Table of contents
- Background: Immigration Policies and Approach
- Strengths of Canada’s Immigration Policy
- Weaknesses of Canada’s Immigration Policy
- Strengths of the United States Immigration Policy
- Weaknesses of the United States Immigration Policy
Immigration is certainly one of the most polarizing issues to face global scrutiny in modern international politics, having significant implications for both domestic and international affairs. The United Nations International Migration Report (2017) estimates a total population of 258 million people globally who are living outside of their country of origin. In the current age of rising nationalism and the challenging of sovereign borders with globalization’s interconnectivity, immigration remains an increasingly important issue in modern society. In recent political discussions, Canada’s immigration policy has been established as a leading approach to international migration in terms of welcoming and accepting immigrant integration. This contrasts recent attitudes within the United States institutionally through government policy, which assigns a negative tone to the discussion of immigration. That being considered, what are the overall strengths and weaknesses of the approach to immigration in both the United States and Canada? Why has Canada come to be considered a global leader in welcoming immigrants through their policies and how does the United States compare?
In order to address these research questions, this analysis will begin by outlining the details of the immigration policies and ideologies of both Canada and the United States. Secondly, this analysis will examine significant strengths and weaknesses within each country’s approach to immigration policy to analyze how it affects their overall welcoming of migrants. Finally, this analysis will comparatively conclude how each country’s approach to immigration compares in the global sphere and will establish Canada’s approach to migration as a leading global example based on the previous investigation of their overall policy. Through a critical analysis of the official immigration policies in both Canada and the United States, strengths and weaknesses within each approach can be identified to understand why Canada’s approach to immigration serves as a global precedent in promoting and welcoming immigrants, and how the system within the United States’ critically compares.
Background: Immigration Policies and Approach
It is important to understand the basic principles of both Canada and the United States’ approach to immigration before each system can be critically analyzed. Canada’s immigration policy allows for legal permanent residency through three different pathways, either as an economic or family class migrant or by obtaining refugee status (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). Canada selects migrants based on a points system that assigns merit to conditions such as educational attainment, French and English language proficiency, and skill transferability which account for their overall human capital (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). Economic class migrants are those admitted for the purpose of growing Canada’s economy, family class migrants are admitted for the purpose of family reunification, and refugees are admitted based on fears of persecution from their origin country (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). Canada also allows for the admission of a temporary foreign worker class in which migrant laborers are admitted on a temporary basis, without permanent residency status, to fulfill specific needs in the workforce (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). Perhaps what makes Canada’s immigration approach so unique is its dedication to multiculturalism and the celebration of demographic diversity embedded within society and official policy. In a statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the celebration of Canada’s Multiculturalism Act, the Prime Minister praises Canada for “embrace[ing] the differences that make us strong” (Trudeau, 2018).
The United States has four pathways to achieve legal permanent residency, including family and economic-based migration, refugee status migration, and the diversity visa lottery program (Parsons, 2018). The majority of U.S. immigration comes in the form of family-based migration, in which immediate relatives of American citizens and those who fall into specific preference categories are allowed permanent residency in the United States (Parsons, 2018). The diversity visa lottery program randomly allocates permanent residency visas to migrants who are coming from countries that generally have lower amounts of migration to the United States (Parsons, 2018). The United States selects migrants based on a quota system, in which the number of migrants admitted is based on established annual quotas and the availability of permanent resident visas (Parsons, 2018). With the introduction of strong nationalist ideologies from the election of the Trump administration, legislation to dramatically reduce the number of immigrants admitted into the United States has been introduced for debate (Parsons, 2018). This negative governmental stance on immigration is echoed by public political discourse promoted by the current Trump administration, which views the act of decreasing immigration as positively “bringing crime down by half in the country because so much of it comes through borders” (Trump, 2019). Overall, by examining the basic approaches to immigration in Canada and the United States, it is apparent that both approaches share similarities in terms of selection criteria and classes of migrants, but differ greatly on their overall inclusivity and integration of new immigrants.
