Immigration Policy Canada – some thoughts

One of the difficulties with formulating immigration policy is that there are numerous interests which approach the topic from different perspectives. Economists tend to focus on the economic impact on those countries which are the source of migrants and those which receive them. Various dimensions are considered. For example, one country may lose productive members of its labour force while the other may gain, and there will be effects such as the costs and benefits of integrating newcomers into the economy. Other economic topics include the size and impact of remittances sent back to the migrants’ home country. These are now estimated at $400 bn annually worldwide. Compared to further changes to free trade and capital movements, a recent study estimates that world economic welfare would increase markedly with freer movements of labour (Michael Clemens in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2011, pp83-106). Such estimates are noted to be hard to calculate because of the possible negative effects on the societies which receive the migrants. This is where it becomes difficult to compare and measure economic with non-economic interests which are part of the conversation on immigration policy.

Non-economic interests are concerned with issues like the humanitarian aspects of allowing greater movement of persons from poor to wealthier countries, with integrating them into their new societies and with promoting policies of multiculturalism. It is often difficult to reconcile these diverse viewpoints in part because they use different metrics when making their cases.

Here I offer some thoughts on this topic. None is original but some are at times ignored in the discussion. The argument here is that the immigration policy of a country like Canada was formed at a time when different conditions prevailed than those experienced today. While the policy has been amended over the years and shaped by evolving circumstances, these changes do not meet many of the conditions prevailing today. Further amendments are needed and the current conditions and debates in the developed countries reflect these requirements.

1. The world population in 2011 is 7bn and growing. In 1950, it was about 2.5bn or the present demographic size of China and India combined. This almost threefold increase has resulted from a combination of birth and death rates influenced by factors such access to food, water and medicine. Canada’s population has more than doubled from 14 million in 1950 and 34 million in 2011.

2. In the past Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) projected that such growth in world population would lead to starvation as it would not be matched by the increase in food production. He was both right and wrong. World population increased but so did the ability to produce food. However poverty and food production are not evenly spread throughout the world so that famine and malnutrition in parts of the world are accompanied by problems of obesity elsewhere. One result is the increasing pressure for people to move from poor to richer countries, and a greater focus on migration.

3. Migrants are attracted to richer from poorer countries – to Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The pressure now is greater because of the larger world population, increasing wealth disparities between countries, greater knowledge of the disparities, and lower costs of travel. While people cannot flow as cheaply as messages over the internet, they can more easily travel between countries than in the past.

4. The world is divided geographically and politically into different countries. State borders are the result of a range of historical factors. At the end of WW2 there were about 50 member countries of the UN. Today there are almost 200. The same geographical area, namely the world, is now divided into more countries with more borders than existed 60 years ago. According to the doctrine of state sovereignty, states can control what crosses their borders, thus the operation of customs, finance and immigration authorities to control the crossborder movement of goods, services, money and people in about 200 countries.

5. While a country has the right to operate border controls, its ability to do so is now weaker. The immigration and refugee systems of countries such as Canada were established at a time when the world population was much smaller, there were fewer people trying to move from poor to richer parts of the world, and the ease (cost) of travel was much higher relative to the incomes of those seeking a better life in more prosperous parts of the world. The factors affecting the administration of immigration policy are different today than 50 years ago. (Note: around 1910 there were a large number of immigrants coming to Canada and these represented over 5% of the smaller total population than immigrants do today when the percentage is closer to 0.5%).

6. Other changes include the introduction of multiculturalism policies in Canada and other countries; the importance of ethnic groups in individual political ridings and the lobbying of ethnic diasporas; the displacement of peoples due to domestic and international conflicts leading to growth in the number of refugees and their need for resettlement abroad; development of entrepreneurs who often act in a criminal fashion to transport persons illegally from one country to another; the growth within developed countries of an immigration/refugee support industry made up of immigration lawyers, consultants and organizations, often financed in part by governments, to assist the settlement of migrants into their new countries. These interest groups take part in the conversation on immigration and refugee policy. At the same time it is customs and immigration officers manning the border who have to cope with the daily crossborder flow. How big is it?

7. A total of about 30.5 million people entered Canada legally in 2010, 30 million as tourists, 280,000 as permanent residents and the remainder as temporary foreign workers, short term visitors and foreign students. That works out at about 80,000 persons per day (over 3000 per hour) who have to be screened for entry. Unlike some other countries Canada does not record those leaving the country so that it is not known how many persons remain illegally and how many permanent residents depart the country. The 280,000 figure is a gross not a net figure. Estimates of those illegally in Canada are as high as 500,000 persons. For the US the comparable figure is 11-12 million. Other estimates can be found for member countries of the EU.

