From the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe, to America’s so-called Muslim ban, to increasingly protectionist immigration policies popping up around the world, immigration has become a heated topic in many places in the world. For the most part, Canada has remained steadfast that immigrants and refugees are welcome, famously accepting 30,000 Syrian refugees at the height of the migrant crisis in 2016. Altogether, Canada welcomed 296,000 new immigrants and refugees last year. Despite this, immigration policies continue to trigger debate. From worries about lowering wages, to straining Canada’s social support system, to terrorism, the concerns are numerous and varied. Some of those concerns have merit, many don’t. This week, in honour of Canada Day, we thought we’d take a look at some of the ways that immigration actually impacts Canadians and Canadian jobs.
first of all, canada was built on a long history of immigration
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s taken a lesson in Canadian history that Canada is a country of immigrants. We’re not even talking about the 21.9% of the population that’s foreign-born. Canada emerged from European colonies established by French and British immigrants in the early 1600s. Canada’s indigenous people (who make up 4.3% of the population) are Canada’s only non-immigrants. The remaining 95.7% of the population, even those who identify as having a Canadian background, are descended from immigrants. Looking beyond our shared history as immigrants, immigration and multiculturalism are a fundamental part of the modern Canadian identity. On the world stage, Canada is known for its open and welcoming approach to immigrants and its diverse population. It’s a point of pride for many Canadians.
immigrants are the reason canada’s population isn’t shrinking
If Canada didn’t accept immigrants, the population would shrink due to the low birthrate. In the 1970s Canada’s birthrate dropped below the threshold needed to maintain a steady population. (The birthrate must be at least 2.1 children per woman, to account for men, infant mortality, and other factors.) Since then the birthrate has continued to decline sharply, and is currently at 1.6 births per woman in Canada. This is a trend that’s common among developed nations. As women gain better access to education and birth control, they have options besides becoming a wife and mother, leading to fewer children being born. Several countries in Europe and Asia have experienced population decline due to this phenomenon. Japan is one of the most widely cited. There’s anxiety that when the ratio of elderly people outpaces the number of young, working people, there could be a social services crisis. Getting back to immigration, countries that have low birthrates but a robust immigration system are able to bridge the gap and ensure their population continues to grow despite fewer births. Canada is one of those countries.
immigration is good for the canadian economy, too
Though there’s debate about the total economic impact of immigration, typically population growth is needed to maintain a growing economy. If a country’s population dips, its economic output usually follows. Fewer workers mean fewer goods and services can be produced, so economic output shrinks. Currently, Canada’s economy is growing at a modest rate of 1.5% annually. Without immigration to prop up population growth, it’s unlikely that Canada would be able to maintain this level of economic growth. In addition to providing more manpower, new Canadians also add to Canada’s total purchasing power. More people with money to spend means more demand for local goods and services. Without immigrant Canadians’ labour and purchasing power, Canada would have to produce more goods and services with fewer workers and rely more heavily on selling to external markets to continue growing.
do immigrants drive down wages?
The rationale is immigrants are willing to work for less than native-born Canadians, so Canadians are forced to accept lower wages in order to compete with immigrant workers to find jobs. This is not true. Canada’s low unemployment rate means that there’s plenty of work to go around, and many industries are actually experiencing labour shortages. When there are more jobs than workers, employers tend to increase wages to draw in talent. Some employers also seek out and pay a premium for Canadian talent due to their belief that Canadian-born workers require less training to be productive. While there is evidence that immigrants have a lower average wage than people born in Canada, it’s typically because new immigrants find work below their educational level, rather than because they sell their labour below the market rate. There are other factors to consider, as well. For instance, immigrants tend to have less economic mobility, meaning they won’t move to access better paying jobs.
most immigrants who enter canada are admitted as skilled workers
There’s a popular image of immigrants as people fleeing dire circumstances or an impoverished background in hopes of starting over in a new country. In truth, the number of refugees and immigrants admitted into Canada for humanitarian reasons (such as fleeing war, violence or discrimination) is actually dwarfed by the number of skilled workers and business people who immigrate to Canada. According to the Canadian government, 58,435 refugees were admitted into the country in 2016. That same year, 155,994 skilled workers and business people also entered Canada. Most Canadian immigrants bring valuable skills, education or investments, which they pour into the Canadian economy. In fact, the Canadian government actively seeks to admit immigrants who have skills in fields such as medicine, engineering, or skilled trades where Canada has shortages of skilled workers.
immigrants ensure there’s a steady supply of skilled workers
Immigrants fill important gaps in Canada’s job market, ensuring that the demand for skilled workers doesn’t outstrip supply. If a population declines, it’s inevitable that the number of workers entering certain occupations will begin to shrink as there simply aren’t enough new people being born to replace retiring workers. Allowing skilled immigrant workers into Canada offsets extreme labour shortages. One industry where this trend is apparent is in the skilled trades. Few young Canadians are getting into trades professions such as welding, carpentry, electrical repair, and plumbing, leaving a shortage of workers in these fields. As a result, the Canadian government has a program specifically designed to encourage skilled trade workers to immigrate to Canada. A similar pattern is also occurring in other fields such as healthcare and IT.
diversity is selling point for canada on the world stage
Multiculturalism and diversity are a part of Canada’s brand. In the 1970s, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Canada adopted multiculturalism as an official Canadian policy. Today the importance of diversity is ingrained in the Canadian psyche. It shapes how Canada is viewed around the world, and by Canadians. Young people, in particular Millennials and Gen Z, who tend to be more liberal and active in social causes, view Canada’s diversity as a selling point. That, in turn, attracts a higher calibre of young talent to Canada. Though drawing skilled workers to Canada is definitely a perk, Canada’s reputation has also attracted the notice of companies looking to expand. A great example of this is Canada’s rapidly expanding tech industry. Many big names in the tech and software space (like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) have recently opened or expanded their offices in Canadian cities to tap into Canada’s diverse and innovative communities.
Though there’s no doubt that immigration leads to some growing pains, overall Canada’s immigrant population brings more to the country than they take. As Canadians, we should be proud that our country is one of the best places in the world to work and attracts people from all over the world.