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Immigrants Outnumber Temporary Foreign Workers by 22 to 1. So What’s the Big Problem?

The May 14th Globe and Mail article on the release of 2009 immigration statistics led with the headline, “Leap in temporary foreign workers will hurt Canada long-term, critics say,” and went on to opine that this “marked a major shift in policy for a country that historically was built through permanent immigration.”
The article continued in an alarmist tone suggesting that Canada’s immigration policy was becoming similar to “European guest-worker programs, which spawned years of social unrest in countries such as Germany.” This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Canadian immigration policy and German immigration policy.
Here’s the truth for Canada. On December 1, 2009, there were 282,771 temporary foreign workers in Canada. In 2009, Canada admitted 252,124 permanent residents (immigrants). (CIC, Facts and Figures 2009). Sounds like we have more temporary workers than permanent residents? This is what those who oppose temporary foreign workers claim.
But wait! They are comparing apples and oranges. They are comparing the total number of temporary foreign workers in Canada with the annual intake of permanent immigrants. If we compare total immigrants to total temporary foreign workers in Canada, we have a dramatically different picture. The 2006 Census of Canada reported that there were a total of 6,186,950 immigrants in Canada. (Statistics Canada, Immigrant population by place of birth, by province and territory - 2006 Census).
Therefore, the fact is that immigrants in Canada outnumber temporary foreign workers by 22 to 1! And this figure doesn’t include the roughly 860,000 permanent immigrants Canada has welcomed in the three and a half years since census day in 2006. (CIC, Facts and Figures 2009 )
The truth of the matter is that Canada remains a country dedicated to permanent immigration. In fact recent changes to the immigration legislation creating the Canadian Experience Class, have now made it possible for most temporary foreign workers, who have a permanent job offer in Canada, to apply for immigrant status without leaving Canada, which had not been the case before. It is unfortunate that the legislation excludes temporary foreign workers in lower-skilled occupations but in 2008, they numbered 96,673 or about only 38.5% of the total. (CIC Facts and Figures 2008 Digital Library (available only on CD on request from CIC.)
Now what about Germany? Does the presence of less than 100,000 persons who are not eligible for permanent residence put Canada on a par with Germany? Not by a long shot. In the first place, until 2005, Germany had no legislation allowing permanent residents. Gastarbeiter (guest workers) were admitted on the basis of bilateral agreements with Italy in 1955, then with Spain (1960), Greece (1960), Turkey (1961), Portugal (1964), and Yugoslavia (1968). By 2003, there were over seven million foreigners in Germany. There were 1.9 million Turkish citizens alone, of which 654,000 had been born in Germany but were not eligible for citizenship. It was only in 2000 that Germany’s citizenship legislation allowed any of the guest workers’ children born in Germany to claim German citizenship. (Migration Policy Institute, Germany: Immigration in Transition)
When 8.5% of your population is excluded from qualifying as an immigrant and, in time, obtaining the benefits of citizenship, social unrest is surely likely. When less than one third of one percent are ineligible to apply for immigrant status, it is a different situation entirely.
So, by all means, let’s debate the merits of temporary foreign workers as a means to meet Canada’s labour market needs, but let’s get our facts straight first. Canada is not abandoning its traditional policy of welcoming permanent immigrants in large numbers; nor is Canada creating a mammoth guest worker ghetto. Having said that, let’s focus on an effective program that both meets Canada’s needs and respects the human dignity of all temporary foreign workers in Canada.
Robert Vineberg is a Senior Fellow with the Canada West Foundation. He was, formerly, the Director General, Prairies and Northern Territories Region, Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

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