‘Too much, too quickly’: economists warn of Liberal ‘pro-business’ immigration policy

Great counterpoint to the simplistic and misguided arguments of the government and immigration arguments in favour of the current high levels, with Mikal Stuterud, Chris Worswick and David Green being cited extensively:

The Liberal government’s move to admit record numbers of immigrants to fill a purported “labour shortage” has prompted warnings from economists with years of experience studying immigration to Canada.

The government is selling the policy change as a way to boost economic growth and “help businesses find workers.”

But there’s no evidence, the economists said, that the plan to eventually accept a half million new residents per year will benefit the average Canadian resident—though it might help businesses looking for low-cost labour.

The higher immigration targets—along with a growth in the use of temporary foreign workers and working international students under the Liberal government—have the potential to push down wages for the lowest-paid workers in the country, many of whom are recent immigrants or refugees, they said.

Source: ‘Too much, too quickly’: economists warn of Liberal ‘pro-business’ immigration policy

ICYMI – Green: No, immigration is not some magic pill for saving the economy

Useful reminder…:

“When all you have is a hammer, all the world’s a nail.” This saying isn’t usually seen as a complimentary description of any policy approach but it appears to capture Canada’s immigration policy.

Immigration, undoubtedly, touches on nearly every aspect of our economy – from employment to output growth to health care to housing. And to hear the government speak, you would think it’s the right tool for the job in every one of them. The problem is, it’s at best an ineffective hammer for every one of them, and using it more will cause more problems than it will solve.

The size of the hammer is big and getting bigger. At the start of November, the federal immigration minister announced the new levels plan, taking Canada from receiving 405,000 permanent immigrants last year to 500,000 in 2025. Matching that is an expansion of the number of temporary foreign workers, to more than 770,000 in 2021 – almost double the high levels under the Harper government 10 years ago.

I am in favour of immigration at the levels of the recent past. But now the main argument made to ramp up immigration is that it will spur economic growth, and this is a tantalizing promise that turns out not to be true. Study after study after study shows that sudden expansions in immigration increase the size of the economy (the GDP) but don’t change GDP per person or the average wage – how well off people are. The research shows that immigration tends to lower wages for people who compete directly with the new immigrants (often previously arrived immigrants and low-skilled workers) and improves incomes for the higher skilled and business owners who get labour at lower wages. That is, it can be an inequality-increasing policy.

But isn’t this time different? Don’t we have such a high number of unfilled jobs that the economic machine is threatening to break down? First, the employment rate is now much higher than in the past and GDP per capita growth is strong. There is no evidence the machine is breaking down from lack of workers.

Second, the economy is not a machine that breaks down when parts are missing. It is an organic being that flows, guided by prices. If we didn’t bring in immigrants to match the vacancies, that does not necessarily lead to catastrophe.

When that happens, wages would have to increase to attract domestic workers. Some firms would not be able to pay the higher wages and might shut down or not undertake some projects. But those would be the least productive projects – the ones that don’t warrant the market wage. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way markets work.

Immigration thus keeps wages down in occupations in high demand, and that reduces incentives for firms and workers already here to invest in the skills needed to fill those positions, reducing opportunities, missing an opportunity to increase the skill level of the work force and getting in the way of training and education policies intended to help workers with those opportunities.

Using immigration to solve the labour crunch therefore has the potential to weaken productivity and lower wages.

Linked to the argument about labour shortages is the aging of our population. The retirement of the baby boom will lead to substantial increases in the ratio of non-workers to workers over the next decade. Surely, bringing in more immigrants is the right solution to this? The answer is that it will help a little bit but immigrants aren’t that much younger than the people already living here, and adding 100,000 more immigrants a year won’t move the age dial enough to seriously alter the dependency ratio.

And while it’s not solving these problems, a jump in immigration will put strains on other parts of our economy and society. Adding 100,000 more immigrants a year will mean a big increase in people looking for housing in our cities each year, where the housing markets are already at the breaking point.

The government’s response to this most obvious of problems is that immigrant trades workers will fill shortages in construction trades, increasing housing production. But the construction sector isn’t grinding to a halt because of lack of workers – employment in the sector is already above 2019 levels and there is plenty of activity. The problem in housing supply is rooted in municipal regulations around density and offshore buyers treating our housing as an investment. Immigration won’t hit those nails. It will make problems worse. And when it does, it will put a strain on Canadians’ much vaunted immigration-welcoming attitudes.

