Canada near top in integrating immigrants, survey says

DEMOGRAPHICS REPORTER — The Globe and Mail

Canada's integration policies rank just short of the best in the world, according to a major international survey of Europe and North America.

Canada place third behind Sweden and Portugal on the latest Migrant Integration Policy Index, a benchmark European study that measures a range of indicators, from political engagement and paths to citizenship to public education.

Story continues below ad

Canada's ranking crept up two places from fifth two years ago, due largely to government efforts to recognize the credentials of foreign-trained professionals and to the addition of education measures that gave high marks to the multicultural model.

Canada scored poorly for its policies on immigrant political integration. Although Canada's immigrant communities are known for being politically active, the survey concluded Canada does relatively little to engage immigrants before they acquire citizenship.

"We don't permit [residents]to vote in local municipal elections unless they're citizens. There's a number of European countries that do permit that, and that's considered a benchmark against which we're not doing very well," said Jack Jedwab, director of the Association for Canadian studies, which co-ordinated the Canadian research along with the Maytree Foundation.

Canada also does not have integration advisory boards made up exclusively of immigrants, as some European countries do. As a result, Canada scored only 18th on political measures.

"You might say that finishing 18th in this category is fine because you don't feel that non-citizens should be voting in municipal elections. On the other hand, in Europe they'll say civic integration is important, civic engagement and voting is a fundamental part of that engagement," Mr. Jedwab said.

The integration of immigrants is becoming an increasingly contentious issue in Europe. In recent months, the leaders of Germany, France and Britain have all declared multiculturalism a failure in their countries. Political parties on the continent scramble to craft policies that appear tough on migrants and limit immigration targets. In contrast, Canadian opinion polls show majority public support for the world's highest immigration levels and no party advocates cutting immigration.

Mr. Jedwab said a recent poll he commissioned showed Canadians don't think they have lessons to learn from the rest of the world about managing diversity.

"We think we've got a better approach, rightly or wrongly," he said.

Canada scored highly on the survey for its family reunification policy, which has come under scrutiny recently. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been criticized for planning to issue fewer visas to parents and grandparents in the coming year.

The new citizenship guide and test Mr. Kenney introduced last year, however, was singled out as the "most professional" in all countries.

Although immigrants of the past 20 years have struggled economically compared to previous generations, Canada still does better by that measure than most countries, according to the survey.

"Migrant workers and their families have some of the best labour market opportunities in Canada - far better than in Europe on average or the U.S.," the report said.

Canada was second only to Sweden on education, according to the survey. Canadian students benefit from multicultural policies that teach how to live in a diverse society and also include opportunities, sometimes after school, to learn about their "heritage" cultures.

Over all, Mr. Jedwab said, the survey confirms the widely held impression that Canada is doing relatively well on immigrant integration.

Although Sweden and Portugal came out ahead of Canada, the foreign-born make up less than 6 per cent of the population in those countries, compared to more than 20 per cent in Canada.

The United States ranked ninth over all on the survey. Germany and Britain tied for 12th and France was 15th. Australia, which is often a point of comparison for Canada on immigration, was not included in the survey.