BARCELONA — Canada must not be shy about taking advantage of Europe's financial distress. The Harper government should target some of the continent's best and brightest as immigrants and prospective future citizens.
Spain is a case in point. According to data from the European Union, it had an unemployment rate of 22.9 per cent last fall, followed by Greece with 18.8 per cent.
Take away the few European countries which are still prospering, such as Germany, Austria, Holland and Finland, and the unemployment rate across the EU was more than double that of Canada, which announced an unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent last week.
The figures in Europe were far worse for those under the age of 25. Spain again led the way with a staggering youth unemployment rate of 49.6 per cent, followed by Greece with 45.6 per cent, compared to a rate of about 15 per cent in Canada.
Given those appalling European numbers and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's stated goal of taking in 250,000 immigrants this year, it is in Canada's national interest to modify existing programs or create a new program to specifically headhunt tens of thousands of highly educated but unemployed or underemployed Europeans. Of special importance should be the large number of young Europeans who already speak English and/or French well and who possess sophisticated computer skills or have solid mechanical, engineering and scientific backgrounds.
Again and again as I travelled last month by train from Italy through France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Poland, checking the continent's feeble economic pulse, sometimes desperate and always despairing Europeans complained to me about how, despite top notch schooling, their job prospects were extremely limited or non-existent.
A few of those I spoke with, such as a 21-year-old female apprentice car mechanic from Perpignan, in southern France, had friends who had emigrated to Canada and were encouraging her to join them. A 25-year-old quadrilingual hotel clerk in Belgium with a graduate degree in international relations who aspired to become a teacher complained that Ottawa did not seem to want Europeans. He and others questioned why, from where they sat, Canada seemed to give preferential treatment to Asian and Middle Eastern migrants.
As the result of policies established during by Liberal governments in the 1960s, which greatly diversified the pool of immigrants eligible to settle in Canada and actively sought them from new places, it takes far fewer immigrants from Europe today. In 2010, the most recent year for which Citizenship and Immigration Canada as well as Statistics Canada have published data, the country took in 135,000 Asians and 41,320 Europeans. Another 67,000 Africans and Middle Easterners were also granted landed immigrant status.
It was not always like this, of course. Canada took in 257,141 European immigrants and only 3,371 from Asia in 1957. As late as 1967, Canada welcomed 159,491 newcomers from Europe compared to 21,451 from Asia. However, only 12 years later, the balance had shifted dramatically in Asia's favour, with about 30,000 more immigrants from the Far East and South Asia than from Europe.
Europeans represented 90 per cent of Canada's intake of immigrants in 1957. Half a century later, the percentage of European immigrants to Canada had plummeted to about 15 per cent of the total. Looked at another way, Canada has taken in almost 1.5 million more immigrants from Asia than from Europe since 1991.
Over the past 25 years, the number of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East has also greatly surpassed immigration from Europe, growing nearly sixfold to nearly 67,000 last year. During this same period, the intake of immigrants from Central America and South America grew, although not by as much.
Anecdotal reports from Canadian posts overseas suggest the number of Europeans emigrating to Canada is now growing slightly. But there are no figures yet to support this contention.
Canada did well when it encouraged immigration from Europe, just as it has done well recently by encouraging immigrants from elsewhere. However, factors that propel immigration change over time. It would be a boon to Canada if it were to redirect a few of its heavily Asia-centric immigration resources to Europe and, for the first time in decades, actively seek more immigrants from among the deep pool of highly capable Europeans who are in an economic pickle and are keen to take their talents elsewhere.
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