8. The administration of the 280,000 permanent resident accepted applicants (almost 700 per day) requires substantial human resources to screen applicants abroad as well as in Canada. Screening is undertaken by permanent CIC staff aided by those hired locally abroad. Worldwide in 2010 there were eighty visa offices employing a mix of 320 Canadian based officers (268 from CIC and 52 from the Canadian Border Services Agency) and 1263 locally engaged staff, some with limited powers to screen applicants and others case analysts and clerical staff (information provided by CIC).

9. Since demand exceeds supply for Canada and other countries there are incentives for applicants to buy (bribe) their way into the country and such cases exist. Also foreigners arrive at the border by boat and plane and claim asylum on arrival. Although boat people receive more publicity, they are a fraction of the total such arrivals. The administration of immigration/refugee policy includes procedures use to process these arrivals. The Canadian Auditor General has documented the problems associated with administration and court procedures which allow several stages of appeals. Consider the issues involved in collecting and evaluating data from foreign countries.

10. The 280,000 accepted for permanent residency in 2010 and ultimately eligible for citizenship are categorized into the following groups:
Economic – business, skilled workers, live-in caregivers – 187,000 (67%)
Family – 60,000 (21%)
Refugees and others – 33,000 (12%)
The economic category is sub-divided between principal applicants and family dependents. The applicants in each category and subcategory (principal and dependent) are screened for particular characteristics requiring the officials to evaluate the information collected abroad by the applicant and reliably translated where necessary. Business applicants also have to deposit a certain sum of money. Refugees often do not have the papers required for easy evaluation. Those picked out in refugee camps are vetted by Canadian and international officials, but those arriving uninvited by boat or plane at the border usually have no papers. Overall the application and screening process is time consuming, expensive for both the applicant and receiving country and subject to fraud and abuse. Little wonder there are phony consultants offering their services both abroad and in Canada, a point made prominently on the CIC website which posts “Don’t get cheated by a crooked immigration consultant.”

11. In the family category information has to be verified that these persons are actual relatives of previous immigrants. Indicative of the problems is the CBC news article (July 21, 2011) of the Somali who was welcoming to Canada the 100th person under the extended family member program,,

12. At any one time there are persons detained in Canada while their cases are evaluated by officials and the courts, often as a result of appeals against deportation. Many of these people are not detained in camps but allowed to mix in Canadian society with a requirement that they appear for a hearing at a certain time. Some do, but many do not, especially if they have a weak case. On July 21, 2011, the federal government through the CBSA asked Canadians to help in identifying 30 individuals accused of, or complicit in, war crimes or crimes against humanity and who are thought to be hiding in Canada. A number have already been identified and some deported. These examples illustrate some of the administrative problems faced by border officials.

13. Reform of Canada’s immigration/refugee policy requires a number of steps. Here I suggest what the first ones should be. Decide on the size of the total population for Canada over the next few decades with projections for its desired age structure and male-female composition. Note here that some developed countries have remained small and with a much smaller increase in population since 1950 than Canada – Switzerland, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Although the land area of these countries is much smaller than Canada, the new arrivals to Canada tend to reside in a few cities and many of the problems faced by smaller countries are replicated in urban centres in Canada.

14. The argument that Canada needs immigrants because of an ageing population ignores the fact that there are other ways to address this problem. Alternatives include outsourcing work abroad, hiring temporary foreign workers (Canada already does this for farm work and care –givers.) In some instances capital can be substituted for labour and wages can be raised to attract workers to particular jobs. Singapore and some Middle Eastern countries have managed population growth by the use of foreign workers.

15. Decisions will have to be made about the type of immigrants to bring to Canada. There is already a point system used to screen foreign workers and provincial nominee programs provide other vetting mechanisms. Note that persons accepted as provincial nominees are free to move anywhere else in Canada. Provincial nomination may be a useful way to determine local market needs but in fact allows subsequent entry to any part of Canada. The person accepted as an economic migrant comes with his or her family members. This then links in future years to migrants who are part of the extended family of the original migrant and to the problems outlined above in the CBC news story. Once accepted as a permanent resident, a person is on the track to citizenship.

There are of course many more issues to be resolved in reformulating, some of which will be addressed in a future posting. At the outset it is necessary to decide on the desired population size and characteristics.


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