“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” –
Excerpt from ‘The New Colossus – Statue of Liberty’
The US Election has come and gone and at the time of writing, we still don’t have a clear outcome although it is looking as though Joe Biden has managed to take the lead and potentially by the time you read this, may well be the President Elect of the USA.
That said, it is not without a stiff challenge by the Republicans who look set to secure a majority in the Senate and the Democrats likely to take the House. Legal challenges aside, this would likely cement a status quo of gridlock insofar as making legislative changes in the US regardless of who sits in the White House and is indicative of a USA that remains deeply fractured with the priority of nation building needed high on the agenda.
The natural segue from US Elections to immigration lies in the narrative of a USA hostile to immigration in stark contrast to my current country of residence, Canada. However, a Pew Research survey in 2018 showed that in fact many respondents in the US still viewed immigrants in a positive light, although more recent developments may indicate otherwise.
Most telling from the chart above is that Canada is ranked at the top of the list with 68% of respondents seeing immigrants as a strength. The report showed that Canada also houses around 7.86 million immigrants from a total population size of 37.5m, or roughly 1 in 5 people. Go back further than a generation or two and you can see that Canada is in fact a country of immigrants with indigenous people making up only around 4.5% of the population.
Diversity is the key here. Canada has embraced and embodies diversity in ways which encourage integration of immigrant populations as part of the wider Canadian family.
While it is often stated that Canada is the ‘most welcoming’ of Western nations and that we are taking on a disproportionately large number of migrants relative to our population, the data does not bear this out. UN data illustrates that Canada is ‘Trumped’ to the podium spots by New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland.
Still, being a top 4 player in the global immigration stakes is an admirable feat and explains the strong brand value that Canada enjoys on the global stage as a destination of choice.
Interestingly, despite this ‘brand’ value, again UN data suggests that net migration trends in Canada appear consistent with its past. Current net migration to Canada at around 6.0 per 1000 is well off highs of around 8.0 in the late 2000’s. The annual rate of change has also only recently ticked up after being consistent since around 2010.
Net Migration rate – Canada
Regardless, a target of over 400 000 immigrants a year for the next 3 years represents an acceleration in the trend partly to offset a slowdown during the COVID crisis.
This pro-immigration endeavor is not entirely altruistic. Canada can and must look out for its own national interest. As populations age and birth rates remain low, the natural source of economic growth which comes from population growth slows. It is no secret that Canada has recognized the need to bolster an ageing demographic profile by encouraging population growth through immigration.
New immigrants keep the labor market competitive and dynamic as many are skilled. They often come with the economic means to establish themselves in their new country, bolstering the tax base. They offer support to the real estate market, either through a steady stream of rental demand or as new buyers. All of this is aimed at ensuring that the quid pro quo is that you get a better life in Canada but you also contribute toward the better life for all Canadians.
Canada was amongst the first nations in the world to launch a point and rules-based immigration system in the 1960’s. This was done to ensure alignment to national objectives and support the requisite integration of immigrants into wider Canadian society.
Today, Canada continues to welcome people in an orderly and rules-based manner which, while perceived to be friendly and polite, remains stringent and demanding. The intent is simple and fair. Canada wants immigrants, but we want them on Canada’s terms.
Canada’s geographical disposition means that other than certain unofficial border crossings like ‘Roxham Road’ which has become synonymous with illegal border crossings from the USA, that Canada maintains strict control over her borders and who is admitted.
In fact, even when considering visitor’s visas, Canada remains tightly controlled. Since 2017, rejection rates for visitors, students, and other types of visa applicants where as high as 33%. The aim is simple. If Canada controls who gets in, it can control who stays in. And if you want to stay, make sure you do it through the correct and legal channels.
With a strong emphasis on family reunification, economic skills and entrepreneurship, Canada’s immigration programs seek to address some balance between preserving the core of Canadian values (like an emphasis on family and integration) whilst ensuring the economic objectives remain core.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
So while Canada’s immigration story is not quite along the lines of the excerpt cited from the poem, ‘The New Colossus’ which is emblazoned upon the bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty in the USA, it is at least a honest modern day equivalent.
Alongside seeking the brightest and best in the world Canada has also been a large recipient of refugee populations seeking the ideals of liberty and freedom.
These freedoms come at a cost. Not all that glitters is gold. News stories and social media groups are replete with stories of immigrants who feel ‘undervalued’ by the labor market. Stories of PhD holders acting as UBER drivers, stories of people working minimum wage after immigrating as skilled professionals. The stories are real, and they are not isolated.
In the interests of brevity, I will save some of these stories and my own experiences for a future post. Suffice to say, leaving the country of one’s birth to explore opportunities and a life in a foreign land is not for the faint hearted. My own rallying cry stems from the closing verse of Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses: I always endeavor: “…To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
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