Is the federal immigration system a failure? -

Is the federal immigration system a failure?

The Harper government seems to think so, but the stats tell a different story

A skill question

Photograph by Cole Garside

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sees deep flaws in Canada’s immigration system. For too long, he argues, the system has been drawing ambitious newcomers who arrive here ready to work only to find their qualifications aren’t recognized, their experience isn’t valued, or their skills aren’t in demand. “We’ve got to stop this practice,” he said in a major speech in Toronto last month, “of inviting highly trained people to come to Canada if they don’t have jobs or they’re not likely to succeed in the labour market.”

As one of the most visible federal ministers, Kenney has made sure his critique of the system he runs is widely heard and broadly accepted. In particular, companies echo his complaints about Canada bringing in 250,000 newcomers a year, and still failing to provide the workers they need to fill gaps, particularly in the fast-growing West. But as Kenney continues his withering attack, it’s worth asking: Is the federal program really the unmitigated disaster he suggests? Not by international standards, where Canada is rated highly for its successful integration of immigrants into the economy, or even by some of the yardsticks Kenney has been using to argue Canada’s existing immigration system needs to be completely overhauled.

Some of the clearest evidence showing the program’s success comes from Kenney’s own department. For instance, Kenney points to the so-called provincial nomination program—through which provinces bring in immigrants chosen to fill job vacancies—as the model for reform. But according to figures provided to Maclean’s by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, any edge enjoyed by the provincial programs is small and short-term. The average yearly earnings for provincial nominees range from $35,200 to $45,100. That’s only better at the high end than the $36,400 to $42,700 average range for the earnings of immigrants who entered Canada through the federal skilled workers doorway. And by the fifth year after arrival, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada data, the federal skilled workers’ incomes outpace provincial nominees by, on average, $2,000 to $7,000 a year.

Still, it’s beyond dispute that new immigrants are taking longer to get established than they did in previous eras. As recently as the 1970s, they earned about the same as Canadian-born workers. But nearly every group of newcomers since has been worse off. By the 1990s, recent male immigrants earned half as much as Canadian-born males the same age. By 2000, more than a third of them were classified as officially “low income.”

So Canadian immigrants haven’t been thriving, at least not in the very short term, and Kenney aims to change that. Under proposals he’s floated in increasing detail in recent months, he’s signalled that he intends to overhaul the programs that make up Canada’s traditional points system for selecting immigrants. The goal is to give employers more of the kinds of workers they need right now and to bring in immigrants who are likely to have their qualifications recognized and be able to work in their own fields right away.

Employers will be given more say in selecting immigrants—possibly through a global “job bank.” Newcomers who speak one of Canada’s two official languages will be given higher priority, and professional qualifications will be assessed before applicants are accepted, rather than after they’ve arrived in Canada.

Still, putting the focus on an applicant’s short-term prospects ignores longer-term considerations. While many immigrants have struggled in their early years as Canadians, their kids have thrived. Even as income levels for first-generation immigrants have fallen over the last 30 years, education levels for their children have remained well above the Canadian average. That’s true even for families in which the parents weren’t university educated.

Dr. Andrew Brown’s father, for instance, immigrated from Jamaica in the late 1970s. His mother followed a few years later. The elder Brown initially struggled in menial jobs. Even after he established himself at Canada Post, both parents had to work to keep the family afloat. After school many days, Brown would microwave hot dogs to have something to eat before his parents got home at 7 p.m. or later.

His parents were never well off. Neither went to university. Statistically speaking you might count them as failures, in an immigration sense. But Brown did go to university, then to medical school. Today he’s a resident in medical imaging at the University of Toronto where he’s studying the next generation of non-invasive cancer research.

That’s not an unusual story. Second-generation Canadians tend to perform better in school, are more likely to earn university degrees and often earn more than children of Canadian-born parents, even if their parents earn low incomes. By moving so fast to overhaul the system, some experts worry the government could put those patterns of next-generation achievement at risk.