Further strains on the health care system are also concerning. A case might be made for bringing in the front-line health workers our system needs now. But the current system underutilizes foreign-trained immigrants, and the problem lies with rigid professional associations, not with the federal government. Bringing in more health workers without solving this problem is unfair to the people we are bringing in, adding them to the large number of frustrated foreign-trained health workers already here. Again, increasing the numbers is not the solution to the problem.

Immigration is both necessary and positive. Immigrants make our society more vibrant. And the evidence is they don’t lower standards of living. But neither do they raise them. Labour markets are finally poised to give workers the wage gains they have been waiting for. Housing markets are straining. Blocking the first and worsening the second in pursuit of pounding nails that immigration doesn’t even hit well isn’t wise policy. A sudden jump without better preparing housing markets and creating mechanisms to integrate the new immigrants is irresponsible.

David Green is a professor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and an international fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

Source: No, immigration is not some magic pill for saving the economy

Canada wants to welcome 500,000 more immigrants in 2025. Can our country keep up?

The Globe’s Matt Lundy is doing some of the best reporting and analysis of immigration these days, with this article raising one of the elephants in the room, housing availability and affordabilty, healthcare, infrastructure:

Every year, Canada adds a big city – in a sense. The mass of individuals are spread around, mostly to urban centres, but increasingly to suburbs and far-flung communities. They are here to work, to study, to build a better life.

The expansion is historic. From July to September, Canada’s population grew by around 285,000, a 0.7-per-cent gain that was the largest since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949. More than 700,000 people have been added over the past year, roughly the same as the population of Mississauga, the seventh-largest municipality in the country.

The trend picked up when the federal Liberal Party came to power. Since 2016, the country has grown at nearly double the rate of its Group of Seven peers. For the most part, that growth is driven by immigration.

The push is deliberate. Policy makers say higher immigration is necessary to fuel Canada’s economic growth, and in particular, to ease labour shortages that have frustrated the corporate sector.

It is, however, a population boom with its share of growing pains

Consider that over the past year, fewer than 200,000 housing units were completed. There were 3.6 new residents for every home added, the highest ratio since at least 1991. Affordability is deteriorating in most places. There is a fundamental mismatch between home supply and demand – and the population boom is contributing to the divide.

At the same time, Canadian governments are struggling to deliver basic services. Surgeries are getting cancelled in crammed hospitals. Canadians can’t find family doctors, let alone newcomers trying to navigate an ailing health care system. Cash-strapped cities can’t refurbish their infrastructure as fast as it’s falling into disrepair.

To cope with the affordability crisis, a growing number of people are fleeing our cities. They include teachers, nurses and construction workers – the very people who keep those cities running.

In this fraught environment, Ottawa has its foot on the accelerator. After admitting about 405,000 permanent residents last year, the federal government is aiming for 500,000 in 2025. And that’s just a portion of the migration wave: At last count, there were 1.4 million residents with temporary work or study permits.

Canada is facing a complicated adjustment. Notably, developers are scrapping or delaying housing projects, owing to rising interest rates and waning profitability. Just when more homes are needed, fewer are being built.

Several economists question why the federal government would create more demand for services, when so many pillars of social infrastructure are in distress. They wonder if Ottawa is singularly focused on hitting its immigration targets, with insufficient planning for how to successfully absorb those newcomers.

For its part, the federal government says the solution to so many of these problems is simple: more immigration. They’re planning to bring in more doctors and nurses from abroad, along with people to build homes.

Many recent immigrants have waited years for admission. Now they’re arriving at a time of decades-high inflation and slowing economic growth. Highly-skilled newcomers will likely manage the transition just fine. But others are discovering the Canadian dream is a pricey proposition – and perhaps not what they bargained for.

Ash Gopalani knew Toronto would be expensive. Just not this expensive.

He and his wife, Sneha, arrived in September, after a stressful three-year process to get their permanent resident cards. Finding an apartment was the next hurdle. Too often, the listings were in cramped basements, with little natural light, or far removed from the city’s core or public transit.

Mr. Gopalani eventually signed a lease for a one-bedroom unit in the city’s west end for $1,800 a month, the top end of his expected range. What he didn’t anticipate was paying six months of rent – $10,800 – up front, because the couple from Mumbai has no credit history here. Now, they have less of a financial buffer as they search for jobs.

