Ten Things Most Canadians Don’t Know About Migration
Five years ago, Sun editors asked me to add migration to my beat specialties of spirituality, diversity and ethics.
It has been an enormous and enlightening learning curve. Researching trans-national migration has put me face-to-face with deep ethical issues, dramatic geo-political forces and global economic realities, many of which I had not imagined.
Digging into migration trends has proved a natural expansion because I had already been covering religion in Canada, where seven million immigrants form the bulk of large assemblies of Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, evangelical Christians and Catholics.
In Metro Vancouver and Toronto — where foreign-born residents comprise almost half the population, making them arguably the two most diverse cities on the planet — migration is high impact. It’s been a privilege to gather evidence about its complicated workings.
Many of my discoveries involve numbers, because the significance of the increasing movement of people into Canada and around the globe is often captured by hard data and economics.
That does not entirely take away from the customary feelings Canadian have about immigration, as basically a humanitarian venture.
Canadians tend to see our immigration levels, arguably the highest in the world per capita, as a way to lend a hand to the relatively lucky few (globally speaking) who end up being allowed in as immigrants, refugees, temporary foreign workers and even international students.
I could have made this a much longer list, but for now I’ll keep it to 10 things I’ve learned about migration trends:
Canada is among the world’s most popular destinations
A Gallup poll found 45 million people want to move to Canada. Compared to the country’s population, that figure arguably makes Canada the most desirable of any nation.
The waiting lists to get into Canada are years long. In contrast, most of the world’s largest countries, such as Brazil, Turkey, Japan and China, take virtually no immigrants.
Despite Canada’s problems, the country is attractive because it ranks highly by objective measurements — economic opportunity, pollution levels, health care, tolerance, access to education, low corruption, the rule of law, personal freedom and government stability.
Migration creates winners and losers
As with free-trade agreements, the benefits and losses of migration policy are not spread evenly.
International agencies report the people who gain the lion’s share from immigration, generally, are the migrants themselves, particularly because most move from often-dysfunctional low-wage countries to high-wage ones.
In the host cultures, the businesses that most gain from migration are those that thrive on growing populations, such as the real estate industry and retailers.
Educators, especially in higher education, also gain from high migration — particularly from new teaching positions created by expanding student populations, which include full-fee-paying foreign students, many of whom have wealthy parents.
On the other hand, members of the lower and middle classes, whether domestic born or immigrant, are not necessarily helped by stronger competition for jobs.
Enclaves are expanding rapidly
The first migration series Sun data reporter Chad Skelton and I did detailed ethnic enclaves. We mapped how the number of South Asian, Chinese, Filipino and other ethnic enclaves in Canada has grown to several hundred from just six in 1981.
In Metro Toronto, 25 per cent of the population now lives in ethnic enclaves (neighbourhoods where more than 30 per cent of the population is made up of a single visible minority group). In Metro Vancouver the proportion is 33 per cent.
Women generally do better
Iranian, Korean, Filipino and South Asian women have told me how immigrant women, with notable exceptions, tend to flourish compared to men. Even women from patriarchal cultures say female migrants, on average, find it easier than most males to learn English and are more flexible in adapting to jobs for which they did not train.
Many migrant men, on the other hand, feel the need to remain the main breadwinner. But they often can’t find work in their profession; so they feel compelled to become “astronauts;” returning to their homelands for work, sending money to Canada.
A related study, by SFU and other economists, has found female Asian immigrants earn higher salaries on average than Canadian-born women.
Many Canadians misuse the term, “racism”
Many Canadians have an over-broad understanding of the emotive word, racism, believing it refers to a failure to recognize “everyone is the same.”
Noted UBC psychology professor Ara Norenzayan, in contrast, says individuals are often different because of their ethno-cultural heritage. So, instead of being “culture blind,” he urges Canadians to be “culturally curious.”
Real racism is active discrimination based on ethnicity, combined with a sense of superiority. Given this understanding, Will Kymlicka, a leading scholar of multiculturalism, says it’s relatively easy for Canadians to not be racist.
The tougher test of tolerance, Kymlicka says, comes with ethno-cultural religious and moral beliefs. People of different backgrounds have tough disagreements over homosexuality, abortion, interfaith marriage and women’s equality.
Immigrant children perform well in education
A surprising study by Garnet Picot and Feng Hou, of the University of Victoria, revealed young Canadians with immigrant backgrounds are almost twice as likely to go to university as students whose parents were born in Canada.
Needing to learn English as another language from kindergarten to Grade 12 turns into an intellectual advantage for many immigrants and their offspring. Of all groups, the top students on average in Canada are Asian females from an immigrant background.
Migration comes with unexpected ethical twists
Most Canadians see our high immigration levels as humanitarian. But how do migration policies affect less developed countries?
Many struggling nations lose their most educated, well-off people. Oxford economist Paul Collier maintains in The Bottom Billion that promoting fair international trade would often be more helpful to emerging countries than stealing their industrious people.
Collier, however, notes that some downsides of the “brain drain” are offset by emigrants who send home remittances, which act as an unofficial form of foreign aid.
The rights and wrongs of migration trends are not straightforward. They require dispassionate analysis.
Immigration rates once fluctuated with the economy
Until the mid-1980s, Canadian governments routinely adjusted immigration levels up when the economy was doing well and down when employment dropped.
But since Brian Mulroney, the immigration rate has never wavered from 250,000-275,000 per year. Voices who suggest adjusting intake levels and priorities are often treated with suspicion.
Interestingly, the last leader to lower immigration rates in light of a faltering economy was Pierre Trudeau, father of the current prime minister.
There is a “Canadian culture”
Many Canadians, including politicians who are fervent about multiculturalism, say there is no such thing as a “Canadian culture.”
But some scholars insist Canadian culture is characterized by many values and symbols. They include hockey, a northern climate, European-based legal and political systems, egalitarianism compared to U.S. individualism, near-universal health care and blunt opposition to patriarchy.
A recent Angus Reid Institute poll confirms what many judge common sense: 75 per cent of residents believe there is a “unique Canadian culture.”
Healthy nationalism exists
Lots of people fear nationalism because they’re aware of, for instance, the xenophobia and racial superiority of Nazis and Japanese imperialists during the Second World War.
But sociological studies show a shared sense of national identity doesn’t have to lead to jingoism. It can be beneficial, including in a country that’s open to newcomers.
Healthy nationalism encourages people to cooperate; whether it’s to redistribute wealth through taxation, to trust each other or to support programs for the common good.