immigration reform on both sides of the border

Several readers have expressed surprise that I haven't blogged about the proposed massive changes to US immigration policy. If adopted, these changes would make the US's immigration policy similar to Canada's, which favours skilled workers, educated professionals and the middle class, while also offering legal status to illegal immigrants already in the US.

From a mainstream news story about the bill:
A bill being discussed would legalize millions of illegal immigrants, tighten border security and mandate that employers verify they are hiring legal workers.

The bill includes conservative-backed initiatives such as the worker verification program to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs, and a new point system to prioritize skills and education over family in deciding who can immigrate in the future.

Liberals decry the point scheme as unfair to families and are vehemently opposed to a guest worker program that would let laborers come to the US for temporary stints without a guarantee they would be able to stay and eventually gain citizenship.

But it also includes a long-sought liberal priority — granting legal status to the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives view that as an unacceptable amnesty program.

Although I am an immigrant from the United States, I don't follow immigration issues to the US closely, if at all, so I don't have a clear opinion on it.

The US adopting an immigration system like Canada's presupposes that the countries have the same population and labour issues. Canada needs the population and the professional work force. Does the US? As far as I know, it does not - but again, I haven't studied the issues.

My concerns about immigrants in the United States are pretty simple. I want to see all workers, whether or not they have legal documentation, treated humanely. I want families to be able to stay together, and persecuted people to find refuge.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) calls for meaningful immigration reform that includes these principles:

  • a legalization program that will allow undocumented immigrants living in the US to apply for residency,

  • enforcement of existing federal labour laws for all workers, including domestic workers, most of whom are female,

  • improvements in the family reunification program

  • adequate health care for all children, including US-born children of undocumented immigrants,

  • family-planning health care coverage for all immigrant women regardless of legal and economic status, and

  • adoption of the provision of the WISH Act which provides safe harbor and safety-net benefits to immigrant victims of sexual and domestic violence.
My friend NN sent me this link to a public radio program discussing how the changes might effect New York City.

In New York, a huge, mostly legal immigrant population comprise a huge percentage of the small business owners and nonprofessional labour force. The enormous influx of legal immigrants in the last 25 years, who have come to the US via family sponsorship, has revitalized New York's economy, and transformed the outer boroughs that were decimated by the white flight of the 1950s and 60s.

The segment of the Brian Lehrer show linked above includes immigration experts explaining the proposed point system in the US immigration bill, and how Canada's system works.

My understanding is that Canada has completely different immigration needs. While Canada encourages a skilled immigration force from all over the world, the pressing issues are how to help that population succeed once they are here. The shorthand anecdote for these issues is the doctor who is driving a taxi while the city he lives in suffers from an acute shortage of doctors.

Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Mike Colle has announced a pilot program to address the key problems that undermine the success of Canada's immigration policy:
...long delays in processing applications; the disconnect between the qualifications of immigrants and their success in the labour market; and the concentration of immigrant settlement in major urban centres like the GTA that combine high living costs with often limited employment opportunities.

With an aging population and a low birth rate, increases in the labour force increasingly depend upon Canada's ability to attract highly qualified immigrants. In competition with Australia, the United States and European Union countries, Canada's global immigration strategy uses a point system to recruit highly educated, skilled and experienced immigrants who can readily find employment and contribute to economic growth.

However, numerous studies point to the same troubling conclusion: Canada is losing its status as a destination of choice as delays in the processing of applications and growing awareness of difficulties finding employment related to their education, skills and work experience deter highly qualified immigrants.

Currently, applicants for admission to Canada as independent class or economic immigrants – 60 per cent of all immigrants – face an 18- to 30-month processing time. The waiting list is more than 800,000. Once admitted, based on existing trends, slightly more than 50 per cent of the projected 141,000-158,000 economic-class immigrants in 2007 will settle in Ontario, the overwhelming majority in the GTA.

After a brief period of adjustment, many economic immigrants find employment and fulfill their expectations, but despite high levels of education, skill and work experience, the majority face a high risk of unemployment, underemployment and poverty.

The cost of processing delays and unsuccessful settlement is high, both for the immigrant and their dependants and the Ontario economy due to the underutilization of their skills and expertise at a time of emerging labour shortages.

Ontario's new provincial nomination program will enable employers in the health, education, manufacturing and construction sectors to recruit employees for jobs in 20 occupations, matching job vacancies with the qualifications of prospective immigrants. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will fast-track the admission of nominated immigrants and their families and the program will allocate 50 per cent of nominations to communities outside of the GTA to encourage more balanced immigrant settlement throughout the province and contribute to regional economic development.