Mr. Gopalani was hoping to follow a familiar playbook for newcomers. Establish a career. Save up money. Then buy a house – preferably big enough that their family from India could stay a while.

But the experience of moving here has been a reality check.

“We don’t know if we can afford building a life in Canada,” he said.

The rental market is ground zero for where immigrants get a taste of the cost-of-living crisis, in which fierce competition and bidding wars for relatively few units have led to jacked-up prices.

For Alexiane Sauvaire, it was a rude awakening. She thought finding an apartment in Toronto would be easier than in her native Paris. After eight frustrating days of looking, following her arrival, she moved to Montreal.

“Maybe for rich people, it’s easy. But when you’re not rich, it’s impossible to live right now in Toronto,” she said.

Increasingly, recent immigrants are bypassing the largest metro areas – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – to settle elsewhere, although a slim majority still favour those regions, according to the latest census results. However, costs are rising quickly in other cities, too, as they experience fervent demand from migrating people.

Over the past year, the average rent in Calgary has jumped 18 per cent to around $1,720 a month, according to data for new listings on Rentals.ca. London, Ont., is up 26 per cent. Halifax: 21 per cent.

From a labour standpoint, the affordability crisis is making it difficult to recruit – and retain – important workers.

“There are very significant economic risks to large cities if they do not get housing costs under control,” Aled ab Iorwerth, deputy chief economist at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., said on a conference call this summer. “It’s getting increasingly difficult to attract skilled workers and even highly-skilled workers to these cities because they’re just becoming simply unaffordable.”

The task ahead is nothing short of gargantuan. CMHC says that, in order to restore affordability back to levels in 2003 and 2004, Canada would need to build 3.5 million morehomes than projected by 2030.

Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled billions in new spending for housing, with a goal of doubling construction over the next decade. That plan looks dead on arrival amid higher borrowing rates.

There is, of course, another problem: labour. In a recent report, CMHC said there were not enough skilled workers to build the homes so desperately needed.

“Even under more ideal conditions, I don’t think we have the capacity to build at a pace that matches the demand through population growth that we’re seeing,” said Shaun Hildebrand, president at real estate firm Urbanation.

Immigration lawyers have a blunt message: The application system is a mess.

And it’s a mess that was largely created in Ottawa.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (the federal immigration department) had around 2.2 million applications in its inventories as of Oct. 31. About 1.2 million of them were in backlog, meaning they’ve been in the system for longer than service standards for processing. That’s far higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The system is falling apart. I’ve never seen it like this, in the 20 years that I’ve been practising,” said Kerry Molitor, an immigration consultant in Toronto.

After failing to hit immigration targets in 2020, owing to pandemic challenges, the federal government wanted a rebound. Through various decisions, it invited thousands of people already in Canada to apply for permanent residency. The surge in applications overwhelmed a civil service that struggled to process files efficiently amid office closings and the shift to remote work.

In some cases, applicants are waiting years for a decision. Mr. Gopalani and his wife applied for permanent residency in the fall of 2019. They expected an approval within months, a typical outcome in their stream of immigration. They weren’t approved until July, 2022.

“The immigration system could have been more sensitive, empathetic, towards the kind of transition that people go through, which didn’t happen,” he said.

Because of the backlog, applicants such as Mr. Gopalani have put their lives on hold for years. Others are working in Canada, but their permits are nearing expiry, putting their future plans in doubt. These are individuals who, in Canada’s points-based system for economic immigrants, would often be shoo-ins for approval, but now are caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare.

There are “really good, quality people in the pool, and they’re not getting invitations,” said Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo. “What happens now when these folks leave? They say, ‘The hell with this, I’m going back to my country or the U.S. or wherever.’ Now you’re losing all that talent. That’s completely not what this process is supposed to be.”

Despite the administrative headaches, Canada is on pace to welcome 431,000 permanent residents this year, right on target. The trouble is that talented people are slipping through the cracks – and the immigration system is taking a beating in public opinion.

“There’s this massive psychological toll that the backlogs, the delays and the lack of transparency have on people,” said Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer in Toronto. “I don’t think IRCC bureaucrats and politicians understand how much suffering this has caused.”

For all of Ottawa’s talk of targeting the best and brightest, the federal government is also allowing more cheap foreign labour into the country. Earlier this year, it overhauled the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, largely so employers could access more low-wage labour.

Colleges and universities, meanwhile, are ramping up their intake of foreign students, who mostly don’t need work permits. Increasingly, those students are taking jobs to rack up points for their permanent residency applications.