Putting more emphasis on English and French proficiency could mean taking in fewer immigrants from areas that tend to show solid multi-generational success. More than 62 per cent of second-generation immigrants with parents born in China have a university degree, for example, compared to just 24 per cent of those with Canadian-born parents. But Chinese immigrants as a whole haven’t typically had the best English or French language skills.

Kenney is aware that second-generation immigrants and what are known as 1.5-generation immigrants—those who came to Canada as children—do well. But he says that isn’t playing a significant role as he retools the system. “We can’t select people on the basis of how their children or grandchildren might succeed,” he says. “Although, and here’s the point, by selecting people who are more likely to succeed quickly in Canada’s economy, I think we’re ensuring that their children and grandchildren will do even better.”

He also says changing the language requirements in a way that might cut the number of immigrants from Asia isn’t a worry. The children of immigrants, no matter where they’re from, are typically going to succeed, he says. “They grow up in aspirational families. They grow up in families that take nothing for granted. They grow up in families that put a huge value on education and quite frankly are pretty forceful and disciplined about making sure their kids do well in school.”

Kenney stresses that employers—not bureaucrats—know best what kinds of workers they need. But giving employers a huge say in the system doesn’t always guarantee success, says Arthur Sweetman, a professor and Ontario Research Chair in health human resources at McMaster University. Companies’ needs, he points out, can change quickly. Before the tech sector busted in the early years of the last decade, there was a huge push to bring immigrants with computer skills into the country. After the crash, many of them ended up unemployed. “Canada wants citizens, employers want employees,” Sweetman says. “Employees are for the short term; citizens are forever.”

Above almost any other factor, Kenney touts the advantage of an immigrant having a Canadian job waiting before landing here. There’s no disputing that is a key factor. More than half of provincially nominated immigrants arrive with a pre-arranged job offer. Since 2005, their average earnings have reached or surpassed Canadian averages within one year of arrival. And since they are chosen specifically to fill the immediate needs of companies, there’s pressure from those employers to expand the program. Across all provinces, it has ballooned from 6,000 immigrants in 2004 to a planned 42,000 this year. And the growing provincial stream has funnelled immigration away from the old dominant cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Provincial plans have tripled immigration to the Prairies and doubled Atlantic Canada’s intake of newcomers.

On the other hand, only about 14 per cent of immigrants admitted as federal skilled workers have a job waiting for them in Canada. Even so, they do remarkably well—making on average $72,700 in the year after landing, and seeing their salaries rise to $79,200 within three years. Those who don’t quickly enter the workforce have a harder time getting established—but so do native-born Canadians. Research by David Green of the University of British Columbia and Christopher Worswick of Carleton University has found that about half of the decline in earnings for new immigrants, compared to those who arrived in the 1970s and earlier, stems from the same tougher economic conditions faced by native-born Canadians entering the workforce.

So is the existing federal skilled workers program that Kenney is setting out to reform all that bad? It seems to outperform the provincial alternative after five years. While immigrants overall aren’t succeeding as rapidly as in the past, neither are young native-born workers. And new Canadians fare well by global standards, too. When the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development probed the job markets for immigrants in its member countries in 2007, Canada was found to come the closest to equal employment rates between Canadian-born and foreign-born workers.

None of this is to say Kenney is wrong to bemoan the “regrettable decline in the economic results for newcomers to Canada.” The 21st-century uphill climb facing immigrants is indisputable. But as he lays the groundwork for a policy overhaul, Canada’s highest-profile immigration minister in memory seems fixated on the weaknesses of the system he inherited, and under-emphasizing its continued strengths.


Is the federal immigration system a failure?

  1. We could find an enormous amount of stories about the second generation of Jamaican immigrants continuing in low wage work or descending into crime.  Jane and Finch is a case study in both.  Look that issue and cherry picked story aside, the immigration system is broken as all hell.  The Frasier Institute report clearly outlines that immigration is costing government 17 billion in net fiscal transfers a year.  So this system that is supposed to make it easier to afford social programs in the future is just making it harder for us to pay off debt.  It’s not a good system and it needs more reforms than Kenney is prepared to make.

