At a time when many developed countries are facing backlashes against immigration, Canada is experiencing a broad consensus in support of throwing open its doors to more new residents from abroad.
With record numbers of immigrants being admitted to Canada in the past two years, all three major political parties support the policy and, to the extent that they disagree, it is to denounce bureaucratic obstacles slowing immigration. Similarly, the complaints that appear in major news media are not that immigration is too easy, but too hard.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser boasted at a press conference last month that Canada “is on track to exceed its immigration goal of granting permanent residency to more than 430,000 people in 2022.” That will easily exceed the admission of 401,000 immigrants in 2021, more than in any previous year.
For comparison, the United States — with nine times the population of Canada — admitted just 245,000 immigrants in 2021, down from 477,000 the previous year. In the years immediately before an immigration-skeptical Trump administration came to office, U.S. immigration was running at around 1 million people a year.
Anti-immigrant sentiment elsewhere
In Germany and Britain, which have experienced immigration flows more comparable to Canada’s in recent years, the pace of new arrivals in each nation has prompted a popular backlash, giving rise to increasingly influential anti-immigrant parties in Germany and contributing to the Brexit vote in the U.K.
But in Canada, opposition to immigration appears to be decreasing even as the rate of immigration goes up. According to one survey, the percentage of Canadians who think immigration levels are too high has declined since 2018 from 49% to 39%.
The three main political parties firmly support immigration, no doubt aware of the large numbers in the electorate who are immigrants themselves. An estimated 21.5% of Canada’s 33 million residents are first-generation immigrants while second-generation immigrants account for another 17.4%.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal Party, with solid backing from the social democratic New Democratic Party, has made immigration a key element of its economic program with an eye to addressing post-pandemic labor shortages.
“Newcomers enrich and better our communities, and they work every day to create jobs, care for our loved ones and support local businesses,” Fraser said earlier this year. “Without them, Canada would not have been able to overcome challenges in critical industries and sectors of the economy over the past two years.”
There is no serious disagreement on that point from the Progressive Conservative Party opposition, which makes no secret of its disdain for most Trudeau policies.
"Canada’s Conservative Party is a pro-immigration party and Canada benefits from an efficient and effective immigration system," said Jasraj Singh Hallan, his party’s chief spokesperson in Parliament for immigration issues. "We need to continue to attract and retain skilled newcomers to Canada,” he told VOA.
Hallan did take a jab at Trudeau’s Liberals, saying that “immigration backlogs and mismanagement of the immigration system has led to far too many people hoping to come to Canada stuck in limbo, unsure of when they will be able to come here and start their lives."
He added that his party’s goal is "to make our country the top destination for skilled immigrants who can contribute to our economy and communities."
A populist party founded in 2018, the People’s Party of Canada, has called for greater restrictions on immigration, but it has no members in Parliament and is generally regarded as a fringe grouping. It received about 5% of the popular vote in last year’s general election.
Like Hallan, the mainstream Canadian news media mainly direct their complaints about the overloaded immigration system at backlogs that have left 1.3 million applications still pending. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. recently ran an article headlined, “Moving to Canada was harder than I thought. I'm not sure I'd do it again.”
Despite the official policies welcoming newcomers, immigration consultants warn that the process can be time-consuming and challenging.
“Know your rights,” said Idil Atak of Toronto Metropolitan University. “Immigration and citizenship laws are complex and unstable. It is important for immigrants, including refugees, to inform themselves about the rights they hold in Canada and to use the sources available to them.
“Access to legal aid, a counsel, an interpreter or simply to accurate information can make a huge difference in putting together a successful citizenship application,” Atak told VOA. “Legal assistance and community organizations and some other nonprofit organizations offer useful advice and vital support in this process.”
And Nick Noorani, whose book Welcome to Canada is distributed to new immigrants by the Canadian government, noted that problems remain even after the official processes have been completed.
“Canadian employers tend to be risk-averse and some studies show systemic racism does play a role in [newcomers] being overlooked for opportunities and promotions,” Noorani said.
Harald Bauder, an immigration expert at Toronto Metropolitan University, wants all newcomers to appreciate that Canada is, in fact, “a settler colonial country” and that the only Canadians not descended from immigrants are the members of the aboriginal First Nations.
“Canada's Indigenous population has suffered of displacement, land appropriation and genocide on the hands of settlers,” Bauder told VOA. “An immigrant also becomes a settler, and with this role also has the responsibility to critically engage with settler colonialism, learn about Indigenous peoples and their fates, and commit to decolonization.