Donald Trump’s highly suspicious view of immigrants (particularly Muslims) – widely characterized as xenophobic by his critics – may strike many Canadians as the polar opposite of the welcoming of immigrants that has characterized Canada’s immigration policy for many years. Canada not only has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world, but a high level of bipartisan political support for that policy.
What accounts for that contrast? “Canada has a far higher immigration rate and a more educated immigrant stream than the United States,” wrote Pia M. Orrenius, Vice-President and Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Dallas, and Madeline Zavodny, a professor at Agnes Scott College, in a recent study of U.S. and Canadian immigration systems.
As the study notes, despite many similarities in U.S. and Canadian cultural traditions, the two countries have developed “very different immigration policies. Canada primarily admits immigrants based on employment-related qualifications, while the United States primarily admits immigrants based on family ties. Concerns have arisen in both countries regarding immigration policy. In Canada, policymakers are concerned with immigrants’ labour market integration and whether the long-standing point system can meet changing labor force needs. In the United States, policymakers worry that immigrant inflows are predominately low-skilled and unauthorized, while caps on high-skilled, work-based immigration are too low. Canada has made many changes in recent years to address its concerns, whereas the United States has made few changes in recent decades to policies governing legal immigration.”
About two-thirds of U.S. immigrants with “permanent status” in the U.S. are admitted because they are closely related to a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Thus, fewer than 15 percent of permanent residents in the U.S., including accompanying dependents, are admitted on the basis of employment. In contrast, more than 60 percent of Canadian immigrants who hold “permanent resident” status are admitted via the economic class, most of them via the point-based system. Only one-quarter of Canadian permanent residents are admitted based on family ties.
The authors conclude that “Canada’s policy changes may serve as models for the United States as it seeks to encourage more employment-based immigration and as economically-depressed regions push for programs that would enable them to attract immigrants as an economic stimulus.” For the moment, at least, there is no such strategic focus in Mr. Trump’s proposals for “extreme vetting” of immigrants, especially from those countries that have experienced problems dealing with Islamic fundamentalists. Critics argue that Mr. Trump’s immigration policy is aimed more at winning support from voters fearful of immigrants in general than at using immigration policy to attract new immigrants who contribute to the U.S. economy.