While Canada Generally Supports Immigration, Some Tensions Remain
Canada hopes to welcome 300,000 new Permanent Residents (approximately 172,000 through economic visas, 84,000 through family sponsorship, and 40,000 refugees and protected persons) in 2017. These numbers only indicate those who are brand new to Canada – in addition, thousands of individuals every year take the steps necessary to further solidify their relationship to, and status in, Canada by becoming Canadian Citizens.
In stark contrast to the backlash witnessed in the United States and across Europe, perceptions on immigration and refugee resettlement in Canada remain largely positive. For example, approximately 8/10 Canadians surveyed perceive immigration as having a positive impact on the economy, while 58% support or want to enhance Canada’s refugee resettlement efforts.
Canada’s welcoming attitude is often attributed to the fact that many Canadians were themselves once newcomers (or descended from such), and that Canada remains largely unaffected by mass migration or immediate threats to border security.
Furthermore, Canada increasingly looks to foreign workers as a way to bolster other sectors by, for example, providing affordable labour in our agricultural sector and knowledgeable STEM workers in Canada’s growing tech sector.
Yet despite these positive perceptions of immigration, Canada continues to struggle with its multi-cultural identity.
Canada formally adopted multiculturalism—the belief that all citizens’ experiences and backgrounds deserve equal acceptance and respect—as an official policy in 1971, and further protected this belief by enshrining a number of individual freedoms in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Nevertheless, several polls indicate that Canadians are not willing to accept immigrants—let alone their beliefs—carte blanche.
One study found that 69% of Canadians uphold the belief that the Government should impose at least some conditions to immigrate, indicating that there is at least some threshold for who is considered a ‘desirable’ immigrant. Similarly, 68% of Canadians surveyed believe that immigrants should do more to fit in with ‘mainstream society’ both linguistically and culturally. Such sensitivities are reflected in Canada’s changes to the Express Entry System, which now awards more points to those with Canadian education, French language/bilingual skills, and family members already in Canada.
While these polls can be, and often are, deceiving, these results nevertheless indicate the tension between Canadian’s perception of immigration policies and their effects writ large, and their perception of immigrants themselves. Nevertheless, it remains highly unlikely that policies like those enacted in the United States will come into effect in Canada: not only is Canada continuing to develop new immigration streams to welcome more people in a variety of ways, but Canadians themselves are rejecting the discriminatory travel restrictions enacted in the US.
For now, Canada remains positive about, and open to, immigration. While this currently stems from positive perceptions related to the associated economic benefits—a reality reflected in the increase of economic immigration at the expense of refugee and protected persons resettlement—the fact that millennials are the most supportive of increased immigration and tend to view immigrants in a more positive light hopefully indicates that Canada’s attitudes to immigrants themselves will simultaneously become more welcoming as well.