New Policies Could Change the Demographics
By Gloria Suhasini *
There have been more changes to Canada’s immigration policy in the last several months than in the entire history of the nation, since its Confederation in 1867. And those changes, some already in effect and some still proposed, are sure to have a domino effect on the country — including a significant shift in its demographics.
In fact, the Statistics Canada projection that, by 2031, the number of people belonging to ethnocultural groups will double and make up the majority of the population in Toronto and Vancouver may not become a reality, after all. The predictions were made based on the important fact that for more than two decades Canadian immigration has come mainly from Asian countries and the anticipation that this trend will continue.
But the slew of recent policy and regulatory changes could rewrite the profile of Canada.
It all began with the amendment of the federal skilled workers category in early 2008. That is when the National Occupational Classification (NOC) list was condensed from more than a 100 professions to 29. A cap was also introduced for the maximum number of applications. (As of July 1, 2012, CIC has temporarily stopped accepting applications in this category. This does not apply to those with a qualifying job offer or applying under the PhD stream.)
Changes introduced to the family category also should be factored in. For example, a hold was placed on parental sponsorship applications, with the introduction of the “super visa.” The recently introduced visa category encourages Canadians to invite their parents and grandparents to visit them temporarily, staying no longer than two years at a time.
While permanent reunification may be impossible as a result for many families, restrictions imposed on spousal sponsorships could also have a considerable impact on immigration. Canadians planning to get married elsewhere — which often happens in South Asian communities where arranged marriages are still prevalent — and bringing their spouses to Canada, may now wonder if the process is too complicated and cumbersome.
But the most important factor in future immigration trends is expected to be the requirement for a high level of proficiency in Canada’s official languages.
“We need economic immigrants who speak one of our two official languages and have credentials likely to be recognized so that they transition smoothly into Canadian life,” says Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, who is the author of the country’s new and evolving immigration system. “We want to facilitate their economic — as well as social and cultural — participation into Canadian society. This is instrumental to nation-building.”
How will this requirement affect the profile of immigration?
Well, there is already a shift in the profile of people who want to immigrate to Canada, observers opine.
B.C. immigration lawyer Gianpaolo Panusa observes that though in the onset it appears to be a reasonable approach to ensure that immigrants speak the native language when they arrive, a high level of English proficiency will, in practice, mean an overrepresentation of immigrants from English-speaking countries. “In contrast, Canada may no longer be as attractive to citizens of countries where English is not the first language, such as India and the Far East,” says Panusa.
“[So] the problem is twofold: there are highly skilled individuals from these countries that could certainly contribute a great deal to our society, even if their English isn’t top notch. The other issue is that Canada has expressed the absolute need to increase trade with Far East countries in order to lessen our reliance with the United States for trade. It seems to me that encouraging immigration from countries with which we seek to trade goods is a positive move to strengthen that relationship.”
Shift in source countries
Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through its policy insights, grants and programs, cannot agree more with Panusa. “I do think the unintended outcome of these changes will be a shift back to traditional source countries like Australia, Britain, South Africa and the United States. What does this mean? The scope of multiculturalism will drop,” she says in a concerned tone.
Omidvar says the future of Canada’s innovation and economic connection may be affected especially if interest among prospective immigrants from emerging economic superpowers like China, India and Brazil is lost. “Applications for immigration from India and China have dropped, and the Philippines will also drop.”
But Kenney refutes this notion. “Asian countries — including India, China and the Philippines — remain Canada’s top source countries,” he notes. “By limiting the intake of new federal skilled worker applications as we have since 2008 [and eliminating the old backlog completely more recently] … what is not changing is the number of immigrants accepted by Canada every year.”
He reiterates: “In the past several years, Canada has welcomed the highest sustained number of immigrants in our history. In 2011, approximately 250,000 immigrants arrived in Canada and, again, our top three source countries were China, India and the Philippines. The facts speak for themselves: Asian immigration to Canada is thriving.”
He adds that the Conservative government is building an economic system where “we accept qualified immigrants who meet the labour market needs in a matter of months, not years,” which he promotes as a “just-in-time system” while speaking to media and community groups.
In recent months, the minister has also told media that employers would play a greater role in selecting potential immigrants. According to him, employers in the future would have direct access to federal skilled worker applications, which they may use to select skilled labour, depending on their needs.
Panusa says that could mean being shortsighted, though he agrees that employers should have a role selecting potential immigrants to fill immediate job shortages. “The government must balance immediate needs for certain skills, with the skills required in the years ahead. We may find that we have a paucity of certain skills in future at the expense of skills we should have been nurturing over many years.”
In Omidvar’s view, when employers select workers who will become future citizens with little guidance, it essentially becomes a recruitment exercise rather than nation-building.
She also decries the changes made to the temporary foreign worker program, allowing employers to pay them up to 15 per cent less wages compared to Canadians, as exploitation.
That also means driving down the wages for all Canadians, particularly younger ones, making it hard for them to get their first job, training and apprenticeship, according to Olivia Chow, New Democrat member of Parliament (Trinity-Spadina).
Every year, more than 150,000 foreign workers enter Canada to work temporarily in jobs that help Canadian employers address skill shortages, or to work as live-in caregivers, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).
But, according to Immigration Watch Canada, a watchdog organization, nearly 200,000 new workers were admitted into Canada in 2011, and the program is widely abused by employers.
Chow is also of the same opinion. “The Conservatives are helping 200,000 people jump the queue, while Canadians’ brothers, sisters and parents wait for a long time. This is grossly unfair.”
She adds, “Canada is built by immigrants — by establishing their roots as Irish, Italian, Portuguese, South Asians, Chinese … 95 per cent of the foreign workers are not able to bring their families. It’s fine to bring in temporary workers, but not in such a massive scale.”
Whether or not temporary foreign workers choose to become permanent residents, thanks to some of the new policies like the introduction of the Canadian experience class, there is clearly a whirlwind of changes happening in Canada’s immigration system that are bound to have a direct influence on us as Canadians and what Canada will look like in the next couple of decades.
One thing is for sure, whether or not the Statistics Canada predictions that the ethnocultural community will become a majority group in Toronto and Vancouver by 2031 come true, immigrants as a whole (regardless of ethnicity or source country) will continue to shape the future of this country and its labour market (roughly one in every three people in the labour force could be foreign-born).
It appears that a nation said to be originally built by immigrants, will continue to be built by them.
[Source: CanadianImmigrant.ca © Star Media Group]