Strengths of Canada’s Immigration Policy
Canada’s status as a global leader on immigration is largely due to the many strengths within their immigration policies, which promote multiculturalism and features a selection process based on a theoretically non-discriminatory points system. Canada’s promotion of multiculturalism is both embedded within the overall construction of society, as well as codified in Canadian law with the introduction of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 (Uberoi, 2016). This monumental legal act can be seen as an incredible strength of Canada’s approach to immigration, as it establishes Canada’s identity as legally built on the preservation and respect for diversity and multiculturalism, which defines the country’s past, present, and future (Uberoi, 2016). Canada’s stance on protecting its multicultural identity and celebrating diversity sends a message globally that immigrants and their individual cultures are welcomed and accepted within Canadian society. Therefore, this foundation of Canadian society as multicultural and diverse allows for a welcoming and supportive environment for immigrant integration.
Canada’s merit-based points system is intended to provide a process of selection that is not based on religious, racial, or ethnic identity as a determining factor of admittance. Despite this approach’s ultimate flaws, the overall concept and intention behind Canada’s points system can be seen as a strength in promoting inclusivity, as it allows for the opening of Canada’s borders globally and the chance for any individual to seek permanent residency (Anwar, 2014). This system serves as an advantage over the United States’ approach, as it allows migrants to gain permanent residency on their own individual merit, in contrast to American policy which often requires sponsorship from existing relatives or arranged employment (Anwar, 2014). Overall, Canada’s points system favoring human capital and individual merit serve as a significant strength as it welcomes and invites anybody across the globe to apply for permanent residency, giving a theoretically non-discriminatory fair chance to each prospective migrant.
Weaknesses of Canada’s Immigration Policy
Despite the intended multicultural and non-discriminatory policy measures that have been embodied within Canada’s approach to immigration, many flaws are still apparent within the current system that affects the inclusion and integration of Canadian migrants. Despite the intended non-discriminatory nature of Canada’s points system, the structure of this process does in fact suffer from distinct forms of discrimination. The calculation of merit and human capital under Canada’s points system is based on educational attainment, French and English language proficiency, and skill transferability to the Canadian labor market including work experience (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). This criterion serves as a form of class and education-based discrimination that favors those of higher socioeconomic status who have the means of achieving educational attainment and transferrable skills, as opposed to those with lower socioeconomic status who lack equal access to education globally (Tannock, 2011). In summary, despite the ideology behind the Canadian points system as being non-discriminatory, it is clear through a further examination that the overall structure of this system does in fact promote forms of discrimination.
Furthermore, Canada’s temporary foreign worker program also serves as a weakness within Canadian immigration policy, as it allows for the exploitation and vulnerability of migrant laborers to Canada (Strauss & McGrath, 2017). Canada’s temporary foreign worker program is a form of precarious employment that admits migrant laborers on a temporary basis in order to fulfill specific labor demands (Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017). This program is a way that Canada is able to achieve satisfaction for certain economic demands while limiting the ability of ‘low-skilled workers to receive the benefits of permanent residency (Strauss & McGrath, 2017). The temporary foreign worker program ties workers to their sponsoring employers and makes them vulnerable to exploitation due to the threat of deportation and the power that employers hold in upholding their legal migrant worker status (Strauss & McGrath, 2017). Therefore, the temporary foreign worker program serves as a weakness in Canadian immigration policy, as it doesn’t support integration for this class of migrants both officially, without a path to permanent residency, and societally, by not protecting migrant workers from exploitative employment practices.
Strengths of the United States Immigration Policy
The United States immigration policy is perhaps most distinct because of its favoring of family-based migration for the purpose of family reunification. According to Gubernskaya and Dreby (2017), supporting and allowing immigrant families to preserve and reunify their family entity may contribute to the health and wellbeing of the new migrants themselves, as well the entire US population by extension. Family-based migrants account for 65% of the total number of immigrants admitted annually to the United States, demonstrating how American values honoring the importance of family reunification, eases the difficult experience of integrating into a new and unfamiliar society (Gubernskaya & Dreby, 2017). Without having multiculturalism defined legally within society as exemplified in Canada, the emphasis on family-based migration is a way for the United States to promote the welcoming of new immigrants through official policy. This preference for family-based migration can be seen as a strength of the U.S. immigration approach to promote and support the successful integration of new immigrants, due to their lack of provisions supporting diversity and multiculturalism.
