Five Reasons Canada Leads the World on Immigration

December 18th, 2012

Maytree Opinion by Alan Broadbent, Chairman of Maytree Foundation, and Ratna Omidvar, President of Maytree Foundation

December 18 is International Migrants Day, a time to reflect on the 214 million international migrants in countries around the world. If migrants all gathered in one place, they would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world.

It is also the eve of a new year, a time when we take stock of what we’ve done over the past months and look forward to what we will do in the coming year. Now might be the right time to take a look at the success that Canada has made out of immigration.

While we are not perfect, Canada has made determined and deliberate efforts to encourage conditions in which newcomers can flourish. We are recognized internationally as a leader in immigrant integration. Here are five reasons why:

1. Immigrants become Canadian citizens at one of the highest rates in the world

Not only has Canada traditionally welcomed newcomers as permanent additions to this country, we have also seen immigrants as “citizens in waiting.” At 89%, Canada has traditionally had one of the highest naturalization rates in the world. High rates of citizenship are associated with better employment rates, and being a citizen is a prerequisite for many aspects of civic and political participation. It also gives immigrants and refugees protection and assurance that their commitment to Canada and being Canadian is reciprocal. Recent changes to our citizenship policies make it more difficult to become a Canadian citizen, which should concern all of us.

2. Immigrants achieve long-term economic success

Although immigrants might initially suffer an earnings penalty, traditionally they have caught up over time, so that the average wage for immigrants comes within a few percentage points of the Canadian-born. Employers report strong satisfaction with immigrants who are chosen for their human capital through the points system. While we must continue to work to shorten the initial period, both of these suggest that once immigrants are able to get into the labour market, many are successful. Similarly, immigrants own homes at nearly the same rate as the Canadian-born – an anomaly among OECD nations. Owning a home is one expression of the emotional and financial commitment that immigrants make to Canada and their local community, and is therefore an important factor in successful integration.

3. The children of immigrants attain high levels of education and earnings

In fact, second generation immigrants outperform children of non-immigrants. Second generation Canadians attend post-secondary education at higher rates than non-immigrant Canadians, which results in higher earnings. One study showed that nearly 55% of second generation Canadians go to university, for example, compared to 38% of non-immigrant Canadians. The second generation also tends to improve on the lot of their parents. On average, they earn more compared to their parents at a similar time in their lives.

4. We get along with each other

Canadians of all stripes go to school together, work together, walk the same sidewalks and play in the same parks. Increasingly, we are seeing immigrants making inroads into leadership positions in our boardrooms, city halls and parliaments. Isolated incidents of interethnic conflict make headlines because they are shocking and contrary to our norms and values.

Another way that we know that we get along is that we marry each other. Mixed unions (in which one partner is a visible minority and the other is not, or between two people from different visible minority groups) are growing rapidly – at more than five times the rate of growth for all couples. While immigrants are not necessarily visible minorities, statistics show that of first generation immigrants who are visible minorities and in a couple, 12% are in a mixed union. By the second generation, that figure rises to 51%, and by the third generation, 69% of coupled visible minorities are in a mixed union.

Further, mixed unions are more likely to have children in their household. These children, even more so than Canadians at large, will grow up with diversity as a simple, given fact of life. And that bodes well for our continued social harmony.

5. Canadians support immigration

Surveys and polls consistently show that the majority of Canadians believe that immigrants make positive contributions to our country and to our communities. Canadians recognize that immigration is not a threat to our jobs or way of life. In fact, our own poll on the meaning of citizenship found that Canadians value being active in the community, volunteering, helping others and accepting others who are different – and that being a good citizen was unrelated to where you were born.

Moreover, while multiculturalism is hotly debated elsewhere in the world, it persists as a foundation of Canadian values. A recent survey suggests that three-in-five Canadians believe that multiculturalism has been good for the country. Younger Canadians believe so at an even higher rate, which, again, bodes well for all of us.

This public support is the result, in large part, of positive messages from our governments over the years about how immigration helps to build our nation, and open discussion about immigration policies that do just that.

We cannot take this support for granted. Negative messages that obsess over marriage “fraud,” “bogus” refugees and “queue-jumpers” needlessly undermine public confidence.

Indeed, we cannot become complacent about any of these achievements. Our nation’s success depends upon our continued deliberate and thoughtful efforts to create conditions where all Canadians prosper.

Reprinted with permission from Maytree Opinion, December 2012.

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