The risk of oversimplifying the birth tourism debate

My latest take on recent birth tourism debates (excerpt):

Did the CBC Fifth Estate really demonize pregnant migrant women in its investigative report into the number of non-resident births in Canada? That is the argument made by Megan Gaucher and Lindsay Larios, writing recently in Policy Options. A letter of complaint was also submitted about the report to the CBC Ombudsperson by 30 organizations, including groups representing migrant workers. Is discussion of birth tourism essentially a form of xenophobia given its focus on visible-minority foreigners? Or are the underlying concerns of the critics less about birth tourism and more about gaps in healthcare coverage for temporary residents?

Source: The risk of oversimplifying the birth tourism debate

Groups demand Ottawa take action over CSIS discrimination claims

Of note (CSIS has relatively stronger visible minority representation than most security agencies and issues annual reports as required by the Employment Equity Act as seen in the above chart):

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and two civil liberty organizations say they are “deeply troubled” by recent allegations of religious and racial discrimination within CSIS, and are demanding the federal government take “urgent, proactive and genuine” action to protect the rights of visible minority spies in the workplace.

“Public confidence in the agency demands public accountability,” says a letter that was hand-delivered to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in Ottawa earlier this week. “A categorical culture shift inside CSIS must be demonstrated before the public’s trust can be regained.”

The letter is in response to CBC News stories last week about a lawsuit from a longtime analyst in Canada’s intelligence service who alleges his Muslim faith marked him as a target for harassment, emotional abuse and even physical assaults.

His statement of claim, filed under an identity-masking pseudonym in Federal Court earlier this month, outlines what it says was a pattern of bullying and prejudice stretching back almost two decades that saw the man treated as a “second-class citizen” by co-workers and management.

Among its most disturbing details is an allegation that the agent was humiliated and assaulted while he prayed in his office by colleagues who would utter profanities and throw open his office door, hitting him in the head or body, as he kneeled on the carpet.

“I don’t think there is anybody in terms of the class of employees lower than the practising Muslim at the service,” the analyst told CBC in an exclusive interview.

Letter questions CSIS’s ‘organizational culture’

The letter to the public safety minister, also signed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, references past lawsuits by minority CSIS employees that were eventually settled out of court. It also questions the spy agency’s repeated claims that it has zero tolerance for discrimination in its workplace.

“The fact that Muslim and other minority CSIS employees have resorted to suing the agency in order to come forward and be heard raises many questions about the agency’s organizational culture, and its commitment to resolving its issue beyond making vague public statements,” the letter reads.

It also expresses concern that the agency’s culture of “total secrecy” might be inhibiting other affected employees from bringing misconduct complaints forward, or enabling managers to punish those who dare to voice objections about mistreatment.

“Retaliation by such agencies against truth-tellers is easy and devastatingly effective,” it warns.

A longtime employee is suing Canada’s spy agency for racial and religious discrimination. In this exclusive interview, the man — who can’t be identified by law — tells CBC News how his co-workers allegedly reacted when he would pray in his office. 1:37

As such, the three groups are asking Ottawa to extend federal whistleblower protections to CSIS employees, or give intelligence oversight bodies the explicit power to look into workplace complaints.

“We’re not advocating that these agents or employees reveal any sort of state secrets that would put security at risk,” said Sameha Omer, director of legal affairs for the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “What we’re advocating for is that agents be able to be protected under whistleblower legislation. For them to be able to come forward internally, to be able to make that complaint, they need to know that even if they do come forward, they’re not going to face any sort of reprisal.”

Looking for more disclosure

The NCCM and the other signatories would also like more disclosure about the spy agency’s efforts to recruit and promote minorities within its ranks, suggesting that the government mandate “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” audits at least once every five years and share the results with the public.

A 2014 equity audit, released under Access to Information legislation, showed that 14.4 per cent of the spy agency’s 3,000 employees were visible minorities, while 3.6 per cent had disabilities and two per cent were Indigenous. At the time, none of CSIS’s senior managers were minority or Indigenous, and only 17 per cent were female.

Tim McSorley, the national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group — a coalition of 45 NGOs, unions, professional associations, faith groups and environmental organizations — said the allegations of discrimination within CSIS raise questions about the agency’s external mindset, too.

“It really resonates around those issues of how CSIS approaches the Muslim community at large, if this is what happens to people within their own workplace,” McSorley said. “If this is how they treat a colleague and how they react to somebody’s background and religion in the workplace, particularly someone of the Muslim faith, then what does that signal to the communities that they are meant to be protecting?”