[From an Op-Ed in the Star by Ryerson University professor Arthur Ross]

That Canada sees itself in competition with other countries to attract immigrants, and is trying to help immigrants thrive and contribute to Canada, strikes me as a pretty basic difference between the two countries' attitudes toward immigration.


Mark Campbell said...

There is an interesting book out: America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It - by Mark Steyn. It takes the position that Western countries are in huge trouble if they DON'T increase immigration. In fact, he argues that Europe is doomed to being taken over by Islamic principles, ultimately sharia. Canada will face similar challenges. The U.S. is the only Western country with the size and strength to withstand the "Islamic onslaught." Steyn focuses on the demographic, cultural, and political forces that are rapidly moving Europe and parts of Asia towards an "Islamified future." This is hardly what we liberals might see as an enlightened view BUT for me, it is an additional argument for the Minutemen and other right-wing immigration crazies to ponder. Assuming just for a moment that their apocalyptic view of the future is correct, and given powerful demographic trends including a huge dying off of baby boomers in the years ahead, how will the US maintain, sustain and strengthen itself for the future without massive immigration?

L-girl said...

he argues that Europe is doomed to being taken over by Islamic principles, ultimately sharia.

He can argue anything he wants. There's little evidence that anything approaching that is happening.

Canada will face similar challenges. The U.S. is the only Western country with the size and strength to withstand the "Islamic onslaught."

Even though Steyn is Canadian, this shows a complete blindness to realities of Canadian culture and life.

There is no "Islamic onslaught" in Canada or the US.

There's a Fundamentalist Christian onslaught in the US, which we've been seeing for 25 years. We should all be a lot more concerned about that than this invisible Muslim horde.

Assuming just for a moment that their apocalyptic view of the future is correct

Why would we want to make that assumption? It's based on bigotry and Christian-centrism. It has no basis in reality. Why don't we just skip the assumption, at least on this blog, altogether.

L-girl said...

More on Mark Steyn. It's not pretty.

M@ said...

Oh, Mark Steyn, eh? There's a good review of America Alone here by Johann Hari, where Hari points out (among other things) that the Islamic onslaught Steyn premises about in the book means turning the 20 million Muslims in Europe into 200 million -- in 13 years. Those are Steyn's numbers (and he sees birthrate as the most important factor). I don't think I'm going to get too worried about that.

Incidentally, there was an interesting discussion on Canadian Cynic last week about Canadian attitudes towards immigration, spurred by a blogger in the USA named Undercover Black Man. The discussion is pretty interesting if you're wondering about how Canadians look at immigration -- I found that, like me, the fear of immigrants in Canada is small and the desire for skilled immigrants from abroad is large. Most people also seem to respond positively to the influence of other cultures on Canada's society.

Probably, a lot of the attitude comes from the fact that 20% of Canadians were born elsewhere, and I'd bet more than half of the rest have at least one parent born elsewhere (myself included, though luckily she's white -- phew!)

Anyhow, I think I can boil my comment here down as follows:

immigration = good
Steyn = idiot

L-girl said...

Thanks for those links, M@. I'm sure many wmtc readers will want to take a look.

So those scary Muslims are going to have a tenfold increase in population within 13 years? They'd better get to work!

Steyn is the kind of commentator that people use as evidence of neocon-friendly attitudes in Canada. But although that mode of thought exists here, it's really fringe, and not influential. Perhaps even less so than the American left, if such a thing is possible.

L-girl said...

I just read Hari's review, complete with comments. I recommend it. M@, thanks so much posting that.

I'd love to see someone put Steyn's book in context of so many other works through history that warn the white/European "race" about the coming onslaught of [insert "other" here - Jews, Blacks, Irish, Catholics, whatever] who will destroy their culture, rape their women and eat their babies. It has a rich history.


Now, if possible, if you would all be so kind, I'd like to return this thread to its original topic: immigration reform. Not fear of immigration or fear of Muslim people. Thanks in advance.

M@ said...

Glad to put the Steyn issue to bed -- though I think he's more than fringe, as he has a column in Macleans. Don't ask me why.

I was once asked, as a contractor for a staffing company, to speak to a group of recent immigrants about getting work in Canada. It was very informal, and was mainly my views on what people look for on resumes and in interviews. Basically I spoke from my experience and then answered questions.

The group were mostly from eastern Europe, India, and China, I think, and I remember one man quite well. He was an accountant, trained in India; having come to Canada, he did every conversion course he needed to do to become a fully qualified accountant in Canada. The frustration in the man's attitude was apparent; he felt he was in a catch-22 situation, where he needed Canadian experience to be hired in Canada. This was a man in his late 40s or early 50s, too, and he felt he had plenty of experience as an accountant. I have no idea but I felt he was probably right.

