The Canadian immigration landscape is shifting beneath our feet. When the dust settles, where will Canada be?
Some of the proposed changes, such as dealing with the backlog, are long overdue. Other changes may also be necessary. They will nevertheless have a series of unintended consequences for the makeup of Canada's immigrant population and its ethnic diversity. It is these consequences that we should be concerned about.
Recently, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has spoken highly of the Australian immigration model with its strict language requirements. High levels of language proficiency are a requirement in our labour market. But raising the bar on language competency may trigger an increase in immigration from English-speaking countries – Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – at the cost of immigrants from emerging economic superpowers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil.
Add to this administrative changes such as the closing of visa offices in Bangladesh, Iran and elsewhere and we will begin to see a shift in source countries. Recent media reports show that the numbers of immigrants applying for permanent residence from China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan fell drastically in 2011 – perhaps in response to changes made to our immigrant selection system in the last year.
What implications will these changes have for Canada's future? One unintended consequence relates to the success of second-generation immigrants. Research shows that the children of immigrants have higher rates of postsecondary education than those of non-immigrant Canadians. What's more, those born to parents from Africa, China and other Asian countries attend university and college at far higher rates than both non-immigrant Canadians and those born to immigrants from anglosphere countries.
The changes are coming at a furious pace on an almost daily basis. By seeking to eliminate the backlog by expunging those waiting in the queue, we choose efficiency over fairness. By moving to "super visas" and away from permanent residence for our immigrants' parents and grandparents, we choose transience over inclusion. When employers select workers who will become future citizens with little guidance, we choose head-hunting over nation-building. When we raise the bar on language, we choose homogeneity over diversity. By streamlining the refugee adjudication process, we may well be choosing efficiency over human rights. Finally, when we say to employers, "Pay temporary foreign workers less than you might pay Canadians," we choose exploitation over fairness.
And yet, no one has asked us what we think about these changes.
Immigration policy touches almost every aspect of Canadian life and is too important to be made in a piecemeal manner. It determines who our neighbours are, who we sit with on the bus and who our children go to school with. It goes to the very heart of our imagination of ourselves as a people.
To simply maintain our population and keep our standard of living, we will need to welcome hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year. To compete with global cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong, our cities must grow substantially and sustainably. Immigration can never be the only solution, but we ignore immigration and its accompanying diversity, including their knock-on effects on issues such as international relations, trade and innovation, at our peril. We need to bear in mind that Canada's success as a multicultural society is an essential and defining part of our international brand.
It's important that The Globe and Mail brings focus, debate and discussion to these issues, but this debate cannot take place only through the news media. We need to include all Canadians in this discussion – in Parliament, in committee rooms, at the chambers of commerce and industry associations, labour unions, resident associations, local and provincial governments, not-for-profits and civil society organizations, faith groups, think tanks, academics and in our communities. Together we must answer the questions:
• Why do we have immigration?
• How should we do it?
• How do we achieve our short- and long-term goals?
Let's have this discussion. Our future prosperity depends on it.
Ratna Omidvar is president of the Maytree Foundation.
To find out what immigration looks like in your community, see an interactive look at solutions to Canada's immigration problem and share your own story click here.