McSorley said his group is hopeful that the Liberal government will take meaningful action to make the intelligence service more accountable to both Parliament and the public.

“[The government] has talked a lot about bringing more transparency,” he said. “I think this provides another real opportunity to them to make good on that.”

Blair’s office declined an interview request, but a statement provided to the CBC says that he is concerned about all allegations of harassment and discrimination.

“We are committed to ensuring that our security agencies are worthy of the trust of Canadians and we are committed to strengthening accountability. Across all agencies and departments, our government will strive to ensure that all employees are treated with fairness, respect and dignity, and we will work tirelessly to foster a workplace that is safe for all,” it reads.

But Omer said that platitudes about diversity and inclusion won’t suffice this time, and that the National Council of Canadian Muslims needs to know what steps CSIS has already taken to confront discrimination in the workplace — and what more they will do in the face of the new allegations.

“Our organization, our community itself, they want answers,” she said. “We do want to know what happened.”

Source: Groups demand Ottawa take action over CSIS discrimination claims

Australian-Chinese community facing discrimination over coronavirus fears

Similar to Canada:

With fears over coronavirus increasing rapidly, the Australian-Chinese community is begging for calm.

Seven Australians have been diagnosed with the disease, which originated in China. It has already claimed the lives of 170 people worldwide.

President of the Liberal Party Chinese Youth Council Scott Yung tells Ben Fordham it’s paramount people don’t take their fears out on the Chinese community.

“We do have to remember that at the end of the day this is the coronavirus, not the Chinese virus… everyone’s been affected all across the globe.

“To have some articles use rhetoric such as ‘panda-demic’, it’s not really congruent with the successful multicultural society that we have.”

Source: Australian-Chinese community facing discrimination over coronavirus fears

How a wealth test for immigrants could affect the U.S. economy

Interesting long and serious analysis:

Both supporters and opponents of a new Trump administration rule that creates additional barriers for immigrants trying to enter the U.S. or trying to gain legal permanent residency are using economic arguments to make their cases.

The so-called “public charge” rule bars immigrants from coming to the U.S., claiming that if they are deemed to be unable to support themselves financially, they are at risk of needing federal safety net benefits–or becoming a “public charge” of the federal government. It also penalizes immigrants living in the U.S. who are trying to become lawful permanent residents, if they use federal safety net programs.

The rule is being challenged in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court this week allowed the change to go into effect and become enforceable while it makes its way through the judicial system.

Under the new guidance, immigrants who use a public benefit for more than 12 months in a 36-month period would be penalized in their application to become a legal permanent resident– commonly known as a green card holder. Each individual benefit counts toward the total time, so using both food and housing assistance for one month, for example, could count as two months worth of benefits.

If the household income of an immigrant trying to come to the U.S. is less than 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or $21,550 for a couple, they could also be at risk of being denied entry. The Department of Homeland Security said it would use that threshold as one of several factors when deciding whether to admit an immigrant to the U.S. Immigrants with twice that income, or 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, would be given higher preference.

Refugees are exempt from the rule.

The White House has argued the rule, which some are calling a “wealth test,” will benefit American workers and save taxpayer dollars. Immigration advocates counter that it is creating an unnecessary barrier for hardworking immigrants trying to better their lives and who contribute to the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, economists caution that it’s difficult to estimate the exact cost or savings from the rule because it depends on how strictly it is enforced and there could be numerous ripple effects that will reverberate throughout the economy for years. It is also unclear what the cost would be for enforcing the rule, or for checking on immigrants’ household income before coming to the U.S.

Who uses federal assistance

On the whole, immigrants make up a small share of all Americans who use federal public assistance programs. U.S-born individuals, for example, make up 86 percent of both Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients.

Immigrants also use less total welfare and entitlement benefits in dollar value than native-born Americans, according to a report from the CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank.

In total, native-born Americans used $6,976 worth of welfare programs per person in 2016. That’s compared to $5,535 per immigrants–a 21 percent difference.

The discrepancy is largely due to a higher rate of native-born Americans using Medicare and Social Security benefits than immigrants. About 18 percent and 19 percent of native-born Americans use Medicare and Social Security benefits, respectively. That’s compared to 12 percent and 14 percent of immigrants.

Native-born Americans are also more likely to use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and SNAP, which is commonly known as food stamps.