    • Maybe if the parents, family and fellow countrymen spent more time working, paying taxes, obeying the law and teaching them to respect the law instead of spitting on them. Look how many times theres a crime committed in the clubs, shootings, knifings, etc. and of course non of the so called law abiding descent Citizens of convienence , uh I mean Canadians never saw nothing.  You come to this country, by 2nd generation you have had the same opportunity to go to school and become a productive citizen as any white person born here. In fact in many ways you have a benefit many Canadians dont have. Your more likely to get funding from the government to go on to college etc. than the majority of white Canadians, whose parents make just enough to put them into a category of no help from the government, but after paying mortgage, loans for a car, etc. are left with nothing much for frivoulous things like a free education. So quit whining, our forefathers came here and sacrificed to make a better life for the next generation , maybe you should learn the history and sacrifiecs made and quit blaming your woes on everyone else.

  2. (First hand knowledge) The problems of the immigration system are bureaucracy, redundancy, long delays, and idiotic processing. We have a poor front-end representation in other countries and CIC in Canada is managed as make-work program for regions (Apply from Toronto, get a form from Hamilton, send it to Sydney, have it reviewed in Ottawa, telephone Gatineau, be interviewed in Toronto, etc.) That’s what needs fixing. 

    The idea of this same bureaucracy responsible for this farce would be able to pick winners and losers for our economy (and country), while changing nimbly with the demands of the labour force, is farcical. You never know which candidates will actually succeed and thrive (certainly not based on their paper profile), so best to stick with an open immigration policy (set volume caps, language requirements, sure) and improve the speed of assessment and processing – but avoid having the government play predictor. They are terrible at at.

    • I agree A.B.C – the conservatives are too idealogically driven in a way that doesnt seek the best solution possible for the country, just the mandate that agrees with their pre-conceived world view.

      The beauracracy needs obvious overhaul and cherry picking English/French preferred immigrants will improve nothing.

      Why not find new partnerships with licensing bodies that allow for improved evaluation of educational credentials from foreign institutions.

      The guy talking about Jane/Finch couldnt migrate somewhere where he doesnt speak the language , had education not recognized by the country, be rebuffed by the society for looking like an outsider, have a thick accent that sounds very different than that used by the country, and still be an economic success in 5 years.

      Immigrants have that kind of Grit because in Canada the hard work pays off eventually and a lot of people who used to rent low income apts in Jane and Finch 15 years ago are home owners in all the enviable GTA suburbs. Some even became landlords themselves with 6 figure incomes, especially of the Asian persuasion.

      Family tree changed forever, and it didnt take them a generation to make “wealth” as they toiled 7 days a week, no vacations, no excessive TV, no restaurants, no sports at ACC, no Iphones, no unwinding: just sweat of your brow work and save ur money.

      Try arriving in a country as a Dentist of over 15 years practic and then driving a cab at night to subsidize completely going thru “Canadian” Dental school to do what u already know how to do in 6 years.

      How many of us could endure such professional sacrifice for a better future – that is your avg Canadian immigrant story, they are freaking super heroes in my book.

      • Maybe we need to stop wringing our hands about it then. The standards have also changed in that many feel indignant that anyone should have to go through that, that it’s unfair, they should have the same standard of living as Canadians right off the bat. We need to make up our minds about that. Can’t have it both ways. Either change the system so people who are accepted are ready-to-go from the get-go, or accept that only the second generation will be up to speed.

  3. Kenny is  a silver spoon pos. Clearly by his comments you can tell he was brought up in luxury. No concept of wealth generation. It takes at least 1 generation to earn any kind of wealth. I’m not talking money, i’m talking about wealth. I could care less if somebody needs to tread water in our huge country for 30 year if they can produce people who will be great benefits.

