Should Canada’s immigration policy favour poor and oppressed or educated and rich?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Should Canada be welcoming poor and oppressed immigrants looking for freedom and opportunity? Or should we covet the educated, the rich and wealthy from other countries?

Based on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's recent announcements, it appears the Harper government  has chosen the latter. But NDP immigration critic Don Davies believes it's time for a debate on the issue.

"There's two very different visions of immigration in this country. One is the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, your oppressed, your weak and tired, yearning for freedom. That's what built the U.S. and Canada. It wasn't give me your rich, give me your educated, give me your wealthy investors," Davies told the National Post.

"I think this transformation is moving more toward the latter and I think we need to have a healthy Canadian debate about that because I'm not so sure that's the way to build your economy."

So, let's have the debate. Yahoo! Canada News asked several immigration experts for their opinions on Davies's comments. Here are some of their responses.

Richard Kurland, immigration lawyer:

The proportions of 'economic class' vs. 'non-economic class' occurred well over a decade ago. Canada takes in roughly 60 per cent economic and 40 per cent non-economic [immigrants] for a considerable period. I don't see a trend towards more economic or less non-economic, including refugees. The numbers just don't bear that out.

The plan is [to get] a lot more young people who can be rich or poor [with] open work permits covering the spectrum of jobs and have them stay here. If you are a refugee and need sanctuary, we will protect you. If you want to work, you'll be given the chance and that's the spirit that built Canada. That's the immigration system we're building.

Michael Niren, immigration lawyer:

Canada's immigration history is based on family reunification. This means that a main objective in immigration policy is to bring families together over vast distances. Many family members of Canadians are indeed economically and socially oppressed in their home countries. I agree that Kenney seems to have lost site of this.

However, the other aspect to Canada's immigration policies are to compete globally. We need educated, skilled works; we need investment in order to compete. Canada must attract the best and the brightest if it is to fill its labour force especially given our aging demographics.

So while Davies has some valid points, the objectives of Canada's immigration policies should, in my view, serve both a humanitarian as well as an economic purpose.

Nick Noorani, author and former publisher of the Canadian Immigrant Magazine:

Davies is making a comparison between two countries at two different periods! Let's compare U.S.A. 2012 immigration with Canada's 2012 immigration. Today, the U.S. has an investor program much like Canada's and an immigration system that is pretty much based entirely on prearranged employment!

In the years that followed the point system introduction, it was clear that getting educated immigrants to come to Canada would improve our economy and invest in our future.

My vision for the Canadian immigration system is fairly simple: immigrants working in professions they are qualified for. I believe Jason Kenney is on the right track with the strategies he is evaluating.