Heather Scoffield: Hey, election-weary Americans, Canada would love to take you in

Valid approach to target foreign nationals currently working or studying in the USA:

In the difficult, bewildering days right after Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, then-vice-president Joe Biden made a quick trip to snowy Ottawa for a state dinner.

It’s worth remembering what he told Canadian leaders at the time: Canadians and Americans are deeply united in their values, Biden said, especially “the abhorrence of the abuse of power, whether it’s physical, economic or political, as well as the notion that every person deserves to be treated with dignity.

“It’s about dignity.”

The words were probably meant to console Canadians as much as to console himself at the turn of events and the coarsening of politics that a Trump victory would surely herald.

Fast-forward four years, and the day after the 2020 election was equally bewildering for many Canadians who could not digest the fact that, regardless of who the eventual president is, about half of American voters chose Trump for a second time.

But when we’re done reeling over the stark, pervasive divisions within the American electorate and move on to grappling with what next, perhaps we can put our own appreciation of dignity to good use, and make it work to our advantage — through immigration.

Just last week, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino set out a very ambitious plan for Canada: to boost immigration to never-seen-before levels and pull the country’s economic growth out of its funk.

“We are at a unique juncture in Canadian history. We are facing the challenge of our generation, and we will meet our moment,” Mendicino said. “Before the pandemic, our government’s goal to drive the economy forward through immigration was ambitious. Now, it is simply vital.”

Canada will aim to bring in 1.2 million new immigrants over the next three years, partly to make up for lost ground during the pandemic but also raising the target substantially from previous plans. Instead of 351,000 people targeted for 2021, Ottawa is now aiming for 401,000. Instead of 361,000 in 2022, Ottawa hopes for 411,000.

For sure, there are many reasons to increase immigration. Family reunification and a safe haven for refugees are what dignified, decent countries do. But since the federal government’s overriding goal is to boost the economy, it’s time to take a strategic look at the U.S. landscape.

Of course, the move-to-Canada idea was all the rage after the 2016 election, and especially after Trump kicked off his term in power by cracking down on immigrants from specific countries — a move that prompted Justin Trudeau to famously tweet #WelcomeToCanada because “diversity is our strength.”

The Canadian dream bubbled up again on Wednesday in the media and on social media.

But initial efforts over the past few years to recruit large numbers of skilled immigrants from the ranks of disaffected Democrats didn’t really materialize.

We have a second chance this time around and can take steps, and have money, to make it happen.

“There is an opportunity there,” says Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in immigration and labour.

Not all immigration automatically boosts Canada’s pace of growth, which is why Mendicino is putting more weight on the economic class of immigration than on family reunification and refugees. The hope is that by attracting skilled workers from other countries, Canada can expand the population of entrepreneurs, consumers, taxpayers, homebuyers, hard workers and wealth contributors in our economy.

People educated in the United States come with easily recognized credentials and are a quick fit into Canada’s labour market.

“If you want to leverage immigration for economic growth, you have to look at talent,” Skuterud says.

But Canada has long had stiff competition from the Americans next door in attracting those people, he adds, pointing to research that shows skilled immigrants to the United States prospering while those with a similar profile in Canada have struggled with lower wages.

Canada’s best bet to attract highly-skilled immigrants from the United States is to look there for foreigners and migrants, especially students and recent graduates, since they’re usually more mobile than the rest of the population, says Skuterud.

If Canada is to bolster growth over the long term, not just to recuperate from the pandemic but also to improve our standard of living and our ability to care for the most vulnerable in our society, we will need to make some bold, strategic moves to make our mark.

So much of Canada’s policy and recovery from the pandemic is in slow motion right now, waiting to see where Washington lands and how the U.S. political dynamic washes over the border.

Immigration is one area where we have already dared to stick our neck out and go our own way, at least in the targets and the rhetoric that comes from our political leaders. Dignity looks like a selling point these days.

Source: Heather Scoffield: Hey, election-weary Americans, Canada would love to take you in

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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