Countries across the western world, whether Japan or Germany, Australia or Austria, need more immigrants to help offset the negative economic impacts of their aging populations and low birth rates.
Anti-immigrant sentiment, however, has grown in prominence throughout much of the western world in recent years. There are concerns that welcoming immigrants hurts the economy since newcomers may be “stealing” jobs from local workers. Another worry is that immigrants rely too much on social services. Arguments have also been made that newcomers from certain parts of the world may harbor values that are incompatible with western values, and hence, represent a cultural threat. Irregular migration raises security concerns as well.
Such concerns also exist in Canada. However, public surveys consistently show that Canadians are largely supportive of immigration. According to research by the Environics Institute, a polling firm, 80 per cent of Canadians agree that immigration is beneficial for the economy.
When asked about their views on the country’s immigration levels, most Canadians tend to cite their desire for the country to keep levels as is, or to reduce them, however, such views have a little impact come election time. During Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign, the country’s biggest parties made promises to welcome even more immigrants, which was a function of four factors.
Support for immigration in Canada comes down to these factors: history, geography, policy, and politics.
Canada has a history of immigration. Other than the country’s Indigenous peoples, all Canadians are immigrants or the descendant of immigrants. As such, Canada has been able to successfully accommodate people from a variety of different backgrounds for much of the country’s existence. This was not always the case, as Canada’s past has also been marked by intolerance, but the country has become more open to diversity since the end of the Second World War and is now one of the most multicultural societies in the world.
Canada’s geography is also very favorable for its immigration system. Unlike the United States, European Union member states and other Western countries that are constantly experiencing significant irregular migration flows, Canada is geographically isolated, which means that it is able to exercise strict control over who enters the country. Irregular migration to Canada has increased in recent years, undermining public confidence in the immigration system to some extent, but there is a general belief in Canada that the country’s immigration system is under control, reducing concerns about immigrants who pose security and financial risks.
Good public policy is the main reason Canadians support immigration. Canada has long been a shining city upon a hill on the immigration front by identifying effective policies and reforming them as needed to serve the public interest. It operates over 80 economic class pathways so that immigrants with a variety of skills can benefit its economy. Canada also invests more than any other country in the world (over $1.5 billion annually) in immigrant-settlement services, such as employment supports, to help newcomers integrate economically and socially.
The fourth reason Canada stands above the rest is politics. More than 20 per cent of Canadians are first-generation immigrants, and whether they are first, second, or third-generation immigrants, they tend to reside in the country’s largest cities: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver. Political parties must entice immigrants in such vote-rich cities if they want a chance to form a government. As Canada welcomes more immigrants, the country’s immigrant population share will grow, which will further increase the influence of immigrant voters and further diminish the incentives for political parties to campaign on anti-immigrant platforms.
Canada’s immigration story is mostly positive, but at the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that public confidence in immigration is always a delicate matter. Thus, the country must not rest on its laurels. It should continue to determine how to improve the standard of living of Canadians and immigrants, ensure that its borders remain strong, and seek to improve its immigration policies to ensure that immigration continues to serve the public interest.
Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at Canadavisa.
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