Around 1.4 million people had temporary work or study permits at the end of 2021, an increase of 85 per cent since 2015. That’s 640,000 people – about equal to the city of Vancouver – who have been added in just six years. Their ranks are set to accelerate this year, after policy changes.

While Ottawa has targets for admissions of permanent residents, there are no such guidelines for other migrants. With students, the federal government has essentially ceded that responsibility to postsecondary institutions, which are inclined to boost their revenues through higher intake of foreign students, who pay lofty tuition fees.

“The number of foreign nationals who receive study permits in any given year is based on demand, not predetermined targets,” Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for IRCC, said in a statement.

An extreme example: Cape Breton University. Nearly 4,000 of its full-time students this fall had study visas, up a whopping 68 per cent from last year, according to preliminary survey data from the Association of Atlantic Universities. About three-quarters of CBU’s full-time students are from abroad. That’s injecting a surge of new demand for services in sleepy Sydney, N.S. (population: 31,000).

Gurmeet Singh, a second-year student, is trying to help people with their transition. He’s part of a volunteer group that verifies rental listings for incoming students. On average, the group gets three requests daily to check out potential residences. Mr. Singh visits those listings to see if they’re suitable for living – and if they exist.

Fraudulent listings are fairly common, Mr. Singh said; the group finds a scam every couple of days. “We felt it was our moral duty to help our fellow international students,” he said.

That’s not the only source of frustration. In local media this week, CBU students complained that a majority of classes in the two-year postbaccalaureate business program – a popular choice among foreign students – were being held in an unexpected venue: a Cineplex Inc. movie theatre off campus

Higher immigration is a guiding principle for this iteration of the federal Liberal Party.

Time and again, the party frames immigration as the antidote to an aging population, helping to grow the pool of labour market participants – and thus, too, the economy.

“Immigration is not just good for our economy, it’s essential. We can’t get by without it,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters at a recent news conference.

The truth is more complicated. A vast body of economic literature shows that immigration has little effect on gross domestic product per capita, a popular measure of living standards. Furthermore, while new immigrants are younger than existing residents, the intake is too meagre to offset a demographic wave of aging citizens.

This doesn’t mean immigration is bad for the economy. But it’s not an accelerant, either.

“Often, the argument is made as if it’s obvious that immigration generates economic growth,” said David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia. “Not if you look at the numbers.”

Of late, Ottawa has said various policy changes – including the expansion of the TFW program and allowing foreign postsecondary students to work longer hours – are aimed at easing labour shortages. This has led several economists to accuse the federal government of kowtowing to corporate pressure, flooding the job market with low-wage foreign labour, rather than forcing companies to hike wages or make investments.

“There’s lots of evidence that holding employers’ feet to the fire in times of tight labour markets is the best way to spur innovation, automation and productivity. Those are the things you want in an economy,” said Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, a think tank.

“And if you say to employers, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll let you bring in some low-priced temporary migrants to solve your problem,’ you’re just dissipating the pressure that’s required to achieve a more productive economy.”

Prof. Green questioned the need to admit half a million permanent residents in 2025, given the fragile state of Canada’s social infrastructure and the questionable economic rationale for that target.

“I don’t see the planning here,” he said. “Do you really want to ramp up to 500,000 a year, at a time when we seem to be heading into recession and our housing markets and our health care system are straining at the seams? That’s a discussion that should be had.”

By and large, surveys suggest Canadians welcome immigrants. A recent poll, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, found nearly seven in 10 respondents support current levels of immigration, about double the share in late 1970s. The vast majority of respondents – 85 per cent – agreed that immigration is positive for the economy, a view that has held strong for decades.

But Prof. Green suggests we shouldn’t take that for granted. If the country struggles to integrate newcomers, then perhaps Canadians will start to eye them suspiciously. “It’s politically dangerous, to my mind,” he said.

For now, that’s a worry. But it’s not the experience of Tanushree Holker and Nishant Kalia, who moved to Toronto from New Delhi in the summer of 2019. Their expectation of Canada as a welcoming country has checked out.

“That perception about Canada being a country which accepts immigrants with open arms, it is true when you come here,” Ms. Holker said.

The couple has shared their journey in Canada on YouTube; their channel, In The North, has nearly 100,000 subscribers, to whom they dispense their acquired wisdom on everything from buying a car to navigating a complex immigration system. Mr. Kalia started the channel after getting laid off early in the pandemic. He’s since built a career in human resources, while his wife works for a Big Six bank.