Weaknesses of the United States Immigration Policy
In light of recent events and the promotion of nationalist policies under the current Trump presidency, recent policies of migrant separation, travel and immigration bans, and the push for a border wall can be seen as weaknesses that promote an unwelcoming society for immigrant integration. In 2018, President Trump and the Republican government introduced a new “zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration, in which children who have been found to enter the United States illegally were separated from their parents being held in detention centers, and forced into Refugee Resettlement and Department of Health and Services facilities (Rhodan, 2018). This separation of children from their families has been morally scrutinized for being overly strict and inhumane with almost 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the border (Rhodan, 2018). It can also be argued that this separation policy is racially discriminatory towards Mexican immigrants as it especially targets the U.S. southern border with Mexico. This “zero-tolerance” separation policy sends a message globally that the United States is discriminatory, intolerant, and unwelcoming towards immigrants.
Another recent American immigration policy that discourages the integration and welcoming of migrants, is the Trump administration’s Travel and Immigration ban. The 2018 travel and immigration ban is a policy that specifically prohibits people coming from five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, both for travel and immigration purposes (Gladstone & Sugiyama, 2018). While this policy was implemented, it affected a global population exceeding 135 million Muslim-majority residence and specifically targeted and discriminated against people who identified with the Islamic religion (Gladstone & Sugiyama, 2018). This discriminatory policy demonstrated a blatant expression of institutional racism, which is apparent within the current U.S. government under President Trump and within their official policies. This serves as another example of how the United States’ policies on immigration actively discourage immigrant settlement and present the country as generally unwelcoming to global migration.
Lastly, the Trump administration’s key campaign promise to build a wall at the southern border to combat illegal migration from Mexico, serves as a weakness by literally and figuratively closing the U.S. border and promoting an unwelcoming environment for immigrants. As President Trump claims that a physical barrier is necessary to prevent the rapidly growing issue of illegal migration from Mexico, the actual statistics suggest otherwise; having only 400,000 arrests of illegal migrants at the southern border in 2018 as opposed to the 1.6 million arrests in 2000 (Rodgers & Bailey, 2019). This focus on the US-Mexico border can be seen as an enforcement of racially discriminatory values in the form of government policy, that disproportionately targets ethnically Mexican immigrants. According to recent data from the BBC, in reality, the majority of illegal migrants are visa-overstayers in which a large population are Canadian citizens at the opposite northern border (Rodgers & Bailey, 2019). Therefore, the campaign to build a physical wall to stop illegal migration specifically from Mexico is rooted in racist and discriminatory government policy and attitudes, making the United States appear as extremely unwelcoming and unaccepting of immigrants globally.
By examining the strengths and weaknesses of immigration policies in both Canada and the United States, it is clear that Canada’s approach promotes a more welcoming and supportive environment for migrants across the globe. Canada’s approach may not be perfect; however, their multicultural policy and theoretically non-discriminatory points system can be seen as setting a global precedent for welcoming immigration and having open borders to invite prospective migrants. This is in contrast to recent American policies under the Trump administration that promotes immigration to the U.S. as unwelcoming and unaccepting of immigrants; this is through provisions which racially discriminate against and close borders for migrants of specific backgrounds. Canada’s approach to immigration may not be without flaws, but it serves as a positive model globally by showing initiative within the Canadian government and society to support fundamental values of multiculturalism through a non-discriminatory and welcoming policy. The United States critically compares on a global scale to discourage and be unwelcoming towards immigration based on recent policy measures that blatantly discriminate against migrants of specific racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. In conclusion, by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of immigration policies in both Canada and the United States, it can be understood that Canada’s open border and welcoming approach serves as a global precedent, in strong contrast to the United States’ discriminatory and hostile attitudes towards immigrants.