Graphic by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Immigrants are more likely to use Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid than native-born Americans. About 4 percent of immigrants use SSI, compared to 3.5 percent of native-born citizens. Around 24.5 percent of immigrants use Medicaid, compared to 23 percent of native-born Americans, according to the CATO report.

Undocumented immigrants, which by some estimates make up half of all non U.S. citizens living in the country, are generally ineligible to receive federal benefits.

In response to public comments about the public charge rule, the Department of Homeland Security did not dispute the CATO findings but said they “are not inconsistent” with its final rule.

In a news conference last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinnelli said the issue is not how immigrants’ benefits compare to native-born citizens, but whether the immigrants coming to the U.S. are self-sufficient.

“The benefit to taxpayers is a long-term benefit of seeking to ensure that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system — especially in the age of the modern welfare state, which is so expansive and expensive,” Cuccinnelli said.

What immigrants cost and contribute to the U.S. economy

Estimates on how many people will be affected by the public charge rule varies widely.

Around 1.2 million people seeking to become green card holders each year would be subject to the rule, but many of those are not eligible for, or already choose not to use public benefits. However, there are likely millions more immigrants trying to come to the U.S. who could also be affected.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates 382,264 immigrants per year will be affected by the changes. The New American Economy, a nonprofit that focuses on immigration research, puts the estimate much higher–at 3.9 million.

If all of those immigrants were barred from living in the U.S., the nation’s economy would lose about $82 billion per year, the New American Economy analysis finds. That number includes $48 billion the affected immigrants would earn in income each year, plus an estimated $34 billion that would otherwise be generated because of the money they spend in the U.S economy and the amount they would pay in taxes.

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated a much lower cost–$144.4 million. It also estimates that federal and state governments will pay out $2.47 billion less each year in benefits–a key Trump administration argument for implementing the changes.

The public charge rule aside, first-generation immigrants generally cost the government more than U.S.-born Americans, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. On average they cost about $1,600 per person annually.

But the children of those immigrants have a net positive effect on the U.S. economy, contributing about $1,700 per person per year. Third generation immigrants contribute about $1,300 annually.

The financial burden of immigration tends to fall more heavily on state and local governments because of the cost of their children’s public school. At the same time, investing in children’s education, health care and food security is likely to make them more productive workers with higher incomes later in life, which, in turn, generates more tax revenue.

“Adequate resources in childhood matter a lot for self-sufficiency and wellbeing later in life,” said Tara Watson, an economics professor at Williams College. “If we restrict benefits available to children who will grow up to be adults, in the long run we may be doing more harm than good.”

How federal benefits play into productivity

Studies have shown that people experiencing financial strain tend to be less productive in their work, largely due to the mental burden of not being able to meet their basic needs.

“If you are more concerned with your immediate needs to feed yourself, to house yourself, to make yourself warm, you are not able to make those investments that will help you make smarter decisions about your future and your family’s future,” said Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research for New American Economy.

Public welfare advocates say federal benefits, such as food stamps and housing assistance, alleviate financial stress, and more worker productivity tends to mean higher pay, which, in turn, means more contributions to federal taxes and the U.S. economy as a whole. Conversely, if a person does not have access to basic health care, they could become sick and unable to work.

The Department of Homeland Security has said it “does not agree that this rule would be the cause of such unfortunate events,” such as a person becoming ill.

How fewer lower skilled workers would affect certain industries

While higher-skilled immigrants tend to make more money and, therefore, contribute more to the U.S. economy, certain industries rely heavily on lower-skilled immigrants.

The hospitality, agriculture and construction sectors in particular have been facing labor shortages in recent years.

The expanding economy has been creating more jobs, but a crackdown on unauthorized immigrants, combined with better job opportunities in immigrants’ home countries–particularly in Mexico–have contributed to a shortage of workers.

If fewer low-income immigrants are allowed into the U.S. because of the public charge rule, those shortages are likely to worsen.

But the Trump administration has taken other steps to increase the number of immigrants workers allowed into the U.S. each year to work specifically in the agriculture industry and in seasonal jobs, which could offset some of the reduction that might be caused by the public charge rule.

A chilling effect?

Opponents of the public charge rule argue it could have a chilling effect, causing immigrants who are legally allowed to use federal public benefits to forgo utilizing those programs –particularly children who are U.S. citizens but live with their immigrant parents.

