Five myths about Canada’s immigration system

Immigrants selon le pays de naissance, Québec,...
Immigrants selon le pays de naissance, Québec, 2001-2005 / Immigrants by country of origin, Québec, 2001-2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maytree Opinion, November 2012
Recent media reports have characterized Canada’s immigration system as “broken,” and so ridden with problems that the only solution is a set of heroic measures, such as the current federal government changes, to set it on the right path. Even well-regarded columnists like John Ibbitson have swallowed the current government’s line that their renovation of the system is finally ending years of failure, abuse, and misdirection.
This view is largely false, and is only held up by the constant perpetration of a set of myths. Here are five of them.
Myth 1: The system is “broken,” not just in need of re-tuning, but not working.
In fact, for decades, Canada has had one of the most successful immigration systems in the world, attracting the best and brightest and accepting them as citizens at a high rate of conversion, and having them succeed in the labour market, community, and culture. We have not done this as perfectly as we should, and as we would like, but compared to other countries we have done this well. Those other countries regularly tell us that they envy our success. We could improve, and we do incrementally, but our system is far from broken.
Myth 2: We must adopt a new goal of fitting immigrants to labour market needs.
In fact, we’ve been doing this for over a century by policy and practice. In the first decade of the 20th century, the federal government populated the prairies by targeting and attracting cold weather farmers from the northern US and northern Europe. It was a deliberate project of nation building, and the government did what it took to make these immigrants succeed: land grants and cheap land; credit for farm equipment and livestock purchase; storage for crops awaiting shipment; rail lines for transport; and research into cold weather strains of grain crops. In the 1960’s the federal government deliberately aligned immigration with the needs of the new knowledge economy by the invention of the “points” system (from the fertile policy mind of the great Tom Kent), aligning immigrants directly with the education, language, and work experience needs of the information and design age.
Myth 3: The high-end needs of the labour market outrank other immigration perspectives.
In fact, successful immigrants in our history have come from family reunification and other streams. The labour market needs workers at all levels, including people who work at entry level jobs such as home care and personal care, manual labour, and service jobs. And it is clear that reunited family members settle more quickly and successfully than those arriving alone, and that they either find work or they support other family members in being able to work.
Myth 4: Backlogs are a legacy of past failures being rectified by the present government.
Only half a myth, because backlogs are the result of years of government starving the system of the resources necessary to process immigration in a timely way, leading to unnecessary hardship for applicants. The government continues this under-resourcing. Merely tearing up the existing lists, as the government is doing, is a false solution, much like tearing up the grocery list instead of going to the market. In the latter case, your family goes hungry. In the former, the country gets starved of the people needed to build Canada.
Myth 5: Polls are a good way to develop policy.
We are told that Canadians’ support of immigration is dropping, and so we should have tougher policy about who gets in and how they’re treated when they get here. It is little wonder support would drop, given the government and press stories of fraud, abuse, and scandal. It sounds like a real problem. But the fact remains that these problems exist at the very margins, at such a small scale that designing the system to catch them rather than to elevate the vast majority of immigrants is silly. Viewing immigration through a security lens paints a darker picture than our traditional lens of nation building. It surely has political benefits to some politicians wishing to appear as Horatius at the Bridge, but it is not in the national interest.
By all means let us work together, governments, employers, and communities, to improve our ability to attract the next generations of Canadians to carry on the task of building a great country. And by all means let us eliminate those practices which don’t work, and implement ones that will work better. But let us not be misled by myths which divert us from the real tasks at hand.

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