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Immigration policy about more than economics

The Immigration Line
|Written By Jennifer Nees
Immigration policy about more than economics

As an immigration lawyer, I have seen first-hand stories of individuals who arrived to Canada as skilled workers, highly trained and very well educated, who find themselves unable to find work in their field. Lack of Canadian experience, “foreign” accents, and great expense for accreditation of foreign credentials all become insurmountable barriers for many of the world’s foreign skilled workers who come to Canada.

A prospective client once asked me if I felt badly about bringing foreign workers to Canada. It concerned her that many skilled workers from developing countries are the best and brightest at home and by bringing those individuals to Canada (or the U.S., Europe, or Australia), we are effectively denying those countries the best opportunity at socio-economic advancement.

These are different sides to the same coin. Canada recruits the best and the brightest, but then it is often very difficult for those individuals to work in their field.

The Fraser Institute recently released a report on the issue entitled “Immigration and the Canadian Welfare State.” While the report is extremely harsh, it has shed some light on this matter and brought it to the nation’s attention.

Through the report, the Fraser Institute offers a proposed system for selecting immigrants based on the current North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act rules. Namely, the authors propose that individuals should be eligible to become immigrants to Canada if they have valid work contracts for employment and can show they have worked for a certain amount of time. The advantage to this type of system is that it ensures individuals who immigrate to Canada are able to work in a job that will earn them a fair wage, helping with overall economic integration of the new worker.

My concern is the Fraser Institute seems to focus only on the economic aspect of immigration. From a purely economic perspective, this model does make some sense. However, what the model doesn’t deal with are the social issues that also make it difficult for foreign nationals to integrate fully into Canadian society. Nor does this type of model protect the foreign worker from an employer who is biased or from a system that makes it overly cumbersome to become licensed and/or accredited in Canada.

In reality, no government-sponsored immigration plan will be able to address the issues of systemic racism and bias. Organizations exist throughout Canada to assist in the integration of workers (such as the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council), which can offer invaluable service to newcomers. However, until the Canadian government can sort out how to showcase the real value of these highly skilled migrants, it seems inevitable that the backlash against them will continue.

The report also looks at the high cost of family reunification, especially with respect to parental sponsorship. It raises interesting points about these issues, and while I strongly support the aim of family reunification, I agree there has to be some way to run the system that doesn’t allow for people to not contribute. What the report doesn’t look at is the fact that migrants can and do contribute in a multitude of ways including social, political, and economic.

The Fraser Institute report is undoubtedly controversial, but what I hope it does is trigger dialogue about the values Canada places on immigration. Canada strives to be an open and welcoming home to so many that it must also focus on the reality of labour shortages, over-educated workers, and a changing economic order. It is vital that everyone in Canada play their part, but it is questionable whether that “part” can be viewed only in terms of economic gain.