The gain drain: The conventional wisdom that immigration is an economic boon to Canada isn't holding up under scrutiny
Globalization has increased acceptance of a coffee-coloured world and provided endless supplies of skilled and other labour, so what's not to love about mass immigration?
While Canada's opposition parties quibbled over modest measures expediting the arrival of skilled immigrant workers, one answer to that question appeared in a report from the British House of Lords. Stunningly, it concludes that record levels of immigration bring no economic benefits.
The Economic Impact of Immigration argues that immigration addresses neither labour shortages nor problems associated with an aging society. Rather, low paid and young workers are being placed at a disadvantage because of competition from immigrants; worse, strains on public services and Britons being priced out of the housing market risk stoking social tensions.
According to the Telegraph, the U.K. government welcomed this contribution to its "huge immigration shake-up."
"It proves we were right to set up the independent Migration Advisory Committee to tell us which workers our new Australian-style points system should keep out or let in," said Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.
Here in Canada, few noticed the British report or even Britain's "immigration shake-up," though for similar reasons cracks have been appearing in Canada's immigration portfolio too. Now a small but growing number of academics, former civil servants and diplomats knowledgeable about Canada's complex and inefficient immigration system are speaking out. Martin Collacott and James Bissett have reached conclusions similar to the new thinking on immigration now gripping most western democracies, as did the late Bernard Ostry, while economists and professors emeritus such as Alan Green (Queen's University) and Herbert Grubel (Simon Fraser) are backing them up with far reaching data and analysis. Citizen groups, too, such as Canada Immigration Watch, are organizing to counter the vast stakeholder industry of immigration lawyers, consultants and advocacy groups that has so far monopolized Canada's immigration file. Out West, the Alberta Federation of Labour is squaring the debate with today's labour market realities.
A paper by Herbert Grubel, for instance, blames Canada's poor selection criteria and high rates of immigration for the failure of recent immigrants to achieve incomes comparable to resident Canadians, even though previous immigrants did so within 10 years of arrival. Accordingly, Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada: Growing Conflicts, Constructive Solutions published by the Fraser Institute estimates a cost to Canadian taxpayers of over $18 billion for immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 2002.
To understand Canada's selection criteria, it is helpful to see how the numbers align under Canada's two largest classes of immigrants to Canada: Economic and Family.
In 2002, 23.3 per cent of all Canadian immigrants were principal applicants, that is skilled workers who acquired sufficient points for language, skills, etc., under Canada's selection criteria to gain admission to Canada while their spouses and dependents, who are allowed automatic entry, comprised a further 30.5 per cent. Together, at 53.5 per cent of total immigrants, they made up the bulk of Canada's Economic Immigrants.
Family Class Immigrants, at 28.5 per cent of the total in 2002, are the other dominant set. Consisting of parents and grandparents (9.8 per cent) and "immediate" family members (18.7 per cent), these immigrants must be sponsored. Like parents and grandparents, the myriad cousins, uncles, in-laws, sisters and fiancées are then able to sponsor other "immediate" family members, leading to a phenomenon known as "chain" migration -- that is, an ad infinitum continuum of family links which may be far removed from the principal applicant who started the chain.
In other words, Family Class immigrants meet no selection criteria. This means they often arrive with no language or job skills and a commensurately diminished capacity for paying taxes and social integration.
The economic success of immigrants is also affected by the rate at which they arrive. Having levelled out at 0.5 per cent of the population or less after the Second World War, it skyrocketed in the 1990s to today's 1 per cent -- the highest rate in the world. These high rates, combined with slow economic growth in the 1990s, says Grubel, affected the income of new immigrants and those arriving the previous decade who now had new competition for jobs. It was in this period, too, that the number of ethnic enclaves -- defined as "census" regions where at least 30 per cent of the population is of a particular ethnic background -- rose to 254 by 2001 from six in 1981.
Despite similar economic conditions during the same period, Australian immigrants fared better than Canada's. Migrants there must fulfill a more stringent set of skills, credentials and language requirements. Australia also denies entrants social benefits for two years and admits a higher proportion of work-age immigrants. Parents of principal applicants, for instance, may enter only if the majority of their independently qualified children already reside in Australia.
Grubel, et al., offer constructive solutions to Canada's immigration quagmire but if economic realities matter, the new thinking on immigration may find its ultimate home among the stewards of today's labour market. After appearing before a Commons standing committee where he opposed employer exploitation of temporary workers, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told me how, even in booming Alberta, there is no blanket shortage of labour.
"Overall, the market is tight but absolute shortages exist only in certain sectors. In others, like natural gas, forestry and agriculture, workers are being laid off," says Gil McGowan.
So why aren't we employing the people who are here, aboriginals for instance? Provincial training programs are what need fixing, he suggests. "Politicians have a cartoon understanding of what is happening in the labour market."
Ottawa Citizen, Sat Apr 12 2008
Byline: Margret Kopala
A union leader says the province has quietly lifted a stop work order imposed on an oilsands tank construction site in northern Alberta after two workers died.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says officials in the Immigration Department told him about the development Thursday.
In a letter to Immigration Minister Iris Evans, McGowan says he believed the stop-work order would remain in place until the end of an investigation into what happened at the site near Fort McMurray.
McGowan wants to know whether the review into the deaths and a second non-fatal collapse three weeks later has been completed.
He has also written a letter to Justice Minister Ron Stevens asking for a public fatality inquiry into the deaths.
The Chinese men were working on the multibillion-dollar Horizon oilsands project belonging to Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ).
The Edmonton Sun, Page 33, Sat July 14 2007
Labour fears foreign workers exploited; Temporary employees outnumbered immigrants to Alberta in 2006
EDMONTON - Alberta has become one of the first provinces to bring in more people as temporary foreign workers than through Canada's mainline immigration system, the Alberta Federation of Labour says.
The AFL contends that's bad because the province is relying more and more on workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.
The provincial government says it's good because temporary foreign workers are helping to ease severe labour shortage created by the economic boom.
The latest federal figures show Alberta had 22,392 temporary foreign workers as of Dec. 1, 2006. That's 1,675 more people than the number of immigrants granted permanent residency in Alberta last year.
Newfoundland was the only other province to accept more temporary foreign workers than permanent immigrants.
"We're not opposed to people coming from other countries to work in Canada," AFL president Gil McGowan said Friday. "But if they're going to come here, they should have the hope of becoming citizens."
These workers are less likely to stand up for themselves, so some employers take advantage of them, McGowan said.
He said the AFL has heard from dozens of foreign workers who complain employers make wrongful pay deductions, fail to pay overtime and break promises to provide training.
The province should deal with its labour shortage by providing better training for Canadian workers and slowing the pace of oilsands development, McGowan said. He said the immigration system also needs reform.
Lorelei Fiset-Cassidy, speaking for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry, said the temporary foreign-worker program is only for employers who can't find workers in the existing workforce.
"We see help-wanted ads in nearly every storefront and in newspapers across the province," Fiset-Cassidy said. "So we know there is a huge demand that can't be filled with the existing labour force."
She accused McGowan of painting an unfair picture of employers. She said many employers are offering language training as well as housing. "Retention is something employers are very concerned about. Obviously, it's in their interest to treat temporary foreign workers fairly."
Companies increasingly use a provincial nominee program to help foreign workers become citizens, she said. Last year nearly 1,000 workers were sponsored, Fiset-Cassidy said. "We're looking to more than double that this year."
Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat July 7 2007
Byline: Duncan Thorne