    I mean really, does anybody care if their cab driver has a PHD? I prefer it. They tell great stories about their countries and their children, who are all in school.

    Harper lies again this time not criminal justice but on imigration. 

    • “I could care less if somebody needs to tread water in our huge country for 30 year if they can produce people who will be great benefits.”
      Pretty selfish sentiment. Maybe they and their children care though?

  4. The system is flawed from its core.
    I’ve been “in process” for 5 years now.
    I’m already in Canada through a work permit and earn a solid salary, together with strong language skills. This suppose to make me a strong candidate (according to the article), right? Wrong!!!
    CIC would rather bring cheap labor from far east with no language skills, little contribution to the economy or the will to become part of the society. It takes those people 9 months to get in!!!
    The system needs to put its efforts into finding quality candidates that want to integrate, rather than bring more electoral votes and people living in enclaves and hoping back and forth between Canada and country of origin, while putting an enormous strain on the economy.  

    • You’re so true, how did you manage such a wise insight? Happened to be hosted in a lousy hotel, in Montréal, and some day seen a whole family with barking kids, no one able to speak a single english word, just able to articulate farsi language, and the hotel tennant told me: why don’t you relate with their Immigration Lawyer, quite a piece of cake being granted Canadian Citizenship.

  5. So what would my family be considered, I wonder? My parents and the older members of my extended family are immigrants, but they arrived in the 60’s and 70’s. Per this article, they’re not even relevant to the discussion on standard of living of immigrants comparable to Canadian-born.

  6. Any immigration policy is doomed to failure. It’s absurd. We as a nation tell people that they cannot come here entirely on the basis of where they were born. 

    One of the most basic freedoms is the freedom to go wherever you want and live wherever you want. Nobody in the world has this freedom today because all countries today have immigration restrictions.

    Mark my words. One day, Canadians will not even be able to move from province to province without a lot of paperwork and even visas or “certificates of acceptance.” 

    The best way to restrict immigrants to is to restrict the citizens that already live here. 

    • Ridiculous hippie idea! You mean to say that anyone, including criminals hiding from justice could come here ( or anywhere else)??? Because this is what will happen eventually.
      Like a lot of people nowadays, you seem to forget that with a basic freedoms come basic responsibilities…

  7. Canada and its immigration system is the laughing stock in the third
    world – it is a easier to to claim refugee status then for a skilled
    educated person to get residence in Canada.

     I am an immigrant who has integrated into the Canadian society and am a contributing citizen.
    Not a burden. Mr. Kenney you need to overhaul your internal processes here. As a Canadian citizen, I cannot sponsor my adult independent children – but I can sponsor any other relative or  adopt a child from any part of the world and bring them in. BUT I cannot bring in my own children, who have a University degree, and are proficient in English, and have the job experience, in addition they have a support system here, a parent! They do not qualify under the federal skilled worker program Canada does not need their skills. What happened to Canada’s policy on reuniting families?

  8. I don’t think so that federal immigration system failure as Canada is providing canada immigration thus  it gives both the multicultural environment and increasing employment opportunities.


    • whole damned thing is a scam. immigration policy and local employment does not match.
      you look fool, so many talent is wasted since canadian market does accept your credentials.

  9. Finally!   I am all in favour of what  the govt is doing. Jason  Kenney has good ideas.   I am not a fan of multiculturism and I think we have brought in too many people who will have difficulty integrating into our culture and way of life. Some groups have clustered together into self-made ghettos thus slowing their adaption to Canadian ways.  Another Trudeau legacy. . 

    • Couldn’t agree more! Where I am not a fan of the USA but do like the idea of a melting pot. Unfortunately a lot of people come here with great expectations, reaping off benefits from Canadian social system but don’t even bother to learn English! And they don’t even have to.
      We have to agree ones and for all – MULTICULTURALISM DOESN’T WORK!
      Also, it could be great if Canada could adopt Swedish system, where to be able to stay in the country, take advantage of the social system and eventually become a citizen you must first learn the language and fully integrate into the society.

