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Current Immigration Issues in North America: A Canadian Perspective

Current Immigration Issues in North America: A Canadian Perspective
Current Immigration Issues in North America: A Canadian Perspective
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Once again, the United States Congress has proven itself unable to pass meaningful immigration reforms. July 4th, 2014 was the goal that various Democratic lawmakers set for immigration reform, but the immigration bill is about to die without a vote on the floor. This is particularly striking set against the backdrop of more than 1,000 immigrant children from Mexico and Central America populating detention centers in Arizona.

These kinds of immigration problems are not present in Canada for several reasons. Canada has traditionally had a generous immigration policy designed to populate the country and maximize its plentiful natural resources. As a result, it has also had one of the world's highest rates of permanent immigration. By about 2031, Canada will experience negative population growth due to the declining birth rate. At that point any population growth in Canada will come from immigration. This is already a trend, and for some time Canada has relied upon skilled immigrant labor.

As Canada has shifted towards a skilled, knowledge-based economy its immigration policy has changed to meet its new labor needs. Specifically, its more recent immigration policies aim to help the country attract educated, highly skilled workers. Canada's welfare system makes it attractive to immigrants and in turn motivates immigration policymakers to focus on ensuring that immigrants who come to Canada can contribute to the economy and are motivated to stay.

Until the 1960s, Canadian immigration policy was largely focused on maintaining the English origins of the colony. In 1967 Canada began its points system which does not show any particular racial or cultural origin pattern and instead looks to the labor needs of the market and the goal of reunification of families to set immigration priorities. Education, training, relationships with existing Canadian immigrants, and sometimes human rights concerns are typically what counts under the points system.

As the 20th century drew to a close, Canada faced a “brain drain” of skilled talent and an aging population like many other developed nations. Carefully tailored immigration policies coupled with its generous benefits system became a strategy for combatting these issues.

Legal Basis for Immigration in Canada

Canadian immigration policy arises from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002 (IRPA). Immigration policy in Canada is executed primarily by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Skill Development Canada (HRSDC). CIC focuses on basic administration and collaborates with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA); the CBSA manages Canada's borders and ports of entry. It also houses the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), the tribunal that deals with illegal immigration decisions. HRSDC administers Canada's foreign worker programs and addresses labor market issues.

Canadian immigration policies and policymakers emphasize the importance of not just sensible immigration policies, but also supportive social structures that allow newcomers to the culture to succeed in Canada while maintaining their own identities. Multiculturalism has been a constitutional principle in Canada since 1982, and this is reflected in its immigration policy. The IRPA identifies the support of refugees, the promotion of international justice and security, the development of minority official languages communities, the promotion of a two-way approach to the integration of newcomers, and the enrichment of the multicultural fabric of Canadian society among its goals.

Economic Basis for Recent Changes to Canadian Immigration Policy

In the early 21st century Canada made some changes to its immigration policy in order to address several economic concerns. Specifically: the gap in skilled labor supply and demand had widened too much; immigrants who were entering the skilled labor market were showing unreliable proficiency with English; simple demand in the market increased at a faster rate than could be met by domestic labor supplies; and the backlog of permanent residency applications in the system reached an all time high. For these reasons, the Canadian government took several steps to enhance immigration policy to better meet the needs of the current labor market.

First, several programs were out into place which bypassed the existing skilled worker program allowing a quicker solution to labor needs. Next, the government took serious steps to enhance the efficiency of the immigration process. Individual decision-makers have been granted more discretion and flexibility with the mandate of making immigration decisions in order to meet skilled labor needs. Officials can more easily turn away applicants who do not possess needed skills or make an acceptable humanitarian case, reducing backlog. As a result, the demand for skilled workers in Canada has been somewhat reduced although it is still high.

Illegal Immigration in Canada

Unlike in the United States or the United Kingdom, illegal immigration is not a very pressing issue in Canada. There is no labor surplus of any kind in Canada, particularly not of the low-income variety that is so visible in the U.S. immigration debate. Immigration in Canada is also fairly well-controlled, as are the ports of entry. Finally, the majority of illegal immigrants in Canada are estimated to be people who have overstayed on legitimate visas or been refused asylum. In Canada the construction and hospitality industries seem to draw the most unauthorized workers.


Generally speaking the Canadian immigration system is seen as one of the most successful in the developed world. For a variety of reasons, both policy-oriented and organic, the liberal yet controlled approach to immigration in Canada continues to pay off. In fact, as the 21st century progresses, the Canadian economy will become increasingly dependent upon immigrant labor.

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