I also met two doctors, one from India and one from Spain, who had lived for years in Ontario and took the exams every year to get one of the thirty-six (this is in the late 90s, I hope it's changed) spots for foreign-trained doctors in the province.

These immigrants were all caught in the big Canadian problem: matching skills with work, and defeating the subtle racism and xenophobia that makes us in the settled, white power group exclude them.

I have this feeling that if you could somehow make it work, there's a huge pool of talent out there that is extremely valuable; I wonder if there's not a ton of money to be made in specialising as an immigrant placement firm (that is, a firm that makes its money from the employer, not from charging fees to immigrants and giving them nothing in return. I'm sure there are plenty of those firms out there).

If there's one type of reform I'd like to see, it's with doctors. GPs are too rare outside Toronto, and I wish there were some way to license foreign-trained doctors to practice but ensure they move outside the GTA to do it. I'm talking Cambridge, Kingston, Windsor -- not the boonies where they'd be the only Indian or African person in town.

I imagine there are plenty of people out there with more knowledge than I have on the subject, working to get things right. I'm just saying, that's the immigration issue that affects me directly, and we'd all be better off with more doctors, no matter what their skin colour or accent might be.

When I put myself on the local waiting list to get a new doctor, would I have refused someone based on their race!? After a year of waiting, I was so glad to get a doctor, I would have taken Dr Beelzebub.

L-girl said...

though I think he's more than fringe, as he has a column in Macleans.

Mm, I suppose he is. I do think the ideas he espouses are a pretty small minority view in Canada. Here's hoping they always are.

Re foreign-trained doctors and other professionals, it seems like there's wide agreement with you. It's frustrating that there's a lot of talk about this issue, but not a lot of movement to fix it. And if it frustrates us on the consumer end, I can't imagine how frustrating it is for the immigrant professional!

An aside: working evenings for corporate law firms (as I would be doing if I were working!), you always get a cab home at night, paid by the company. Many cab drivers have told me that it's very difficult to earn a living driving a cab in Toronto, because there's so much competition. The competition, they say, are immigrant doctors, engineers, accountants, etc. who cannot get credentialed in Canada! That's what they say, anyway.

M@ said...

Steyn is definitely the minority view, but not minority enough, in my book.

It's frustrating that there's a lot of talk about this issue, but not a lot of movement to fix it.

Yes -- but I think there are pretty strong forces working against immigrants, namely the various professional associations who do whatever they can to keep the numbers of professionals in a given field tolerably low. I don't think it's designed to thwart immigrants, but their effects are felt most strongly by immigrants.

Add to that some systemic racism and the overall drive in society to keep the rich rich and the poor poor... there's so little movement to fix it because there's so much, by comparison, moving to keep the status quo. But the need for doctors and engineers will reach a critical mass where even politicians and professional organizations will have to do something about it.

L-girl said...

Steyn is definitely the minority view, but not minority enough, in my book.

Oh boy, do I agree.

Yes -- but I think there are pretty strong forces working against

I don't think I ever thought about it from that point of view - professional protecting their turf - which is amiss on part, since the entire US health care non-system is based on that self-protectionism.

Thanks for that, M@. Not sure why I didn't see that myself (duh!) but you've enlightened me.

[I'm watching the Red Sox/Yankees game and posting in Allan's blog as I write this...]

Mark Campbell said...

I really did not intend to hijack this post, nor, to be clear, did I have any desire to support Steyn's point of view. What I failed to do successfully was emphasize this key point - the future of the North American economy very much depends on immigration (and reform). The anti-immigration forces in the U.S. (or Canada to some extent) need to answer for what impact closing the borders would have on our ability to provide the human resources and talent necessary to fuel our societies/economy. Western Canada has a labour shortage which is causing huge problems and if California, Arizona, Texas, and other states were "cleansed" of the "illegals" the U.S. economy would falter massively.

Anyway...hope this helps the discussion get back to the OP...

Anonymous said...

The US adopting an immigration system like Canada's presupposes that the countries have the same population and labour issues. Canada needs the population and the professional work force. Does the US? As far as I know, it does not - but again, I haven't studied the issues.

The fact is, it does not. It's a well-known fact that U.S. companies, particularly high-tech ones, claim a "labor shortage" so that they can lobby for looser immigration policies. That's why Bill Gates has lobbied for removing the H1-B visa cap. He wants to import an unlimited quantity of what are essentially indentured servants.

Of course, these immigrants are paid less and are beholden to their employer under pain of deportation if they do anything treasonous and terroristic like complain about low pay and long work hours.

The fact is, the political left is being played like a fiddle on this issue. They scream "no one is illegal!" and agitate for looser immigration policies. Meanwhile, employers are hiring desperate foreigners who will work for a third of what an American will.