigration, for all its messiness, brought prosperity. A policy of turning away those who would be a drag on the economy, though it might seem heartless at first blush, was anything but – Bryce knew that Canadians had prejudice enough against the “Hebrews,” “Italians” and “other foreign races” without adding pocketbook reasons for keeping them out.

That lesson, largely forgotten in Canada and other Western countries over the last century, is now being learned with a vengeance, especially in European countries where a backlash is underway against Third World immigrants. Many immigrants, in choosing their destination, had picked places with generous welfare programs — in some countries 60% or fewer Third World immigrants work, too few to maintain the welfare state native Europeans prize.

How to avoid a similar backlash in Canada, where immigrants experience high rates of poverty and where polls indicate that the public wants to tighten immigration?

Bryce’s prescriptions of a century ago hold the answer. Open our doors wide for those who are bonded and want nothing more than an opportunity to work for a living in a peaceable land. And show the door to those who come here to exploit our generosity.

Canada has begun to tighten entry to miscreants and to aggressively show those already here the door — deportations are way up. But as we phase out undesirables entering under the current system, we need to better open doors to the deserving, without the many roadblocks that now stand in the way. One of the biggest is the requirement that would-be immigrants satisfy a job category that the government thinks important, as if the government knows what the economy needs, as if motivated immigrants can’t make jobs for themselves or otherwise make themselves valuable to the Canadian economy.

The Vietnamese boat people — the largest single influx of foreigners in recent Canadian experience — demonstrates the wrong-headedness of today’s immigration policy. In the decade following the end of the Vietnam War, some 110,000 Vietnamese came to our shores, most of whom spoke neither English nor French, were penniless, and had been peasant farmers without apparently useful skills. Yet a study of their progress showed that within a decade of their arrival 20% had started a business and the remaining 80% were far less likely to be unemployed or in receipt of social assistance than native Canadians. These people had not come to Canada to exploit our welfare system — they came in pursuit of a new life in a free country that gave them boundless opportunities.

Canadians were willing to accept so many Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese were able to become so well integrated into Canadian society, in good part because of sponsorships by Canadian families, churches, or other organizations willing to be financially responsible for their welfare while they found their feet. Private organizations continue to sponsor refugees with success but the government doesn’t allow non-refugees to be sponsored, except by close family members. This needs to change.

Let Canadian citizens sponsor third cousins if they’re willing to, let them sponsor friends, let them sponsor friends of friends, as long as they can post a bond or otherwise demonstrate near-certainty that those they sponsor will not burden society. No sponsor would assume such a liability if he knew through the grapevine that the immigrant was a ne’er do well, and no bonding company, either, would take on an unjustified risk. Likewise, the sponsored immigrants, knowing their sponsors and being accountable to them, would have every incentive to make good. After World War II, entire villages emigrated to Canada from Italy, their attachments to each other and to their sponsors creating successful tight-knit communities.

The newcomers will do Canada proud, and then in a virtuous circle return the favour by sponsoring a next generation of worthy immigrants.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute.

This is the second part in a series. For the first, see here.

The original version of this article is available here at the publisher’s website.

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