Who Gets In: What's Wrong with Canada's Immigration Program ű and How to Fix It

by Daniel Stoffman
205 pages,
ISBN: 1551990954

Immigration: The Economic Case

by Diane Francis
192 pages,
ISBN: 1552635325

Post Your Opinion
Qualifying Would-be Immigrants
by Martin Loney

Canada receives more than a million immigrants every five years, far more on a per capita basis than any other country. The size and composition of the country's urban centres has been transformed in the last fifteen years with little critical discussion about who gets in or why Canada's immigration targets are so much higher, proportionately, than those of the other principal immigration destinations¨Australia and the United States. These three publications ask some hard questions about current policies, while sharing the belief that more modest immigration numbers, with a greater focus on language and labour market skills, will serve Canada and would-be immigrants much better.
Martin Collacott is a retired Canadian ambassador with a long and distinguished career; he is one of a remarkable number of former public servants who have sought to alert the Canadian public to what they believe is the folly of current immigration and refugee policies. Collacott argues that the government's case for high immigration targets is flawed. Jean Chretien has claimed that Canada needs to increase immigration both to ensure economic growth and to meet the retirement crisis. Collacott dismisses these demographic arguments. All developed countries face an aging population; the changing dependency ratio can be handled through increased productivity or postponed retirement. Canada's population, without any immigration would not start to decline until the late 2020s while many European countries have seen economic growth despite static populations.
Collacott suggests that a better case can be made for reducing immigration quotas by taking into account the large number of young people currently entering the labour market. Collacott argues for a smaller number of immigrants with greater emphasis on language capacity and labour market skills. He would reduce the flow of 'family class' immigrants who are admitted not on the basis of their ability to enter the labour market but because of their relationship to a current resident, usually a recent immigrant. In contrast to the claim that Canada gains significant economic benefits Collacott quotes the estimate, given by Jack Manion, a former Deputy Minister of Immigration and Secretary to the Treasury Board, that the annual direct cost of immigration and refugee policies is between $2 to $4 billion a year.
Diane Francis, a well-known financial journalist, takes direct aim at the economic arguments used in support of current immigration flows. Francis highlights the low skill levels of many family class immigrants; of some 600,000 immigrants admitted in 1998 to 2000, 43 per cent spoke neither English or French, and one third of the adults reported that they did not intend to work. Canadian residents who sponsored immigrants gave guarantees that they would not be a burden on social assistance for the first 10 years, but in practice many such sponsors simply reneged on their commitments. In Ontario alone broken sponsorship commitments are costing taxpayers $150 million annually. Faced with growing evidence of withdrawn family support and with the difficulty of enforcement, the Liberals reduced the sponsorship commitment requirement to three years.
One of the more controversial routes into Canada is through the immigrant investor scheme, a favored route for those whose source of income might raise questions about their potential to contribute to their adopted country. Others, not eager to make the required $250,000 investment, found that immigration lawyers and consultants had developed a range of ingenious schemes. These ensured that very little money was ever actually invested and few of the promised jobs created, though the scheme was certainly a windfall for those working in the immigration industry.
Francis's slim book delivers some hard blows to those who believe that Canada's immigration policies are well conceived and well managed. They are neither, she concludes. Instead, together with an incompetent, patronage-driven refugee determination (status-granting) process, current policies are economically disastrous, porous to criminals seeking new opportunities, and incompatible with Canada's national security needs.
Daniel Stoffman is the co-author of the best-selling Boom, Bust and Echo. His interest in immigration stems from a 1991 Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy he received to study the issue. Eleven years later he has written a devastating indictment of a system which he believes betrays Canada's national interests and is creating increased poverty among immigrants ill-equipped to compete in the labour market. Stoffman argues that Canada should welcome immigrants but that the primary objective should be to ensure that Canada benefits from immigration, with immigration targets reset well below the current levels.
Stoffman makes a powerful case for redeploying our resources by directing them away from our current refuge-granting system¨that uses up hundreds of millions of dollars on would-be refugees who are in reality economic migrants¨in order to aid bona fide refugees in camps overseas. The camps contain the destitute and the desperate, while many of those who arrive in Canada claiming refugee status are simply seeking to by-pass immigration procedures, sometimes with the help of people smugglers. Unfortunately, selection from the camps provides little work for immigration and refugee lawyers, or the friends of the Liberal Party who hold $100,000.00 sinecures on the Immigration and Refugee Board. The current system receives powerful support from those who profit from the status quo, argues Stoffman. Our policies have turned Canada into an international laughing stock, a system admitting 'refugees' who would be recognised by no other country.
Stoffman pulls no punches; the current system survives because the immigration program has become the prisoner of its clients. Lowered targets (quotas) might ensure more success for those admitted but such proposals are vetoed. The reduction in income for immigration lawyers and service providers wouldn't be tolerated.
Contrary to what the strident voices raised in defense of current policies would have us think, these critics are not anti-immigrant. They'd like to see a system that maximises immigrants' chance of succeeding. Stoffman highlights the false expectations of success which Canada raises for some immigrants. But the admission of large numbers of unskilled immigrants depresses wages and militates against individual success, since there is continuing competition from other new arrivals.
Liberal politicians seeking to harvest ethnic votes have been quick to reject proposals for reform. Stoffman reports the antics of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, chaired by Joe Fontana. The committee was overwhelmingly composed of advocates for current policies¨large numbers and generous family reunification allowances¨most whom worked in the industry or in tax-funded advocacy groups. Critics were few and far between but when the committee did meet with some in Vancouver, Stoffman reports the prevailing attitude was reminiscent of McCarthy's approach to dissent. Committee chair, Fontana, shouted at one witness who had made a careful presentation on the ecological consequences of Vancouver's high immigration levels: "We don't want to hear any more from you. We know what your philosophy is". A quintessential example of the way in which intelligent debate on the issue is closed down. But as these three publications show, silencing the critics is becoming harder. ˛

Martin Loney is the author of The Pursuit of Division: Race, Gender and Preferential Hiring in Canada (McGill-Queen's).

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