While it is unclear whether there is a direct link to the rule’s unveiling in 2018, SNAP participation rates among families with immigrant members fell between March 2018 and March 2019.

During the same time, the participation rate for households with no immigrants increased, according to Watson’s analysis of federal data that was first published in Econofact.

In response to concerns about a chilling effect, the Department of Homeland Security said in its final rule that it expects immigrants “will make purposeful and well-informed decisions,” but the agency said they declined to scale back the rule to avoid the possibility that individuals might choose not to enroll in welfare programs because “self-sufficiency is the rule’s ultimate aim.”

An economic or value judgment?

In the end, Watson said it is difficult to calculate exactly how much the public charge rule will affect the U.S. economy.

The change is a rule, not a law, and the language is fairly vague, so the next presidential administration could choose how much weight to give the income thresholds and public benefits measurements when considering the host of factors involved in an immigrants’ application for legal status.

While some countries put more emphasis on immigrants’ skillset when considering admission, the U.S. has historically prioritized family reunification. If the public charge rule is strictly enforced, the U.S. would be signaling a major shift in its immigration policy.

“We would lose the emphasis on families,” Watson said. “And that’s a value judgment the American people need to make.”

For their part, Trump administration officials have said the rule promotes the “ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.”

Source: How a wealth test for immigrants could affect the U.S. economy

Is Trump admitting defeat with his new U.S. visa rules?

Likely, a narrower administrative approach that will nevertheless be subject to legal challenges. But this analysis, essentially arguing that the measure is more virtue signalling to his base, given some of the implementation issues covered in earlier posts, is likely correct:

Last week, the State Department released regulations effective Jan. 24 that make it more difficult for pregnant women to get tourist visas to visit the United States. It’s part of the Trump administration’s attack on “birth tourism,” a term that implies that some women visit just to give birth to a U.S. citizen child. The changes attempt to do an end run around the 14th Amendment, which says that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen.

Throughout immigration history — both in the United States and in other countries — pregnant women’s motives have been scrutinized. This new regulation may be an acknowledgment that the Trump administration can’t get rid of birthright citizenship as easily as it may wish.

What’s the change?

The regulations instruct U.S. Embassy personnel around the world to explicitly deny applications for what are called B1/B2 visas (a temporary visa for business and tourism) for birth tourism. The provisions don’t apply to tourists from the 39 (mostly European) countries covered by the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of these countries to visit the United States without a visa.

Here’s the wording:

“This rule establishes that travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis for the issuance of a B nonimmigrant visa.”

(Department of State, Public notice 10930, pages 1-2)

While there are exemptions for women traveling to the United States for medical treatment, applicants must prove that treatment is necessary and that they can pay for it.

Birthright citizenship around the world

More than 30 countries around the world have some kind of birthright citizenship. But the terms vary widely. While some countries like the United States offer citizenship unconditionally to anyone born on their soil (with narrow exceptions for the children of diplomats), others condition citizenship on such factors as how long the parent or parents have lived in the country or their immigration status; where the child will live; or some combination of those.

At least one country that used to grant birthright citizenship, Ireland, repealed it by referendum in 2004 because many people thought that pregnant foreign women were using a child’s birth on Irish soil to secure residency and circumvent Irish asylum laws. Gender and women’s studies professor Eithne Lubehéld‘s book “Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Immigrant Illegal” observes that the Irish drew inspiration and information from U.S. debates about birth tourism.

In the United States, birthright citizenship dates to Reconstruction

The 14th Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the States wherein they reside.” The Amendment, ratified in 1868 during Reconstruction, clarified the citizenship status of free black Americans and overturned the 1857 Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford that stated that black people could not be citizens.

While the amendment was being debated, some members of Congress worried that birthright citizenship would enable the Chinese to become citizens. But concern for children born to European immigrants overrode the anti-Asian prejudice. The Supreme Court clarified that the birthright citizenship clause covers children born to immigrants — not just formerly enslaved and free African Americans — in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), writing:

“To hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.”

U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)

Historically, the United States has scrutinized pregnant immigrant women — sometimes excluding or deporting them — under the provisions “likely to become a public charge” and “moral turpitude,” dating back to the early 20th century. The public-charge regulation grew from fear that pregnant immigrant women would use public resources like hospitals, burdening American communities both economically and socially. Moral turpitude was supposed to exclude immigrants who had committed certain crimes or offenses — although it has never been clear which ones, exactly, would get someone excluded or deported. Consular officers sometimes used theseagainst women and others who violate social norms, such as unwed pregnant women or single women traveling alone.

