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Lorne Gunter: Family-class immigration needs to be limited

 Oct 21, 2011 – 2:12 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 21, 2011 4:20 PM ET
It’s good for Canada to admit lots of skilled immigrants — blue-collar and white-collar — each year. It’s also good for us to admit their spouses and children. But we admit far too many parents and grandparents as well. It’s hard for any politician to say so, though, because the instant he or she does, the immigration industry in Canada — immigration and refugee lawyers, immigration consultants, advocacy groups and politically correct commentators —  labels him or her as a racist for even daring to question our current overly generous policies.
That’s why it was so bold for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to tell a House of Commons committee Thursday that family-class immigration has to be scaled back. “Canada is the most generous country in the world with respect to immigration – but there have to be practical limits to our generosity,” the minister told the often heated hearing. “We have to calibrate those limits based on our country’s economic needs, our fiscal capacity. There is no doubt that the people who are coming who are senior citizens, they have much, much lower labour-market participation and much higher levels of utilization of the public health system.”
Therein lies the problem: Skilled immigrants can usually pay their own way. The income they earn and the taxes they pay can also, usually, cover the services consumed by their husbands or wives and their kids. But their moms and dads, grandmas and granddads tip the balance. Older family-class immigrants are unlikely to work enough in Canada to cover the cost of their social benefits. Nor are their children — the skilled immigrants Canada wants — likely to earn enough to pay, through taxes, for the pensions and health care their elderly relatives will use here. All of which means that admitting the older relatives amounts to a giant subsidy from native-born Canadians and long-standing immigrant Canadians to new Canadians.
That is neither fair nor wise.
As Mr. Kenney pointed out, just under 20% of newcomers to Canada are what he called “primary economic immigrants.” Immigration Canada claims 55% of immigrants to this country are economic-class immigrants, but in truth just 18% are skilled workers. The other 37% in this category are the spouses and children of someone with a marketable skill. Yet, as a I said above, I do not begrudge new Canadians bringing their husbands, wives and children with them. Having to leave one’s family behind is cruel, besides most skilled workers are able to fully support their nuclear families.
Even among the 45% of immigrants categorized each year as non-economic, 11% to 13% are admitted on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. There is a debate worth having over whether our definitions of who deserves compassionate admission are over-broad, but let’s for now assume most of these immigrants are admitted for good reasons, too. And even though they may not always be able to pay their own way, it is worthy of us as a caring nation to accept them anyway.
Together, that means about two-thirds of our yearly intake consists of immigrants we should be happy to have. Last year Canada admitted about 254,000 immigrants, that means about 173,000 are people who are no net drag on our social services and are poised to make a net contribution to Canada’s economy and society after a short few years of adjustment.
However, that still means there are about 80,000 newcomers admitted each year — nearly one million each decade — who more than likely will have to be supported for the remainder of their lives by Canadians who have lived and worked here all or most of their lives. About half of this number (38,000 in 2010) are parents and grandparents of newcomers.
That is what Immigration Minister Kenney is getting at: How does it make any sense to saddle hardworking Canadian taxpayers with $1.5 billion to $2.0 billion extra each year to pay for immigrants’ parents and grandparents to move here just because the benefits we offer to people in their twilight years are better than those in their home countries? How is it fair to burden Canadians with these costs when the beneficiaries have never lived, worked or paid taxes here?
I am so in favour of robust immigration that you could convince me of the sensibility of open immigration — no upper cap on numbers whatever — just not into a welfare state such as ours. Open immigration into a welfare state is a recipe for fiscal suicide by governments. That is one of the problems Mr. Kenney is trying to solve.
National Post

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