Written by Audrey Macklin
Original Source is available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/24/european-politicians-envy-canada-immigration-points-system
When political parties across the world complain about their own country’s “inefficient” way of coping with immigration, they frequently refer to us in Canada. The “points system” of selecting permanent immigrants according to their human capital – as calculated according to age, education, occupation, language ability and optional job offer – holds out the promise that the immigration system can do what eugenics could not: control entry into the political community of only the best and the brightest. And the fact that a Conservative government manages to cater to its anti-immigrant base while cultivating a substantial immigrant vote arouses curiosity and envy among European politicians of all stripes.
The points system has been one of the two main portals into Canada since the 1960s (the other one being kinship). Yet its role is frequently overstated. Over the past 50 years, 60-70% of permanent immigrants Canada admitted annually (out of a total of about 250,000) gained admission through a family bond to an applicant under the points system, or to a permanent resident or citizen already in Canada. In other words, the vast majority of immigration to Canada (and the US) was and remains kinship migration.
Historically, this openness to family migration was driven by self-interest. Nation-building requires people. Canada could not hope to attract and retain preferred economic actors without allowing them to bring their family; in any event, an intact family unit was more economically productive, socially integrated, and likely to spend and invest domestically rather than remitting back to a family residing abroad. The points system, along with family migration, was a vehicle for channelling mass migration, not a tool for restricting it.
The points system has also had limitations: one was the uncontrolled inventory created by a supply-driven system without formal intake quotas. By 2011, the backlog ballooned to more than 400,000 unprocessed applications. The government resolved the problem by halting intake and tossing all submitted applications into the rubbish bin.
The other major flaw was brain waste. The stereotype of the taxi-driving doctor or pizza-delivery engineer is exaggerated but not unfounded. Underemployment of newcomers is a symptom of the mismatch between the federal government’s admission criteria and restrictive credential recognition practices of professional licensing bodies. An even greater barrier to labour market integration is employers’ tendency to insist on Canadian education and experience. On paper, the points system may have been indifferent to race, religion, and ethnicity but in practice the Canadian labour market is not. (A 2011 study showed that, all other things being equal, the CVs of people with foreign-sounding names had a 30% lower chance of being called for an interview).
The points system did excel at the large-scale selection of middle-class, educated, hard-working and ambitious parents, who strove to raise the next generation of highly educated and productive Canadian citizen children. This was its real success. In tandem with family-based migration and, to a much smaller extent, refugee admissions, it has yielded an immigrant population that is widely dispersed across the spectrum of class, race, religion and national origin. This has had significantly positive, if hard to quantify, implications for immigrant integration, and the relative durability of a multiculturalist ethos.
Yet much of this must now be framed in the past tense, because the present Conservative government is busily dismantling the pillars of Canada’s immigration and integration system, including the points system. Since assuming power in 2006, the Conservative government gradually eliminated admission of economic immigrants from abroad as permanent residents. It substituted a massive employer-driven, de-regulated, guest-worker regime in which a minority of temporary workers classified as “high skill” will be eligible to transition to permanent residence. The remaining temporary foreign workers are deemed good enough to work, but not good enough to stay: they must depart Canada after four years and are barred from returning for a further four years.
Predictably, some unscrupulous employers systematically abused the new guest-worker regime by exploiting temporary foreign workers, and replacing Canadian and permanent residents with cheaper, precarious temporary foreign workers. In the wake of the inevitable scandal the government promised to get tough on employers but, almost a year later, it has conducted no workplace inspections. The equally foreseeable result of the “4 in, 4 out” rule will be to drive significant numbers of temporary foreign workers underground at the end of four years, where they can be even more vulnerable as non-status workers. Fittingly, this foolish rule was enacted on 1 April 2011; the government is cued to start manufacturing “illegal immigrants” on April 1, 2015.
In January 2015, the federal government introduced the “express entry” model, which effectively replaces the points system for selection of permanent economic immigrants. The model is long on fanfare, short on content, and devoid of accountability. It appears designed to achieve two objectives: inventory control and the privatisation of selection. Although nominally employing a version of the points system, it appears that possession of a Canadian job offer is a necessary and possibly sufficient condition for success. For a range of reasons connected to the nature of the Canadian labour market, it seems improbable that this model will yield the number of highly skilled immigrants that Canada needs, or that the old points system could generate.
The great irony is that while European states look to past Canadian policies for inspiration, the Conservative government has been borrowing and extending contemporary European and Australian policies on how to delay or prevent family reunification by spouses, parents and children, how to deter asylum seekers, and how to make citizenship harder to get and easier to lose.
Consider Canada’s reputation as a haven for refugees: after undertaking to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees in 2014, the government proved unable to locate more than a dozen deserving refugees from among the 3 million Syrians who fled, until a concerted public shaming forced their hand.
And the federal government’s policy on healthcare for asylum seekers would, for example, deny publicly insured life-saving treatment to a Mexican or Hungarian child hit by a car, or having an asthma attack. A Canadian court declared it an unconstitutional exercise in cruel and inhuman treatment; the government is appealing the ruling.