Immigration cuts puzzling

The federal government has been shifting the direction of Canada’s immigration numbers, narrowing the range for who can apply, as well as endorsing a negative analysis of people who in desperation risk all to seek refuge in Canada.

Under cover of the current nervousness brought on by the 2009 economic slowdown and tentative recovery, the Harper government seems bent on forging a narrower gate for entry into this country. But is it a good move for Canada?

In January, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews spoke of Canadians showing “a hardening of attitudes in respect to the immigration system”. Then, earlier this month federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney followed his announcement that a record 280,636 immigrants entered Canada last year by stating in the same speech that the visa quota will be lowered by five per cent.

This followed Kenney’s pre-Christmas announcement of deep cuts to funding for immigrant settlement services here in Ontario because, he claims, immigrant settlement patterns are shifting. Never mind the fact that some 50 per cent of first arrivals are in this province, more specifically the Greater Toronto Area.

Attempts to clear the backlog of applicants who have been waiting for more than five years to get a response to their applications have met with some success, which may explain the current record immigration figures.

But this latest adjustment in the immigration program in the form of visa cuts will directly affect parents and grandparents of immigrants who were applying to bring family members here under the family reunification criteria. Additionally, the number of applicants admitted with skilled worker visas will fall by 20 per cent from 70,000 admitted last year to an expected 56,000 this year.

People applying for visas used to qualify from a list of 1181 professional skills in times past. That list was narrowed to 38 by the Conservatives and is now down to 29 with some emphasis on skills required for the petroleum mining industry having been retained. This is yet one more step in dismantling another aspect of the former Liberal government’s legacy.

This move to lower the number of visas to be issued has followed a period during which conservative politicians and media have heightened coffee shop talk that immigrants are a burden on the economy and that we don’t need any more of ‘them’ at this time.

There is a haste to overlook the fact that immigrants create jobs, add skills and knowledge to our society, and contribute to the tax base.

So we have to wonder what the federal immigration minister is up to when on the one hand we hear him boasting that Canada accepted a record number of immigrants last year and is set to do the same this year, yet on the other he announces visa cuts.

There is a constituency that would be happy with lower immigration numbers, but this is shortsighted. Lowering the visa quota may appease the conservative voting base, but given Canada’s chronic shortage of skilled workers and with the looming needs of an aging population, this new strategy will not in the long term provide a positive net effect for the economy.

Canada’s low birth rate results in a population that does not reproduce its numbers. Moreover, even immigrant women, once here, follow that pattern. Some studies conclude that given this factor the current rate of immigration is still too low.

By making the announced cuts to immigration, the federal Conservatives are limiting Canada’s future potential and may actually be putting this country at risk.

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