      • Learning language an being integrated should be of the essence! First time landed in NYC, was stumbled by the fact that all buses infos and propagandas where written in spanish language! Not a melting pot, thought to myself, rather a Tower of Babel. 

  10. Finally an immigration minister with some common sense!
    I am an immigrant myself and I went through all the usual stages – study permit, skilled worker application, permanent residency and then citizenship, so I’ve had my share of waiting, fees and bureaucracy. I am fine with that. What I am not fine with is the idea that one can apply for and be accepted as a refugee from a European Union country (think Czech and Hungarian Romas for example). Why waste resources on them? They can legally move to ANY EU country and live and work there. Shouldn’t Canada be spending our limited resources and genuine refugees in hell holes of Africa or Asia? The minister has moved in a good direction, but the immigration lobby, quite predictably, is protesting any change in this field.

    Another problem – does anyone has any plan or vision for Toronto and the GTA? We have the infrastructure that is not growing with the influx of immigrants. Either make people settle down elsewhere or start spending money on the infrastructure!

    Lastly, what is the point of importing temporary workers to areas with high unemployment? How about telling people on EI that that should either accept available jobs or loose their EI? That’s the way it works in many places in Europe.

  11. This Country seems to make it hard to allow immigrants from the same culture to get here while the door has been opened to people from cultures that are very much different and often without skills. It has been shown time and time again that when very opposite cultures meet there is trouble and I can, without a doubt, forecast this for parts of Canada 

  12. I am 7 years in Canada already, and while Canadians think that nobody else in the world knows how to do things, but Canadians, nothing will change. I’m talking about “Canadian experience”. In addition, Canada recruits engineers, and other professionals that face huge barriers to see their credentials recognized. There is a huge lack of nurses, physicians, pharmacists, dentists, engineers, etc., but they cannot make their credentials recognized. They end up starting new careers. If they expect people to have their credentials recognized before coming to Canada, that will never happen. If one cannot get his or her credentials recognized while here, let alone being outside Canada. Immigrants pay 5 times more for car insurance than Canadians but they are less likely to be involved in accidents. Immigrants are also welcome to be among their fellow countrymen. Each group of immigrants create his small copycat country within Canada. Immigrants do not immigrate. They are forced to keep one foot in Canada and another in his copy country in Canada. They will never feel canadian themselves. On my end, I am returning to my native country next month.

    • I understand your point (I came as an immigrant myself), but I also understand why Canadians do not hurry with credentials recognition. I would think twice before seeing a doctor educated outside Canada or US. And I am saying this as an immigrant…

      • doctors educated outside canada are better than what canadian doctors can offer. canadian employment market is all about protectionism.
        canadian immigration policy is a fraud.

  13. To a large extent it is not functioning as it should, to the benefit of Canada. However Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is taking the first small steps to get this mess fixed and running to Canada’s benefit.

  14. Immigration is doing fine on the whole in the current program.  Let’s change the refugee system which needs complete overhaul and is the real source of irritation for many Canadians.

  15. Our immigration system is in dire need of fine-tuning. There are far too many people coming to this country by marrying someone just to get in the door and then abandoning this person. We have an example of this right here in Victoria.  We also have a person in Victoria, a tile-setter, whose whole family is working diligently and the sons are also trying to go to school.  A tile-setting business is available for this man to purchase. They all work every day and also volunteer to help others. Just because this family comes from Hungary they have been told not to expect to be accepted as immigrants. Apparently Hungary has “unacceptable” people wanting to come here and this situation affects everyone from Hungary. I hope this family is able to stay. They are the kind of people who want to come here, work hard and become good Canadians. 

