Immigration and the Canadian Example03 Aug 2010
Canada appears to have weathered the worldwide economic storm better than most, including the United States, according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald, of Maine. (See U.S. Might Learn from Canada’s Rebound, by Don Lee, Portland Press Herald, 18.Jul.2010.) Along with careful avoidance of overspending and risky financial deals, and fiscal restraint on both the national and household level, the Portland Press Herald article cites Canada’s immigration policy as a leading contributor to its success in uncertain times. While America is locked in mortal combat over immigration policy, the article says, “Canadians have united behind a policy that emphasizes opening the door to tens of thousands of skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, and other productive workers who have played an important role in strengthening the Canadian economy.”
Bart van Ark, chief economist at the Conference Board in New York, told the Portland Press Herald that American businesses are learning from Canada’s example, because, “In a nutshell, Canada has been very pragmatic in dealing with the economy.” Canadian immigration policy is a clear example of this pragmatism, according to Don Lee of the Portland Press Herald, noting that Canada strongly prefers to admit economic immigrants – “skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors” – while most immigrants to America are family-sponsored, with “only about 1 in 7 […] admitted based on employment preferences.”
The article does point out that Canada’s situation is different from the United States; the U.S. has an enormous problem with illegal immigration, while Canada’s small population and low birthrate make immigration relatively unproblematic there. The U.S. already has a sizable population of immigrants who want to bring their family members in, Lee points out, which may give the U.S. less freedom to emphasize economics over family ties.
The constant concern with illegal immigration in the United States “sucks all the oxygen from the debate,” according to Migration Policy Institute President, Demetrios Papademetriou, who is quoted in the article. This gives short shrift to economic concerns, Papademetriou told the Portland Press Herald, when there should be greater emphasis on recruiting immigrants with advanced degrees and high-value job skills – key factors in maintaining economic competitiveness.
The Canadian system certainly provides food for thought, imposing a kind of market discipline on the immigration system. That said, we need to be cognizant of the differences in our two societies, and we should carefully consider the need to maintain a robust program of family-based immigration alongside a stronger, more efficient employment-based system that provides for our economic needs. It’s difficult to get the balance right, but well worth learning how other successful countries do it.