In his recent book “Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. Empire,” legal scholar Sam Erman wrote that in the early 20th century, the commissioner of immigration told Ellis Island immigration inspectors to aggressively enforce the public-charge provisions. Under these instructions, Erman writes, “Ellis Island policy dictated that women who were pregnant and not married had to be held for additional investigation.”

Rutgers student Alyzette Consoli wrote about Minnie Langford, a pregnant black woman traveling from Nova Scotia to New York City in 1920. When she was hospitalized at Bellevue because of pregnancy complications, immigration officials were notified and she was deported. Consoli noted, “It was common practice at this time to exclude a woman on the basis of being ‘Likely to become a Public Charge’ (LPC) when they were actually being targeted for moral turpitude offenses.”

What does all this mean for the Trump administration’s new regulations?

Consular officers already enjoy wide discretion in granting and denying visas, and they do not have to explain their denials. An applicant has no right to appeal, and the decision is not subject to judicial review.

President Trump has often railed against the United States’ generous birthright citizenship policy. In a 2018 interview with Axios, he stated, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits. … It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Changing the regulations may be the administration’s concession to those who insist that the only way to get rid of birthright citizenship would be by amending the Constitution, even though Trump has argued that a law or an executive order would be enough.

Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board

Ongoing review:

Just weeks into their probe of racism and dysfunction in the Peel public school board, three provincial reviewers say they have already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment,” says their interim report, obtained by the Star.

Ena Chadha, Suzanne Herbert and newly appointed reviewer Shawn Richard are looking into complaints of racism — in particular anti-Black racism — as well as issues overall with equity, hiring and leadership.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered the investigation in early November after the Peel board reached out for help as it grappled with allegations of anti-Black racism, a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

So far, the review team has received more than 350 interview requests as well as email, mail and phone submissions, which they characterize as a “strong” public response.

The review began in December, and that month alone they spoke to 50 people, both individually and in groups.

Richard, a lawyer, was appointed later last month after concerns that no one from the Black community was on the front lines.

At the time, Lecce noted that the entire review was being overseen by assistant deputy education minister and human rights lawyer Patrick Case, a prominent member of the Black community who was part of a review team in 2017 — with Herbert — that issued a scathing report on racism and a lack of leadership in the York Region District School Board.

The trio filed their interim report on Peel to Lecce on Dec. 30, and their final report is due by spring.

In a statement, Lecce said he has met with the reviewers “to better understand their immediate observations of systemic anti-Black racism, and lack of adherence to governance, leadership, trustee conduct” and hiring and promotions practices.

“I believe students and families deserve better,” Lecce said. “It is my hope that the final report will build momentum for the transformational change racialized families are seeking, after a period of inaction.”

Their interim report says “we have received written and oral submissions from many individuals and groups representing diverse perspectives on the issues within the scope of the review.”

The reviewers have also been examining “various documentation, minutes of board meetings, board policies and data. We have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups with respect to access to programming, services, academic achievement, transitions to post-secondary education and the workforce, hiring, and promotion, as well as discipline measures both in education and employment.”

They go on to say that a “profound lack of respect (is) demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment. To date, these sentiments relate to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of inequities put forward by students, parents, educators, staff, senior administrators, elected officials and community members who we have met with thus far.”

The Peel District School Board is the second largest in the province, with more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staffers. Its student body is highly diverse, with the three largest groups identifying as South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

So far, the reviewers say that “all stakeholders, from students and parents to educators, staff, senior administrators, trustees and community members, have expressed consensus that the review is a much needed intervention to better understand the challenging and compounding dynamics operating within the (Peel board) and broader community.”

However, there has been some criticism that given the tight timeline, the review will not be as comprehensive as needed. The reviewers say they will identify the problems and make recommendations, but more work will need to be done.

The board, they say, will need a “process that will allow community members to directly ‘speak their truth’ to trustees and senior staff” in order to “regain public confidence that will be necessarily longer-term and that will be monitored by the ministry,” they wrote.

Those they’ve interviewed “have told us that they expect that this review will assist the (Peel board) to become more transparent and responsive in its commitment to provide inclusive learning and working environments where all students and staff feel respected.”

Last month, Lecce himself met with some Peel community members who told him part of the problem is a lack of diversity among teachers.

