When 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot depicted the potential outcome of NAFTA as a “giant sucking sound,” he had in mind a gushing of jobs across our southern border. As the twentieth anniversary of his remark approaches, another giant sucking sound can be heard on the continent: a migration of American ideals to the north. Thanks in part to a good measure of clear-headedness in Ottawa, Canada has become the new land of opportunity: the nation where the economic and cultural contributions of immigration are recognized. As factions down south debate the construction of additional border fencing, the Canadians welcome new residents with open arms. Political parties across the spectrum stand behind high acceptance rates, regularly underscoring the importance of immigrant workers from around the world. Canada might still be the best place to look for maple-syrup-chugging lumberjacks, but be prepared to find them sharing their pancakes with Sikhs, Chinese and Filipinos.
The numbers speak volumes. In 2010, the United States accepted 1,042,625 new permanent residents, or 0.34 percent of the current population. In the same year, Canada offered residency to 280,636 immigrants, which, given its much smaller size, comes out to 0.8 percent of the total population. In other words, Canada is accepting immigrants at a proportional rate that is more than twice as high as the US. And while the US reduced its number of acceptances by 88,193 between 2009 and 2010, Canada boosted its figure by 28,464. The trends will likely continue.
While the American discourse surrounding immigration is becoming more defensive and insular, Canadian policymaking is becoming more innovative and expansive. It already allows for such liberties as the private sponsorship of refugees and an expedited application process for spouses of new permanent residents. Soon, it may streamline the process for parents of Canadian residents as well. In the meantime, it is still accepting masses of economic immigrants with no prior connection to Canada.
But let’s not get carried away with praise for the Canadians. After all, their enthusiastic support of new immigration is driven partially by a need for labor that doesn’t exist in the United States. The birthrate in Canada is on the decline and if it is to support its hefty social welfare programs, it must maintain a steady influx of fresh hands. Accordingly, it is boosting not only the number of permanent residents, but also the number of temporary workers. The latter group will help it precisely control the size of the labor force at the expense of the workers’ chances for better long term prospects.
Which begs the question: is the opportunity to lead a safe and comfortable life an olive branch that is extended only in times of economic need?