Canada takes a step back on immigration policy

Canada takes a step back on immigration policy

It’s becoming harder to become a Canadian — and that’s reason to worry

June 7, 2015 For decades, Canada has been considered an international leader in integrating newcomers. It’s a proud part of our national narrative. But new data shows this long-established wisdom may no longer hold true.
The new data from the Migrant Integration Policy Index, or MIPEX, which will be officially released at Ryerson University recently, reveal that Canada’s performance has declined. Yes, the score dropped by only one point, but this is Canada’s first dip since it was added to the index in 2008.

The one-point drop marks a turning point in trajectory as a leader among countries that welcome newcomers. And it is likely only the start. It comes at the end of a decade of seismic change in Canadian immigration, the results of which only beginning to see.

“Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies,â€_x009d_ said Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels, which compiles the index scores and has been tracking international performance since 2006.

Over the last year, the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement and the Global Diversity Exchange contributed to the index by collecting information on newcomer integration along a range of social and political dimensions.

I said that, especially on the issues of family reunification and access to citizenship, Canada is moving backwards.

Becoming a Canadian is harder now than it was just a few years ago. The MIPEX scores indicate a steady decline in “access to nationalityâ€_x009d_ from 71 points (out of a maximum of 100) in 2010 to 67 points in 2015. On the question of whether Canadian citizenship and status is “secure from state arbitrariness,â€_x009d_ Canada scores a meagre 23 points, well below Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the European average.

This poor performance reflects recent policy changes. Ottawa has raised the fee for citizenship applications to more than $500 for an adult (a markup of 430 per cent since 2013) and made the citizenship test more difficult to pass. For the first time, Ottawa is now able to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens if they are deemed to have committed certain crimes against the state. The government’s choice of revoking citizenship as opposed to using the existing criminal justice system is an indication of its tendency to view immigrants as something other than Canadians, even when that’s what they are.

The consequence of Ottawa’s restrictive policies is that fewer immigrants are becoming Canadian citizens. An estimated 26 per cent of immigrants who landed in Canada in 2008 became Canadian citizens. This figure compares to 79 per cent who landed in 2000. Is that a problem? It is when these non-citizens are paying taxes, sending their children to school, and are committed to Canada, in big ways and small.

Although Canada has traditionally scored highly on family reunification, its scores are declining there too. Of particular concern, the score measuring eligibility for sponsoring family members dropped from 79 in 2010 to 64 in 2015.

It is now more difficult for immigrants to sponsor their loved ones. In 2013, Canada admitted almost 80,000 newcomers or 27 per cent of all immigrants to Canada, under the family stream. These immigrants are crucial to a successful settlement and integration experience because they provide social supports ranging from supplementary income to daycare and emotional assistance.

Ottawa has made numerous recent changes to family reunification policies. These measures include raising the sponsorship commitment from 10 to 20 years, increasing the income requirement for sponsoring parents and grandparents by 30 per cent, and instituting a longer period during which a sponsor must meet this requirement. These restrictions, according to the MIPEX report, “expect immigrant families to live up to standards that many national families could not.â€_x009d_

The younger generation too will find joining their families in Canada more difficult. The federal government reduced the age of dependents from 22 to 19, and exceptions for full-time students or financially dependent children are no longer made.

Ottawa has failed in our eyes to provide a convincing justification for these changes. Many dependents and elderly family members seem to be excluded not because they would be eligible for social benefits but simply because they are from low-income families.

Canada has a story of exceptionalism to tell and it is widely regarded by others as model in how it manages immigration and succeeds in integrating immigrants. However, the evidence now tells another story, one that is somewhat more tarnished than Canadians usually know.

The new data signals a shift and encourages Ryerson Centre to reflect on the most alarming trends and redirect where necessary. But there is good mixed in with the bad. Canada still leads in labour market integration, anti-discrimination and creating a sense of belonging for newcomers. The one-point drop is smoke and not fire.

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