In recent videos, they’ve documented a major life change: They moved to Calgary. By doing so, they’re saving $350 a month on a similar-sized rental unit, and they expect to buy a home within six to nine months. Despite any number of financial complications, their version of the Canadian dream is going to plan.

“After we made our trip to Alberta, we realized that there is actually a life in Canada beyond Toronto and Vancouver,” Mr. Kalia said in a video. “To our surprise, [Calgary] was much better than we expected.”

Source: Canada wants to welcome 500,000 more immigrants in 2025. Can our country keep up?

Douglas Todd: Dramatic jump in guest workers hurts Canadians on low wages

Not sure where Todd is getting the numbers to state his case. The largest part of the increase actually happened under the Conservatives, 2007-15: from 92,000 to 234,000 (IMP), with only Temporary Foreign Workers showing a decline following the reversal of their facilitating their entry in response to business pressures (from 78,000 in 2007, rising to a peak of 104,000 in 2013 before declining to 60,000 in 2015).

The bulk of the Temporary Foreign Workers increase under the Liberal government has been with respect to agriculture workers (a doubling to 52,000, 2016-18), not fast food workers.

And while there are linkages with international students, better to focus on IMP and Temporary Foreign Workers in this kind of analysis:

A big jump in the number of guest workers is hurting low-wage employees and others across Canada, according to economists.

The number of non-permanent foreign workers arriving in Canada each year has doubled in the past decade, escalating particularly after the federal Liberal government was elected in 2015.

Partly as a result of the increasing flow of guest workers, UBC economist David Green and Carleton University’s Christopher Worswick say in a paper that new immigrants are doing “worse and worse” in regards to earned incomes. And it’s Canada’s low-wage workers who are suffering the most.

Even though businesses frequently lobby politicians to allow more guest employees, Green says the latest hikes are putting downward pressure on wages and threatening respect for workers. They’re exacerbating the kind of scenario, he said, that lead to the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s Brexit movement.

Saying it’s “truly dumb” for the federal government to continue boosting low-skilled guest workers in the country, Green emphasized the vast majority of Canadians don’t appear to be aware of the labour-market shift. “It’s totally under the radar.”

While temporary workers were initially billed as a way to rescue businesses that needed to make up short-term skill shortages in certain sectors, low-skill guest workers from overseas are now increasingly being brought in to staff fast-food restaurants, fill shelves at supermarkets and perform basic kitchen duties.

In the face of a 2013 backlash against the increased volume of foreign workers in Canada, former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney drastically cut their numbers. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has jacked up the totals much higher.

The new river of guest workers in Canada “releases the pressure on firms to provide better jobs, jobs where you have control over your time, where the pay is decent. It lets the steam off. And that pushes us toward a society that doesn’t respect workers so much,” said Green, a professor in the Vancouver school of economics and a fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

It’s difficult for the public to recognize that guest worker numbers have grown at a much faster pace than more-often discussed immigration levels, which have expanded by 30 per cent since 2015, with about 320,000 now being approved annually.

The official temporary foreign worker program, which attracted such controversy in the Conservatives’ era, has not greatly expanded. But other guest-worker efforts have.

One jump has come through the doubling of international students. In 2015 about 200,000 foreign students were arriving each year. By last year the number arriving annually on study visas had ballooned to more than 400,000. Most foreign students are allowed to work 20 hours a week, plus full-time during their summer or other breaks.

The least-known migration policy change, however, has arguably been the biggest one for the labour market. That is the fourfold expansion of the so-called “international mobility” program, about which few Canadians have heard.

In 2005 about 70,000 guest workers arrived under the “international mobility” category. But by 2018 Canada was accepting more than 250,000 in this category, which is typically made up of people on two-year visas, many of whom find jobs in the service sector.

Informally known as travellers on “holiday worker” visas, such employees are often associated with young Australians working at ski resorts like Whistler, or with British globe trotters serving beer in pubs in Vancouver or Toronto.

A UBC-backed website called Superdiversity, which has created interactive graphics based on immigration department data, shows the largest group of the more than 250,000 “international mobility” workers who arrived in Canada last year were from India, followed by those from the U.S., China, France and South Korea. Toronto took in about 70,000 international mobility workers in 2018, while Vancouver absorbed 30,000.