Lecce said that Regulation 274, which was brought in under the former Liberal government, impedes boards in hiring because it forces schools to hire the most experience supply teachers for full-time jobs, rather than their top choice or who will be the best fit.

The regulation is a part of the current negotiating round between teacher unions and the province.

The Peel review team had at least 13 days of interviews in January — in Brampton, Mississauga, Malton, Etobicoke and Toronto — and notes that “considering the urgency to complete this review and the volume of requests to participate in the review process, we will not be able meet with everyone who has expressed interest” but promises that all written submissions will be looked at.

Lecce said he wants families to know the government “is listening and is fully committed to combating racism and improving equity and opportunity for their children.”

He pledged to “continue to empower students — notably from racialized communities — to be a part of the solution, to have a voice, and to work collaboratively to eliminate obstacles to academic success and well-being.”

Source: Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board

Canada must look beyond STEM and diversify its AI workforce

From a visible minority perspective, based on STEM graduates, representation reasonably good as per the chart above except for engineering and particularly strong in math and computer sciences, the closest fields of study to AI.

With respect to gender, the percentage of visible minority women is generally equivalent to that on non-visible minority women or stronger (but women are under-represented in engineering and math/computer sciences):

Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to add US$15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, according to a recent report from PwC, representing a 14 percent boost to global GDP. Countries around the world are scrambling for a piece of the pie, as evidenced by the proliferation of national and regional AI strategies aimed at capturing the promise of AI for future value generation.

Canada has benefited from an early lead in AI, which is often attributed to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) having had the foresight to invest in Geoffrey Hinton’s research on deep learning shortly after the turn of the century. As a result, Canada can now tout Montreal as having the highest concentration of researchers and students of deep learning in the world and Toronto as being home to the highest concentration of AI start-ups in the world.

But the market for AI is approaching maturity. A report from McKinsey & Co. suggests that the public and private sectors together have captured only between 10 and 40 percent of the potential value of advances in machine learning. If Canada hopes to maintain a competitive advantage, it must both broaden the range of disciplines and diversify the workforce in the AI sector.

Looking beyond STEM

Strategies aimed at capturing the expected future value of AI have been concentrated on innovation in fundamental research, which is conducted largely in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But it is the application of this research that will grow market share and multiply value. In order to capitalize on what fundamental research discovers, the AI sector must deepen its ties with the social sciences.

To date the role of social scientists in Canada’s strategy on AI has been largely limited to areas of ethics and public policy. While these are endeavours to which social scientists are particularly well suited, they could be engaged much more broadly with AI. Social scientists are well positioned to identify and exploit potential applications of this research that will generate both social and economic returns on Canada’s investment in AI.

Social scientists take a unique approach to data analysis by drawing on social theory to critically interpret both the inputs and outputs of a given model. They ask what a given model is really telling us about the world and how it arrived at that result. They see potential opportunities in data and digital technology that STEM researchers are not trained to look for.

A recent OECD report looks at the skills that most distinguish innovative from non-innovative workers; chief among them are creativity, critical thinking and communication skills. While these skills are by no means exclusively the domain of the social sciences, they are perhaps more central to social scientific training than to any other discipline.

The social science perspective can serve as a defence mechanism against the potential folly of certain applications of AI. If social scientists had been more involved in early adaptations of computer vision, for example, Google might have been spared the shame of image recognition algorithms that classify people of colour as animals (they certainly would have come up with a better solution). In the same vein, Microsoft’s AI chatbots would have been less likely to spew racist slurs shortly after launch.

Social scientists can also help meet a labour shortage: there are not enough STEM graduatesto meet future demand for AI talent. Meanwhile, social science graduates are often underemployed, in part because they do not have the skills necessary to participate in a future of work that privileges expertise in AI. As a consequence, many of the opportunities associated with AI are passing Canada’s social science graduates by. Excluding social science students from Canada’s AI strategy not only reduces their career paths but restricts their opportunities to contribute to fulfilling the societal and economic promise of AI.

Realizing the potential of the social sciences within Canada’s AI ecosystem requires innovative thinking by both governments and universities. Federal and provincial governments should relax restrictions on funding for AI-related research that prohibit applications from social scientists or make them eligible only within interdisciplinary teams that include STEM researchers. This policy has the effect of subordinating social scientific approaches to AI to those of STEM disciplines. In fact, social scientists are just as capable of independent research, and a growing number are already engaged in sophisticated applications of machine learning to address some of the most pressing societal challenges of our time.

