Immigration Reform: A Lesson From Canada?

Like their neighbors to the south, Canadians are wrestling with immigration issues of their own, trying to balance competing pressures – on the one hand, the need for smart, talented and creative people to bolster their economy, on the other, the need to find jobs for Canadians displaced by the economic downturn. Humanitarian concerns also weigh heavily in these considerations, making it a challenge to find the right mix of measures to both restrict and promote immigration.

As in the United States, a substantial percentage of Canadians – 36 percent – attribute their country’s slow economic recovery to excessive immigration, according to a recent poll. (See To Ensure Prosperity, Immigration Reform Must Not Halt the Flow of Newcomers, by John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail (08.Jul.2012). According to John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail‘s Ottawa Bureau Chief, double that number – fully 72 percent of Canadians – “don’t want immigration levels to increase.”

At a time when the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is enacting tough new reforms to Canada’s immigration laws, once seen as overly generous, Ibbitson warns against taking the new restrictions too far. “If nativist fears choke Canada’s unparalleled intake of 250,000 newcomers a year, the economy will suffer.” Canada, he says, should take care to avoid the fate of Europe and Japan, where declining birthrates have contributed to a downward economic spiral, leaving “too few young workers to pay into pension plans on which older workers depend,” and “too few consumers buying homes and cars and dishwashers, forcing builders and manufacturers to shut down.”

Canada’s birth rate has been increasing modestly, Ibbitson points out, but he notes that any increase in Canada’s population by 2030 will largely come from immigration – thus the danger in slowing immigration to a trickle, if xenophobic arguments should ultimately win the day. Here in the United States, with an aging baby-boomer population and a birthrate that’s been declining since 2007, perhaps we should take heed of what’s going on just north of the border.

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