Immigration is always a delicate subject in Canada. Every government and politician must carefully weigh competing interests, needs, and public opinions. While most Canadians agree that our relatively open form of immigration is an important and beneficial policy, the questions of how many people to let into the country, where they are from, how well they speak certain languages, etc. draw out many different answers depending on where you are in Canada and who you’re talking to. Our immigration system, however, is in need of some alterations to deal with the changing social and economic landscape.
Most Canadians, especially younger and more liberal ones, outright reject the notion of forcefully clamping down on immigration with the kind of strong laws being adopted in the United States. That being said, most people understand that the system has many deep flaws and would like to see stricter enforcement of the processes involved in obtaining citizenship, refugee status, and work residency to make sure the country’s infrastructure can handle newcomers and to ensure undesirable or dangerous people can’t settle in Canada.
The immigration system has been a source of considerable discussion over the last few years as the federal and provincial governments take an increasingly strong approach to overhauling and changing the system. The federal government recently announced plans to set up a tipline for people to call CIC and report potential “immigration fraud”: cases of people illegally obtaining or trying to sell citizenship and other exploitive tactics related to immigration to Canada. Such a program was denounced by opposition parties not so much for what it aims to do – obviously illegal loopholes to immigration are undesirable – but rather what such funding could better be used for. The immigration system already has a notoriously bloated bureaucracy behind it and there are hundreds of thousands of backlogged requests. Whether the system in its current form can handle the additional weight of the new fraud-prevention program remains to be seen.
Even at the provincial level, immigration talk has been heating up. With Ontario heading into an October election, immigration policy has become a surprise topic of discussion. The incumbent Liberals want to introduce a special tax credit program where businesses that hire a recent immigrant will receive a $10,000 tax credit. The program has been criticized by the opposition Progressive Conservative party, but overall appears to be a fairly sound way to encourage the hiring of skilled immigrants. The plan aims to help newcomers with education in fields that need more workers, like health and law, which will help them find jobs. It would be wise though to work out a better system alongside it that also encourages other new Canadians to go back to school and improve their education or skills – a very easy way to take people currently consigned to low-paying jobs and make them more productive, socially and economically. After all, isn’t the goal of immigration to add to Canada’s mosaic and make all aspects of the country stronger? Ontario is the largest province and home to the most new Canadians, so it makes sense to invest here first.
Not everyone agrees with such an open immigration policy though. It’s a fine line to tread, but there are certain arguments against the current system that are sound and wrongly labeled as prejudice or xenophobia. Quebec has a longstanding discomfort with high levels of immigration as it sees an influx of people, particularly those who aren’t able to speak French, as a threat to its unique culture. Steps have been taken to alleviate concerns (the Quebec and federal governments have an accord that allows Quebec to participate in choosing immigrants destined for that province based on particular characteristics such as French language competency), but it would be nice to see more aggressive action to educate and foster a better understanding of immigration’s importance. It’s understandable that people want to preserve certain aspects of their culture and identity, but there are ways to welcome others without having to worry. Young urban Canadians grow up surrounded by other cultures, usually, but there is greater need to foster that diversity in more rural areas of the country.
Immigration – bringing people to Canada and helping them build lives here – has become one of the great pillars of this country. We are Canadians: this is what we do. This is who we are. We have the highest per-capita immigration rate in the world and we need to ensure we have the best immigration system to handle that load. We need to ensure that new Canadians find jobs, feel secure and well-integrated, and can build productive, happy lives like every other Canadian should have. Hopefully we’ll see less political squabbling and more education, funding, and smart reforms in the years ahead. It’s in our own best interests.