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Is the Canadian Approach to Immigration More “Enlightened”?

“‘Friendly Manitoba’ Craves Immigrants'”, reports the Seattle Times in a November 13, 2010 article. Our Canadian neighbor appreciates the benefits of immigration so differently than in this country, where anti-immigrant fervor gets louder every day, especially as high unemployment rates remain static. Yet how could the discussion of immigration be so different in our two countries?

In the U.S., immigrant rights groups are bracing for the new Congress to step up enforcement-only, anti-immigrant rhetoric without fixing the legal immigration system. But in Canada, Jennifer Howard, Manitoba’s Minister of Immigration, is quoted as saying “I have yet to have people come up to me and say, ‘I want fewer immigrants.’ I hear, ‘How can we bring in more?’ ”

The Canadian system allows the individual provinces to set their own immigration requests. Manitoba has crafted its immigration needs to fit the region, culture and economy where diversity is apparently favored, appreciated and encouraged. It nominates the people it wants using a point system. Semi-skilled workers are encouraged to apply as well as highly skilled workers and their families who bring $10,000 to help in transitioning to life in Canada. While there is some opposition, Canada has managed to avoid high unemployment while welcoming a proportionately larger percentage of legal immigrants than in the U.S.

On the other hand, the U.S. has higher unemployment and illegal immigration rates. U.S. proximity to Mexico as a source of illegal immigration is one factor. Ironically, Mexicans have fewer legal temporary or permanent immigration opportunities in the U.S. as do semi- and low-skilled workers from around the world. Congress has thus far failed to fix the legal immigration system for a modern economy. Instead, it has authorized record-setting spending on enforcement over the last decade resulting in the highest level of illegal immigration ever. At the same time, the number of highly skilled legal workers has declined even though immigrants are more likely to register patents for new technologies and start businesses that employ American workers. See “Ten Economic Facts About Immigration” by the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution. Perhaps Manitoba’s different legal immigration approach and its holistic way of welcoming new immigrants is something Americans should consider.