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November 13, 2011

Five myths about Canada's immigration policies

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah

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There are few things Canadians like to stay away from discussing and debating: religion, politics and changes to the game of hockey. Well, you could add another untouchable topic: immigration. Is Canada losing control of its culture, heritage and future? As immigration continues to be central to our future, it is worth, I believe, discarding some misconceptions and misinformation about Canada's immigration policies and rules.

1. Canada has an open door immigration policy.

Nothing is further from the truth. Slowly and steadily, Canada has been tightening its immigration laws since 2002. Under the present Federal Skilled Worker Class, which is based on the points system like--education, languages, occupation, age, etc--the government added the "Ministerial Instructions" scheme/list where it publishes every year a selection of occupations that it deems needed in Canada. Only the applications that fit that list are accepted and processed. In fact, the government introduced a cap on the numbers accepted in each occupation which is currently 500 per skill down from 1000 a year ago. In addition, in 2010 the total number of this category was capped at 20,000 in total. The new list of 2011 reduced the total applications accepted to 10,000 per year.

Furthermore, the investor program has been revamped and made harder and a maximum of 700 applicants are accepted each year, and the entrepreneur stream is also under revamping. (The 700 cap is already reached which started only July 01)

In total about 250,000 new Canadians are accepted each year in all categories. That is barely a replacement of the retirees, the sick and the deceased.

2. Canada can dispense of immigration by raising the retirement age and increasing fertility rate.

Around the world, as population rates growth slow and stop, countries are discovering that the proportion of working- age people in their population is shrinking, and the proportion of those who have retired and therefore depend on state and private pensions, medical and care funds is rising fast. Canada is no exception. According to the bond-rating Standard & Poor's, "By 2050, most Western countries--including Canada--will have to devote between 27 and 30 per cent of their GDP to spend on retirees and their needs. This will produce fiscal deficits in most advanced countries of almost 25 per cent of GDP, making the current crisis seem miniscule by comparison."

Canada will soon be fighting to attract and retain highly skilled and not too skilled, immigrants to get to work, and squeezing as much as we can from the remaining few. Affluence and cultural habits also limit the desired increase in fertility rates.

3. New immigrants don't contribute much these days and are different lot from previous waves of immigrants.

Consider these facts: Between 1995 and 2005, 25 per cent of every new high-tech company in America and Canada had an immigrant founder. Companies created by immigrants--or have immigrant roots--loom like icons of the information technology era: Intel, Google, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, YouTube, eBay, PayPal and LinkedIn. Moreover, while making up less than 20 per cent of the Canadian population, immigrants possess half of all new doctorate degrees in engineering; Forty-nine per cent of master's degrees in computer sciences and information technology.

The new waves of immigrants although different from the past, they are not less productive, desirable or lacking in ambition. Each era has its own dynamics and type of immigrants. Google alone generated billions of dollars to the North American economies and created thousands of jobs and economic spin-off to all sectors. That alone is an economic miracle.

4. Multiculturalism has failed and immigrants don't assimilate into the Canadian mainstream culture.

"We favour multiculturalism." That was Stephen Harper's declaration during the leader's debate in the last federal election. He continued saying:" And we show through multiculturalism our willingness to accommodate their differences, so they are more comfortable. That is why we are so successful integrating people as a country. I think we are probably the most successful country in the world in that regard."

Unlike Britain, Germany or France, Canada does not have ethnic ghettos and extreme alienation of ethnic youth trying to find themselves in an alien culture. In fact, assimilation is increasing and the participation of the ethnic voters in the last federal election is a striking example where the Conservatives made breakthroughs in Toronto and Vancouver at the expense of the Liberal party which had a monopoly on that score.  

5. Reduce immigration levels or stop it all together.

Wishful thinking at best. At a time when the business community, major bank institutions, many construction companies, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, most universities and colleges and specialists in the field are all advocating staying the course or even increasing the levels to about 300,000 per year, any drastic reduction could be damaging to the economy and to future growth in many sectors.

Regardless what the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform advocates, the fact remains that immigrants are a positive influence on Canada overall, the net economic benefits outweigh the costs and Canada is gaining an advantage over other counties preparing itself for a diverse, pluralistic and multicultural world ahead.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah is a practicing Immigration Consultant (ICCRC) in Ottawa for the past 13 years.

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