Why the USA could learn a Thing or Two From its Neighbour to the North


Presently, there are two main immigration challenges in the USA. The first is the country’s significantly high level of illegal immigrants. The second is its chronic imbalance between skilled and unskilled workers. This latter challenge has resulted in a troubled economy, as well as a major shift in national demographics. Using economic jargon, we could define this demographic imbalance as a poorly managed supply and demand problem, where immigrants (both skilled and unskilled) are the supply and services and industry are the demand. Skilled workers, the type that the USA presently lacks, have been unendingly discouraged to pursue a permanent settlement in the country due to the stringent immigration measures targeted against them. For instance, the USA has a policy to only allocate 7% of 140,000 employment-based green cards to members of one country, which leaves only 19,800 green cards for very highly-skilled workers from India and China. As these two countries represent collectively more than one-third of the global population, it is easy to understand why immigrants of these nationalities experience 10 to 15 year wait times in the USA.

In addition, their skills, desired and welcomed by various other nations in the world, make them more prone to choose to immigrate to a different country that will process their immigration application faster. In today’s globalized economy, the world’s nations compete not only for markets and natural commodities, but also for the human resources that would ensure the productivity and prosperity of their industries. In many ways, the race to the bottom has thus expanded to the immigration domain. As previously stated, one of the main issues is then that immigration to the USA is a long and relatively unattractive process compared to other developed countries. The United States of America and the “American Dream” have attracted flocks of people from all over the world over a century.  Now, other developed countries are heightening the pressure, as they fight hard to attract talent by streamlining their immigration processes for highly skilled positions. The international structure has changed from what it used to be, diverting away from being the initial monopoly that USA  used to lead, to becoming a highly competitive system in which a multiplicity of players compete to attract the best and the brightest from all corners of the world. Given this favourable supply and demand context, it is only logical to expect that the world’s highly skilled immigrants will consider giving up the elusive American dream to find greener pastures elsewhere, in pursuit of the Canadian or Australian Dream.

Desirable skilled immigrants navigating in this globalized context have already shown the tendency to emigrate in increasing numbers to another developed country where they will experience just as much opportunity as in the USA. As a result, the America will continue to experience stock outs of skilled workers and excess supply of unskilled workers. The end result will be, and has already increasingly turned out to be, a severe shortage of services that Americans need in the skilled industries such as biotech, technology, engineering and recently medicine (highly demanded but not supplied).

Building the Canadian Dream

In Canada, we have adapted our immigration policy with the desire to attract top talent and create a competitive advantage. Canadians are no longer having enough children and big families to sustain a population increase. Our main source of population growth now comes from immigration. Our politicians understand that in order to benefit from immigration, we really need a balance of skilled and unskilled workers in order to maintain stability throughout our economy and work-force. This balance ensures low unemployment levels and guarantees that all services Canadians need are available to them. In order to create this equilibrium between supply and demand, the government has decentralized some power in regards to immigration, allocating it to the country’s provinces and allowing them to make decisions on who (skilled vs. unskilled) and how many immigrants come to their territories. This decision comes from the belief that provinces have better knowledge and understanding of the specific needs in their localities. Provincial Governments are able to have up close and personal conversations with local businesses, where they can identify any shortage in certain worker groups, resources and skills. Therefore, provinces are ultimately able to fulfill their quotas for internationally trained workers based on their local concerns in a way that the Federal Government could not. As a result of empowering Provinces on immigration, Canada has become an economic asset and has recently overtaken the USA in overall median net worth.

The Republican Party may thus want to take a couple of tips from the Canadian Conservatives if they want to change their image and approach to improving their relationship with their immigrant population. Historically, the Canadian Liberal Party has held the majority of the immigrant vote, but this trend has started to shift as other Parties have adapted their views and actions to become even more appealing to foreign-born Canadians. When the Conservatives formed a minority government in 2006, they started changing their image to demonstrate what they could do for foreign-born Canadians by reducing arrival fees for immigrants. They also took historical steps when they made public apologies and compensations to descendants of those who had to endure the Chinese “head tax” which was raised as high as $500 in 1903 and was used to discourage Chinese immigration in the 19th Century. As well, during the 2011 election, the Canadian Conservative party recruited more visible minority candidates than any other party and ran ads in multiple languages (besides the two official languages) including Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese. Once the Conservatives gained a majority government in 2011, they continued their new approach towards the immigrant population by enforcing tax cuts that appealed to suburban immigrants. A major player in the Conservatives’ changing image is the Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Minister Kenney has been known to spend most of his weekends visiting immigrant constituencies in temples and mosques as a way of connecting with different cultures in Canada.

As previously stated, a main difference regarding immigration in Canada is that the provinces play a bigger role in the immigration process, where the States play no role at all. The allocation of power towards the provinces and away from the Feds has allowed for a gradual shift in immigration away from overcrowded cities to scarcely populated Prairies and Maritime Provinces that experience economic boosts from immigration. By improving economies in smaller localities across Canada the country as a whole becomes even stronger, more stable and desirable for immigration and foreign investment.

However, while allowing its provinces to have a say in the number and profile of the immigrants allowed to settle in their territories, the federal government has maintained a strong emphasis on abolishing unnecessary barriers of permanent settlement to skilled immigrants seeking to make Canada their new home.  Indeed, according to Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, as well as a policy analyst for large companies, “It is a global competition and Canada’s design will lead to success perhaps at the expense of other countries like the U.S … Canada creates a separate fast track to lure quickly desired occupations.”  Through a myriad of immigration programs, the country has constantly tried to ensure that skilled immigrants find venues to stay in the country, find a suitable employment in accordance to their capabilities, and thus address labor shortages in the Canadian labor market Last year alone, Canada granted more than 38,000 skilled workers permanent residency under these already existing immigration programs. As explained by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney during a press release earlier this year, the country has gone at great lengths “to build a fast and flexible immigration system that is responsive to the needs of Canada’s economy. [Employers] have long been asking for ways to get the skilled trades people they need to meet demands in many industries across the country.”

The country’s policies represent a step forward in the right direction, where skilled immigrants cease to be viewed as a potential threat to the national economic stability, and are seen instead as the solution. Overall, streamlining the immigration process for desirable highly skilled workers and allocating power to the individual States regarding immigration would help overcome some of the USA’s immigration challenges. Descentralization of power to the States is more connected to the spirit of Federalism than the present system in the USA and would allow States to work more closely with employers in order to balance the supply and demand of skills. By streamlining the immigration process for skilled workers the USA would remain a desirable location for these workers and would be able to take advantage of the value adding economic benefits these workers can supply.

About the Authour
Sarah Mae Dalgleish is a content writer and marketing intern at FWCanada Immigration Law Firm in Montreal, Canada. Presently, she is studying International Business, French and Spanish at McGill University.

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