Governments must also invest in the development of undergraduate and graduate training opportunities that are specific to the application of AI in the social sciences, using pedagogical approaches that are appropriate for them.

Social science faculties in universities across Canada can also play a crucial role by supporting the development of AI-related skills within their undergraduate and graduate curriculums. At McMaster University, for example, the Faculty of Social Sciences is developing a new degree: master of public policy in digital society. Alongside graduate training in the fundamentals of public policy, the 12-month program will include rigorous training in data science as well as technical training in key digital technologies that are revolutionizing contemporary society. The program, which is expected to launch in 2021, is intended to provide students with a command of digital technologies such as AI necessary to enable them to think creatively and critically about its application to the social world. In addition to the obvious benefit of producing a new generation of policy leadership in AI, the training provided by this program will ensure that its graduates are well positioned for a broader range of leadership opportunities across the public and private sectors.

Increasing workplace diversity

A report released in 2019 by New York University’s AI Now Institute declared that there is a diversity crisis in the AI workforce. This has implications for the sector itself but also for society more broadly, in that the systemic biases within the AI sector are being perpetuated via the myriad touch points that AI has with our everyday lives: it is organizing our online search results and social media news feeds and supporting hiring decisions, and it may even render decisions in some court cases in future.

One of the main findings of the AI Now report was that the widespread strategy of focusing on “women in tech” is too narrow to counter the diversity crisis. In Canada, efforts to diversify AI generally translate to providing advancement opportunities for women in the STEM disciplines. Although the focus of policy-makers on STEM is critical and necessary, it is short-sighted. Disciplinary diversity in AI research not only broadens the horizons for research and commercialization; it also creates opportunities for groups who are underrepresented in STEM to benefit from and contribute to innovations in AI.

As it happens, equity-seeking groups are better represented in the social sciences. According to Statistics Canada, the social sciences and adjacent fields have the highest enrolment of visible minorities. And as of 2017, only 23.7 percent of those enrolled in STEM programs at Canadian universities were women, whereas women were 69.1 percent of participants in the social sciences.

So, engaging the social sciences more substantively in research and training related to AI will itself lead to greater diversity. While advancing this engagement, universities should be careful not to import training approaches directly from statistics or computer science, as these will bring with them some of the cultural context and biases that have resulted in a lack of diversity in those fields to begin with.

Bringing the social sciences into Canada’s AI strategy is a concrete way to demonstrate the strength of diversity, in disciplines as well as demographics. Not only would many social science students benefit from training in AI, but so too would Canada’s competitive advantage in AI benefit from enabling social scientists to effectively translate research into action.

Source: Canada must look beyond STEM and diversify its AI workforce

Richmond councillor urges action on birth tourism

Might be more productive for municipal councillors to have staff review possible zoning and other local regulatory options to help reduce the practice and the supporting “cottage industry” of consultants and residences than “virtue signalling” for a federal government policy change:

Birth tourism will be on the agenda for Richmond city council again.

Coun. Carol Day has brought forward a motion for the next general purposes committee meeting (Feb. 3) asking council to write to the new federal minister of immigration, Marco Mendicino, to urge changes to immigration laws in order to stop birth tourism.

About a quarter of the women giving birth at Richmond Hospital are non-residents, and in the last fiscal year, this translated to 458 babies being eligible for Canadian citizenship even though their parents weren’t Canadian.

Day’s motion suggests writing to the federal government to ask for permanent changes to Canadian immigration laws to end automatic citizenship for babies born to non-residents.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department implemented a new rule banning tourists if their intention is to give birth in the U.S. The new regulation allows consular officials to deny visas to pregnant women whose primary purpose is to give birth in the U.S. to obtain citizenship for their baby.

Ads are prolific on the Internet for birth tourism services in Richmond, and they are all in Chinese. However, anyone coming from China to Canada as a tourist must obtain a tourist visa before arriving.

