Tuesday, August 7, 2012

‘Canadian Exceptionalism’ in Immigration and Pluralism Policy

The Migration Policy Institue has released a report entitled  Understanding ‘Canadian Exceptionalism’ in Immigration and Pluralism Policy that offers fascinating insights about Canadian immigration and integration policy.  Here is the Executive Summary:

Despite having a much greater proportion of immigrants inn its population than other Western countries, Canada is far more open to, and optimistic about, immigration than its counterparts in Europe and the United States. According to a 2010 survey, about two-thirds of Canadians feel that immigration is a key positive feature of their country. Indeed, those Canadians who most strongly identify themselves as patriotic are also the most supportive of immigration and multiculturalism. A frequently cited reason for this Canadian exceptionalism is the fact that a majority of Canada’s immigrants are selected through a points system that admits people with skills that are thought to contribute to the economy. This, coupled with the fact that Canada’s geography makes it difficult for unauthorized immigrants to enter, helps alleviate the concerns often expressed in other countries about illegal entry or immigrants becoming a drain on the welfare state.

Economic selection and geography alone do not explain Canada’s unique experience, however. The Canadian view of immigration as nation building, backed by supportive institutions and policies, is critical. Canada has reinvented its national identity away from that of a British colony or a shadow of the United States to one that embraces immigration, diversity, and tolerance. This national ethos is supported by government policies of multiculturalism, anti-discrimination laws, and settlement programs that promote integration through public-private partnerships. Such initiatives are mostly about helping migrants find jobs and integrate into society, not about instilling a set of cultural norms and values. While many Canadians express a strong desire that immigrants integrate into society, their support for multiculturalism implies a broader understanding of immigrant integration than that found in the United States and Europe.

Although immigrants in Canada express stronger ethnic identities than those in the United States, they also express a stronger affiliation with their host country. Canada’s focus on facilitating permanent, rather than temporary, migration has been crucial because it gives both immigrants and the receiving society a stake in promoting favorable long-term outcomes. The sizeable number of immigrant voters also provides a check on political parties that might seek to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment. The major political parties in Canada all court immigrants’ votes, and unlike many countries in Europe, there are no antiimmigrant parties on the fringes of the political mainstream receiving public support.

Nonetheless, as in other countries, new immigration flows prompt a certain disquiet, notably around religious accommodation. Incidents of unauthorized migrants seeking asylum get occasional media attention, stirring controversy. The recent move to increase temporary migration has also raised significant concerns. Temporary visas, if overstayed, open up the possibility of a larger population of unauthorized immigrants. Canadians are not especially sympathetic to unauthorized immigrants, and a rapid increase in this population could have a significant effect on public opinion on immigration.

KJ

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