Canada has much to gain by embracing immigrants
In Canada, the Conservative government is alert for any sign that irregular refugee claimants might try to reach our shores.Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said last week his government is determined to head off a migrant ship carrying 87 Sri Lankan Tamils moored off New Zealand. The migrants say they are seeking asylum in New Zealand, not Canada.
In the United States this spring, the Supreme Court upheld the Legal Arizona Workers Act of 2007, which allows the state to close businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. In the Huffington Post, Raul A. Reyes noted the law has two major flaws: It has not reduced illegal immigration and, in its first year, 2008, it led to a 13-per-cent drop in state income tax.
In Britain, news that more immigrants settle there than in any other European country - about 400,000 in 2009 - was met with consternation by the Conservative government. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith warned that if the government did not tighten immigration rules, native-born Britons would not be hired. British businesses snapped back immigrants have a better work ethic.
Three snapshots, three examples of how irrationally countries behave when faced with migration. These are the same countries struggling with aging populations, low birthrates and growing labour shortages.
Into this stalemate has come an interesting book, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future.
Written by Oxford professor Ian Goldin and researchers Geoffrey Cameron, a Canadian academic, and Meera Balarajan, Exceptional People traces the history of migration from when the first Africans set out 50,000 years ago to today, when Kenney stands guard against a small group of Tamils.
Migrants are far from the welfare layabouts/job thieves/reluctant citizens that current political discourse makes them out to be. Exceptional People persuasively argues that migrants throughout history have generated great material, social and intellectual wealth. They fuel innovation. They connect markets with their far-flung networks. They spread knowledge and add to social diversity. If, over a period of 25 years, between 2005 and 2025, borders around the world were thrown open, gains would run "as high as $39 trillion for the world economy," the book says.
Immigrants to the U.S. have filed the majority of patents by leading American companies. A similar connection between immigrants and innovation holds for Canada. Canadian research from 2008 showed that with a 10-percent increase in immigrants with "a sufficient level of language proficiency," there has been an increase of 7.3 per cent in the "patent flow." (Language proficiency highlights the importance of communication skills, researchers said.)
The free flow of people is also the right moral choice: The world will not become a better place if rich countries continue to treat the poor of the world as barbarians at the gate as they struggle to escape persecution and poverty. Given how much the world stands to gain from immigration, why don't governments promote its benefits?
"Our discourse has become disconnected from economic realities," said Cameron, research associate at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford. In an interview, Cameron said that looked at from a national perspective, immigration has both costs and benefits. Benefits, which include greater innovation and economic dynamism, are more diffuse than costs. They are general to the country and tend to be more long-term. Costs tend to be short-term and local.
He praised Canada as a "pioneer in crafting a concept of citizenship that isn't racial or ethnic in character." By opening the door to people who are willing to sacrifice everything to ensure a better future for themselves and their children - to people who form what Cameron calls a truly "aspirational class of people" - Canada has everything to gain. Kenney can stand down.
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