ICYMI: African Immigrants May Be Trump’s Next Target

Of note, with possible impact on future asylum seekers in Canada:
Last week, Politico reported that the Trump administration was considering adding seven new countries to its travel ban. A majority of them—Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, and Nigeria, which is by far the most populous of the seven—are in Africa. The rationalization appears to involve terrorism. In the “counterterrorism” section of a January 17 speech, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, declared, “We’re establishing criteria that all foreign governments must satisfy to assist DHS in vetting foreign nationals seeking to enter our country … For a small number of countries that lack either the will or the capability to adhere to these criteria, travel restrictions may become necessary to mitigate threats.”Because the Supreme Court upheld Donald Trump’s travel ban in 2018 on national-security grounds, it’s not surprising that administration officials would cite that same rationale to expand the ban now. But the argument is weak. According to numbers crunched by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh when Trump first imposed the ban three years ago, not a single person born in Eritrea, Tanzania, Nigeria, or Sudan killed a single American in a terrorist attack on American soil from 1975 to 2016. (The same is true of Belarus and Myanmar, two of the other three countries Trump may add to the travel-ban roster. Two people from Kyrgyzstan, the final country, were implicated in deadly anti-American terrorism incidents during the period, according to Nowrasteh’s tally.)
A Wall Street Journal article on the potential travel-ban expansion suggests a different justification: Travelers from Eritrea, Sudan, and Nigeria are more likely than travelers from other countries to overstay their visas. But if that’s the case—as Tom Jawetz, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, explained to me—the answer is to train the U.S. consular officers who give out those visas to better determine who won’t return home, or to actually increase visas to meet legitimate demand. The answer is not to collectively punish the population of an entire country.But if the Trump administration’s real motivation is to decrease immigration from Africa, then collective punishment has a certain logic to it. For several years now, Trump has trained his nativist ire on Muslims and Latinos. The travel ban suggests he’s adding a new target, just in time for the 2020 elections: Africans.According to the Pew Research Center, the number of black immigrants in the United States has grown fivefold over the past 40 years. America’s immigrant population from sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled from 2000 to 2016 alone. Trump’s allies have noticed. In her book Adios America, which Trump publicly praised, and parroted, when he launched 2016 campaign, Ann Coulter claims, “There were almost no Nigerians in the United States until the 1970s. Today there are 380,000.” This is a problem, she declares, because “in Nigeria, every level of society is criminal.” When 500 Congolese and Angolan immigrants showed up at the Texas border last June, Tucker Carlson warned that, because of “population growth … on the continent of Africa,” African immigration “could become a torrent” that could “overwhelm our country, and change it completely and forever.”

Trump himself, according to The New York Times, vented in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that on his watch the United States had admitted 40,000 Nigerians who would never “go back to their huts.” (Nigerian immigrants are actually twice as likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree as Americans as a whole.) During an immigration meeting in 2018, The Washington Post reported, Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and nations in Africa as “shithole countries.” Soon afterward, the White House unveiled a proposal to remake America’s immigration system. According to the Center for American Progress, it would have reduced immigration from sub-Saharan Africa by 46 percent, more than any other region of the world.

But while Trump’s animosity to African immigration isn’t new, it has never before taken center stage in his administration’s policies or his public rhetoric. Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign talking about Mexican rapists. He made building a wall on America’s southern border his campaign’s rallying cry. He responded to the December 2015 jihadist attack in San Bernardino, California, by demanding a ban on Muslim immigration. He made Central American immigrant “caravans” the heart of his get-out-the-vote strategy in 2018.

So Trump is diversifying his array of immigrant threats. Singling out African countries could spark a public battle with the Congressional Black Caucus, Somalian-American Representative Ilhan Omar, and African American celebrities—just the sort of foes who rouse Trump’s base. Expect presidential tweets and Tucker Carlson monologues about Nigerian email scammers and crime rates in Lagos. In Trump’s ceaseless battle to terrify Republicans with the specter of an America no longer controlled by white men, a new front may be opening up.

Source: African Immigrants May Be Trump’s Next Target

Migration committee advises against full points-based system for UK

Will see what the final policy and program changes are and their likely impacts:

The independent migration advisory committee does not recommend a full shift to an Australian points-based system in research giving the first detailed insight into how a reformed immigration system might look after Brexit and the ending of freedom of movement for EU nationals.

In a report published on Tuesday, the independent committee, which provides research-based advice to the government, recommends a mixed system, which would rely on a minimum salary threshold for those people coming to the UK with a job offer, and a points-based system for those coming to the UK without a pre-arranged job.

“Talented individuals” would be able to apply for a work visa under the points-based system.

Its recommendations would reduce levels of immigration, the size of the UK population and total GDP. “We expect the changes to very slightly increase GDP per capita, productivity and improve public finances, though these estimates are more uncertain,” the report states.

“The changes are also expected to reduce pressures on the NHS, schools and on social housing, though they will increase pressure on social care.”

Source: Migration committee advises against full points-based system for UK