Canada’s never-ending debate about immigration

Ensuring Socio-economic Justice

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 08, 1419 1998-08-01


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1419)

As a country of immigrants, some Canadians act decidedly mean toward new immigrants. In the past, anti-immigrant feelings were passed off under the pretext of economic uncertainty. This excuse is no longer valid. The Canadian economy is booming. For the first time in 30 years, Canada registered a C$4.2 billion (US$2.8 billion) budget surplus and is expected to repeat this feat in the next fiscal year as well.

The moment immigration is mentioned, some people’s racist tentacles go up. From unemployment to crime and welfare fraud, everything is blamed on immigrants without providing any proof. A far greater number of Canadian-born people cheat on welfare than do immigrants but the latter get blamed.

Canada’s declining birth rate has demographers worried. By the year 2020, Canada’s replacement rate will decline to zero; that is births and deaths will cancel each other out, according to figures released by Statistics Canada on June 24. More immigrants will be needed to keep the economy going.

Racists try to cover their feelings by talking about the ‘types’ of immigrants Canada must accept: those who can easily fit into the Canadian mainstream. This is a euphemism for white immigrants only. For instance, in recent months, the question of language has become quite prominent with the loudest voices raised in the western provinces - Vancouver and Alberta. There, teachers and parents have complained of classrooms full of students who neither speak English nor French, the two officials languages.

Ironically, it is the province of Ontario which is the choice of destination for most immigrants - some 64 percent. Recent statistics show that 42 percent of the city of Toronto’s population comprises immigrants and within a few years, they will be in a majority.

The language question appears to be Chinese-specific. Since Hong Kong has become the number one source of immigration to Canada, it has some people worried. Issues like Chinese work/business ethics - ‘they only trade with each other’ etc - have also been mooted. If a language test were introduced, as some are advocating, it will have a slowdown effect on immigrants from the top four sources: Hong Kong, India, China and Taiwan.

It will help immigrants from other sources - Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the US - where English is more prevalent. Such discussion, however, appears aimed at pitting one group of immigrants against another. It has also been observed, especially among immigrants from Eastern Europe, that they do not want non-Europeans in Canada.

In the late seventies, this writer had an encounter on a television programme with a recent immigrant from Eastern Europe. The third panelist was then minister of immigration, Ron Atkey. The East European was vehemently opposed to Canada accepting the ‘boat people’ from Vietnam. Canada, of course, accepted a large number of Vietnamese refugees at the time and is none the worse for it.

But the immigration question needs to be considered from another perspective as well. Canada ranks number one on the human development report card in the quality of life but this does not necessarily hold true for new immigrants.

Even though they get permanent residence in a category which has demand in Canada, there is no guarantee that the immigrant will get a job in his/her field upon arrival. After interviewing at least 20 professionals from Pakistan, this writer discovered that only one - an electrical engineer - had secured a job after months of job-hunting.

Immigration Statistics
























Immigrants by specific country:









Hong Kong








[Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, May 18, 1998]

This can be very frustrating for people who have burnt their boats in their home country and then discover that life is not so easy in Canada. Without an income, the cost of living can be quite prohibitive.

Over the last three years, immigration from Pakistan has increased with many professionals - engineers, scientists, computer programmers, agricultural specialists - heading for Canada. Many are lured by slick consultants who have opened offices in Pakistani cities offering prospective immigrants pie in the sky, of course, for a hefty fee. Similar practices occur in other countries.

Canada has reoriented its policy to attract a special category of immigrant: the entrepreneur. This category has been broadened and is now called the business class. It includes entrepreneurs, investors and the self-employed. Entrepreneurs and investors are required to bring at least $250,000 to Canada. In 1997, there were more than 1,000 visas issued in this category from Pakistan - a $250 million drain on that country in one year.

On June 1, the Canadian Immigration department opened nine centres where intending business immigrants must now submit their applications. These are: Beijing, Bonn, Buffalo, Damascus, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Seoul and Singapore. These new centres were opened to streamline processing of business class applications.

Statistics show that the business category is expanding at the expense of other categories, especially the family class, whose definition has been made quite restrictive. Family now means spouse, children and parents with unmarried brothers and sisters under the age of 18 or those who are students and dependent on parents.

Quite aside from the numbers, new immigrants to Canada face several impediments about which they seem to have little or no knowledge prior to arrival. The first is that their qualifications may not necessarily be accepted in Canada. Even engineers who have had many years’ experience may find being denied jobs that they can easily handle.

Employers in Canada also have the habit of asking applicants for ‘Canadian experience.’ Where can a new immigrant get Canadian experience if no one offers him a job? The employer is not interested in such questions. For new immigrants acquiring ‘Canadian experience’ means working without pay for a while.

The alternative is to drive a taxi or do odd jobs in factories to earn a living but never being able to set foot in one’s own profession. There are numerous persons with PhDs driving taxis in Toronto and other cities. Similarly, highly qualified doctors simply cannot get a job anywhere in Canada. Even the US market is now becoming restrictive. This is a tremendous waste of talent.

While Canada offers immigrant visas to people with agriculture experience, not one person has so far been able to secure a job in this field. There may be job openings perhaps in such provinces as Alberta or Saskachewan but there are none in Ontario. Why agricultural specialists from Pakistan want to come to Canada is not clear. Perhaps those who are thinking of making the move should reconsider.

There is one field in which considerable scope exists and is likely to remain strong for many years to come: computer programming. According to one estimate, Canada will need at least 15,000 computer programmers over the next 10 years. Canadian colleges and universities cannot meet the demand. Those who have computer programming qualifications and skills will find Canada a very attractive place to work in.

Again, a word of caution is in order. New immigrants should not expect a job the day they land in Canada. Often, language barrier or different work environment may prove a hindrance. But those who are able to improve their language skills and are willing to adapt to the new environment, will find themselves in a comfortable position within a few years.

Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1998

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