Canadian Immigration: A one-way street

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The numbers are out: in 2010 Canada let in the highest number of immigrants in over 50 years. But while Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney may use this as evidence of a clean bill of health for Canadian immigration policy, these numbers do not tell the whole story.

In the last four years the number of economic immigrants permitted entry into Canada has risen by an impressive 35%. However, this increase has come at the expense of family class immigrants and refugee claimants. The number of refugees permitted to stay in Canada has gone from almost 32,500 in 2006 to 24,700 in 2010 and the number of successful asylum claims has dropped from 16,000 in 2006 to just over 9000 in 2010. The last few years have also seen a decrease in family class immigrants from 70,000 in 2006 to 60,000 in 2010. Those permitted to stay on compassionate and humanitarian grounds has also decreased from the usual average of around 10,000 to less than 9000 in 2010.

What does this say about Canadian immigration policy?

These numbers signify an important and potentially disturbing shift in Canadian immigration policy away from a more humanitarian-focussed tradition towards one in which immigrants are measured mainly by their monetary potential. They signify a shift in thinking about immigration as no longer a reciprocal relationship, but rather a one-way street.

This is evidenced by the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program which has seen a dramatic increase from 139,000 participants in 2006 to 182,000 in 2010, a number to rival those given entry through Canada’s traditional immigration program. Many of these workers are not permitted to apply for permanent residency and are not allowed to work here for more than four years at a time. This policy emphasizes the value of labour but not the individuals performing it, creating a system where certain workers are easily discarded. As the Canadian Council for Refugees has pointed out “it is an opportunity for Canada to benefit from their labour for a few years before showing them the door.”

Despite this trend, Minister Kenney has different concerns about Canada’s immigration system, warning of an immigration policy that expects nothing from its immigrants in return for what he calls “one of the easiest passports in the world to acquire.”

However, as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has observed:

“Throughout our history the long-standing offer to newcomers, through unifying families and providing citizenship, was the promise of becoming full participants in Canadian society. In its place, official policy increasingly sanctions and supports employers who use newcomers as cheap and disposable labour. It’s bad for diversity, it’s a terrible trend for workplaces, and it affects everyone.”

The underfunded duty to integrate

When it comes to immigration, everyone agrees that integration is important. Minister Kenney recently stated during a talk titled ‘Good Citizenship: the Duty to Integrate’ that “our immigration program, our citizenship program, our multiculturalism program must increasingly focus on…the successful and rapid integration of newcomers into Canadian society.”

Despite this apparent agreement, in a move that the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) has called appallingly short-sighted, national settlement services had their funding cut by $53 million just before Christmas. “Immigrant services provide necessary gateways to accessing affordable and suitable housing, engaging in community, accessing social service supports and importantly, developing the skills necessary to compete for employment in Canada,” says CASW. These services are especially important in the context of the recent recession which saw a job loss rate of 12.9% for immigrants who had arrived in the last five years. Furthermore, the paradox of ‘Canadian experience’ continues to haunt immigrants who are often unable to gain employment without the very experience they are trying to acquire. Newcomers to Canada face incredible difficulties with credential recognition and often find themselves shunted sideways into low-paying, part-time and precarious work for which they are overqualified. Children are not immune from these troubles either: the 2006 Census found that 48% of recent immigrants under the age of 14 live in poverty.

The recent decrease in family class immigrants is also cause for concern, as family reunification has been shown to facilitate integration. Since 2000 skilled economic class immigrants are more likely to fall into the low income bracket than family class immigrants. However, the decrease in family class immigrants has been justified as a reduction of the number of people who come to Canada unlikely to work and, conversely, likely to draw on social supports, an argument which underlines current trends and ignores the facts. As blame is placed on immigrants for not integrating themselves into society, the reciprocal responsibility to help ensure the emotional and physical wellbeing of newcomers to Canada is increasingly being forgotten.

Where is it going?

There is nothing wrong with an increase in immigration – in fact, it is a positive step. However, Canadians should be aware of the direction immigration policy is heading. Looking past the numbers touted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to substantive policy changes tells a story of an immigration policy that is moving from one with important humanitarian elements to one in which economic considerations reign supreme. Citizens for Public Justice has long advocated for a humanitarian immigration policy that welcomes the stranger. Do these higher numbers mean that Canada is welcoming the stranger? Maybe, in a sense, but pity the newcomer who expects anything once they are in the door.

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