On International Migrants Day Let’s Have an Honest Conversation about Immigration

Each December 18, the United Nations invites us to observe International Migrants Day.  With immigration so firmly ingrained in “Brand Canada,” it is an opportunity to re-visit the public conversation about its impact and, maybe, even dispel a few myths.

While our public is generally supportive of immigration, the recently unveiled 3-year immigration plan has prompted some of its critics to renew their push back –  with claims that our immigration policy is out of control and is based on the “myths of helping our economy, strengthening the labour force and alleviating Canada’s aging problem.”  And recent Angus Reid Institute polls have also laid bare opinions that “we are too generous to refugees and asylum seekers,” and some support for a Trump-style travel ban.

Picking up on these concerns, some commentators claim that our immigration policy is out of control and is unequal to the task of solving Canada’s economic and demographic issues.  The problem with these assertions is that immigration could never reasonably be seen as a silver bullet to resolve Canada’s economic and demographic needs.  If we truly wish to have a fruitful conversation about immigration, we need to consider it for what it is: one of many tools that play a part in addressing these complex issues.  To pretend otherwise does a disservice to Canada and unfairly undermines an immigration system that helps make us the dynamic and resourceful country we are today and will need to be in the future.

In addition to a responsive immigration system, we also need an education system that trains students and upskills displaced workers for the evolving labour market,  private and public-sector investments in new technologies that improve productivity, and social supports for families who wish to have multiple children. Changes to employee and employer attitudes around flexible careers (part-time, job sharing, longer careers, etc.) are other important factors.

Immigration does help the economy, and in BC alone the province projects over 250,000 job openings will go unfilled if we do not bring in immigrants with the skills and talents employers need.  But these skills and talents are not unique to one kind of immigrant.  It is not just principal applicants in our economic immigration programs who go to work.  Canada’s workforce is full of spouses, dependents and refugees who also contribute to the success of Canadian businesses.

In terms of economic attainment, newcomers eventually reach the same levels as their Canadian-born peers. A recent report by the Conference Board of Canada notes that principal applicants within the economic stream reach parity with the Canadian average within five years of landing, and then earn higher wages in subsequent years. It does, however, take some immigrant groups longer to reach the same level of economic success, which should be a call to action to provide supports that accelerate their economic contributions, not to stop accepting them.

Most importantly, immigrants bring diverse perspectives and new ideas to the workplace, helping increase business revenue and productivity. In fact, a new study of more than 7,900 Canadian workplaces in 14 industrial sectors revealed that just a 1 % increase in ethnocultural diversity was associated with an average 2.4% increase in revenue and a 0.5% increase in workplace productivity. This relationship was strongest in sectors that depend on creativity and innovation.

So how do we maximize the diversity dividends immigrants bring to Canada?  Ultimately, success requires a holistic approach with participation of all key players within the immigration system and beyond. Brand Canada is arguably as strong as it has ever been with the international community.  On this International Migrants Day, Canadians should renew their commitment to Canada’s immigration program and pledge to make the necessary investments to truly unlock the potential of those who have made Canada their new home.

Patrick MacKenzie, IEC-BC CEO