Gloomier future seen for Canadian immigration
Experts call for ‘national conversation’ in view of challenges identified in government’s internal review.
With 35 per cent of male newcomers returning home and a growing middle class in developing countries less inclined to migrate, an internal government review is calling the future of Canadian immigration into question.
The report by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada also points to the challenge of reconfiguring an immigrant-selection system in a rapidly changing labour market where a growing number of jobs are temporary and there’s “increasing mismatch” of available skills and the skills in demand.
“What changes, if any, does Canada want to make to its current ‘managed migration,’ ” asked the 23-page study, titled Medium-Term Policy: Balanced Immigration and stamped “for internal discussion only.” “To what extent is the current overall immigration level appropriate and/or necessary?”
With major changes made in the last decade under the former Conservative government, legal and immigration experts are calling on Immigration Minister John McCallum to have a “national conversation” on the future of Canadian immigration.
“Ottawa must take a step back to do a review of the whole immigration program and reach a national consensus in moving our country forward as a nation-building exercise rather than as an economic imperative,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.
“The Liberals have good political instincts and like to be seen as doing more on the immigration front. It’s the right time to take a look at what is working and what is not working in the system.”
The new government has already announced reviews of certain immigration programs involving temporary foreign workers and the Express Entry processing system, but critics say such reviews must be done in a holistic manner rather than a piecemeal fashion.
“This is the most thoughtful brief (on Canada immigration) I’ve seen in 10 years,” said Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken. “It’s asking all the right questions that are useful starting points for a wide-ranging discussion of the future of our immigration system.”
The internal report, obtained by the Star, also devotes attention to the estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens — 9 per cent of the population — who live abroad, including a million people in the United States, 300,000 in Hong Kong and 75,000 in the United Kingdom.
Some 35 per cent of male immigrants to Canada return home, many within the first year. Between 1996 and 2006, the annual exit rate for citizens born in Canada was 1.33 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent for naturalized citizens.
“There has been a rather negative view of these expatriate Canadians, as they have been regarded as evidence of ‘brain drain,’ Canada’s lack of competitiveness in retaining high-skilled professionals and business leaders, and our insufficient success in integrating new arrivals,” the report noted. “Canada could choose to take a more proactive stance with expatriates.”
Measures implemented by other countries include: extending voting right to expats, providing non-resident representation in the national legislature, facilitating business and research networks, doing outreach to communities abroad to promote ties as well as creating tax treaties with other countries to facilitate work abroad.
The report also points to the greater emphasis the former Tory government put on selecting economic immigrants based on in-demand occupations in a so-called “project economy” marked by limited length of employment based on the duration of a contract or project.
“This environment makes it a significant challenge to target occupations and industries that are priorities for addressing through immigration,” it said.
While the report forecast does mean potentially lower immigration to Canada in the longer term, University of Toronto professor Jeffrey Reitz said global migration is still driven by “inequality” from poor to rich countries.
Although Ottawa introduced the Express Entry system in 2015 to let employers pick prospective immigrants from a pool of candidates to ensure newcomers are quickly employed, Reitz said the uptake of candidates outside the country has been small.
“Anything that improves the employment situation contributes to immigrant retention, but there is an aspect of retention in the family class. When you lose your job and you have no family, you move. A support group gives people a reason to stay,” explained Reitz, the director of ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies at U of T.
Hence, the immigration report raised the question over the strict differentiation of “economic” and “social” immigration in the current system, which channels applicants into the skilled and nonskilled streams.
“Regardless of how their application was accepted, immigrants make many contributions to Canadian society; economic migrants make social contributions; social immigrants make economic contributions,” it said.
“Given the somewhat artificial distinction between social and economic immigration, there may be grounds for giving greater weight to ‘non-economic’ criteria and on criteria related to the success of subsequent generations.”
Ryerson University professor John Shields said recent immigrants are caught up in the same “new economy” faced by young Canadians entering the workforce.
“All immigrants including the refugee class contribute to the society economically. They pay dividends economically in five, ten years as integration is a long-term process that can take a lifetime,” said Shields, whose research focuses on labour markets and immigrants.
“Recent immigrants and young Canadians face a different kind of roadblock from those who are already established in Canada. The issue we need to deal with is creating higher quality employment in Canada and educate Canadian employers of the values of one’s work experience from somewhere else.”
McCallum’s office declined to comment on the study but said the immigration minister is committed to improving family reunification, humanitarian efforts, citizenship reforms and creating economic opportunities through immigration.
“The minister is always looking at ways to make the system more fair and compassionate while making improvements to client services,” said Camielle Edwards, McCallum’s spokesperson.
“At the end of the day, the aim is to have an immigration system that contributes to Canada’s overall strength as a country and society.”