  16.  My grandfather must be rolling in his grave. He fought in WW2 to make Canada free from “Multi-Lingualism” ???? It doesn’t matter where you go in public, NOT everyone is speaking English or French. I live my life based on principles. If I wanted to move to another country, I’d learn the language. When new immigrants come here, I give them the benefit of doubt. I use Calgary Transit every day. When I hear an immigrant speaking their language, I walk over and ask, “Are you a Canadian Citizen ?” 9 out of 10 say ‘Yes’. Then I ask them to speak it. If they continue, I YELL at them to “SHUT-UP !” Then, that East Indian bus driver tells me to get off the bus, ‘Because I am bothering other patrons’. That’s when I yell at that East Indian driver, “NO, they are bothering me in ‘My Land’, (I can’t say Canada, ’cause I don’t own it.) Those immigrants HAVE to be reminded of where they came from & why they moved here…….DAILY”
    If you use Calgary Transit, and see someone wearing headphones, you’ll understand why. And, in Quebec, they stick up for their Culture & Traditions, not like the rest of Canada.
    If you agree with me, contact the Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney,  and tell him how you feel. How does this sound, Chinada, Pakistanada, Africanada, Vietnamada, Aphganistanada…….need I say more ?

  17. The Immigration System worked a lot better in 1956 under Mr Pickersgill. Immigrants were stationed in the Immigration building in Vancouver and fed. In some cases given a bus ticket to certain destination to go to work ( not by choice ) but as soon as these new immigrants earned a living, they had to pay these costs back to the Government. There were no free 5 star hotels and no  free money.
    If the Government helped financially, they also send out monthly statements to these immigrants and they had to pay their bills. Canada didn’t have Deficits and no freeloaders. If you couldn’t speak the language you took whatever work was available, period.

  18.  “…For too long, he argues, the system has been drawing ambitious newcomers who arrive here ready to work only to find their qualifications aren’t recognized, their experience isn’t valued, or their skills aren’t in demand…”

     HUhhh and Soooo?! -isn’t this the way Harperites have been treating Canadian-born citizens as well ? Harper’s “disdain” of Canadians is the same as for immigrants.
    There’s NO difference anymore puppies.  

  19. When the Alberta Conservatives got in trouble by stealing 8 billion dollars in pension funds, Flaherty jumped in saying he was thinking of starting a system like that!

    A little later when the Oil  Industry got flack on the net for having more Illegal Americans working in the Alberta oil patch than Albertans, Kenny  jumped in with a “by invitation only” immigration plan that allows Employers to sign out Canadian Citizenship on the job without proper vetting.

    What he did was a disservice to Canada and Canadians one more step along the road for Harper who is destroying everything that makes us Canada!  Parks, Pensions, SSC, Immigration, bulk water exports.   All the things that are on the Republican list of troublesome for their trade.

    They and the 5 western premiers are actively joined at the hip with the US Republicans in the PENWER organization founded in the US away from prying eyes and disclosure rules.

    All this is held close to the Hearts of the Fraser Institute who has more US Republican members than Canadian!

  20. What we need is more temporary work visas to allow us to bring in labour when needed without having them bring their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents who will get Canadian pensions within a couple of years. This is how most countries do things, giving people temporary work visas that can be renewed. If they look as if they would make good candidates for permanent immigration then we can do that too, but then at least we’ve had a good look at them and have chosen them. The present system is like mail order brides or buying things sight unseen. It doesn’t make as much sense.

  21. The article fails to mention several additional problems with the immigrations system — a) huge waiting periods, b) large numbers of bogus applications, c) the immense difficulties (if not impossibilities) of performing adequate background checks in many countries, d) the massive numbers of immigration 250,000+ every year (that’s nearly 0.7% of the population), and e) where immigrants are settling.

    No one has asked the question of how large a population Canada should have? At what point to resources run out? How fast can Canada absorb immigrants? Can Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal continue growing at these rates without severe issues — water, land, housing, traffic, bridges, power, etc.? It is far to expect that such large numbers of people can integrate into Canada that quickly?