In line with the research of American economist Giovanni Peri and the University of Ottawa’s Pierre Brochu, Green described how owners of a Tim Horton’s franchise, a café or a supermarket often try to justify bringing in more guest workers by saying they can’t find anyone to fill the low-skill slot.

“So they go to their local MP and say, ‘I’m in trouble here. I can’t get enough workers for my front counter.’ The real response to them should be, ‘Well, pay them more.’ But it’s not the answer they want to hear, because they want to make more profit,” Green said.

Economists don’t really think it’s a problem that a fast-food restaurant owner or other service sector employer can’t hire workers at low wages, said Green. “When something is scarce, the price for it goes up and people and companies adjust. That’s the whole wonder of the capitalist system.”

The low-wage problem is exacerbated in places like Metro Vancouver, where the cost of renting or owning homes is extreme. Instead of offering decent living wages to the people who live here, Green said many bosses are inclined to hire “people who live in housing with five other foreign workers.”

A second trouble with Canadian companies increasingly relying on low-wage guest workers, Green said, is it leads to a more fearful workforce, incapable of demanding adherence to local labour standards or of forming a union.

“Everyone knows these guest workers have no rights. If they lose their jobs they’re gone. They’re not about to complain. Canadian firms are now not only getting just lower-wage workers these days, they’re getting very compliant workers,” said Green.

Even though a lot of commentators write off the supporters of Trump and Brexit as just “stupid people,” Green said, many have been workers who have felt that the promise of globalization, the transnational movement of capital and labour, has not benefited them.

“These are people who feel there was a deal promised to them, where everyone would share in the benefits of deregulation and a more flexible labour market,” said Green.

“But then governments did things like bring in more temporary foreign workers and those people are feeling like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ If you want people to feel like they have a share, don’t bring in somebody to replace them every time their wages start looking like they’re going to go up.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Dramatic jump in guest workers hurts Canadians on low wages

Immigration’s impact on Canadian economy cuts many ways for economists

Good summary of what the data shows, largely based on UBC economist David Green:

Are immigrants good for the Canadian economy?

Forty-five per cent of Canadians answer “yes” to this broad question, while 22 per cent say “no” and 33 per cent are not sure. There’s an argument to be made those who told Ipsos pollsters they don’t know are the most honest — and also the most realistic.

Most Canadians don’t follow the economists who track how immigration and temporary workers have an impact on Canada. If they did, they’d soon realize economists’ findings often conflict with the views championed by corporate executives and politicians.

Canada’s traditionally high immigration rates actually cut many unpredictable ways. The more than 300,000 immigrants and 700,000 temporary migrants recently arriving in the country help expand the overall economic pie. But to most economists that doesn’t mean much.

Economists, instead, mine data to discover whether average wages rise or fall because of migration, which types of migrants do best, whether a foreign education or offshore work translates to Canadian success and how much it matters to be proficient in English or French.

UBC economist David Green says it can be misleading to emphasize the gross domestic product. Yet I’d suggest it’s what almost half of Canadians are probably thinking about when they tell pollsters immigration is good for the economy.

“The size of the whole economy is not really what we care about. What we really care about is per capita income. We care about how much each one of us gets in income,” Green said in an interview.

“Think about whether you’d rather be living in India or living here, just in terms of your material wealth. India, in terms of GDP, is bigger than us. But in terms of GDP per capita we’re way ahead of them. So you’d rather be in a rich society than a big society.”

Designing immigration policies mainly to boost the GDP “makes little sense,” Green says. That is, unless you’re a business owner who wants a bigger market for your product (such as real estate or automobiles) and more choice in who you can hire.

Here’s a second lesson from economists: When it comes to what really matters for most Canadians — per capita wages — Green explains the impact of immigration is over time “very close to zero.”

The extreme boosters or critics of immigration, as a result, may have to tone down their rhetoric in light of findings by Green and others that, overall, immigrants neither “steal jobs” nor “magically grow them either.”

Here are eight other discoveries economists have made about migration:

New immigrants aren’t doing as well in Canada as in the 1980s

Historical graphs show immigrants’ earnings, compared to that of the native-born in Canada, were strongest in the 1980s and declined precipitously until about 2003, when they slowly began improving.

There are two reasons for this decline in the 1990s, says Green. One is that all new entrants to Canada’s labour market, including domestic-born, struggled with lower wages during that period. The other is that fewer immigrants came from Europe.

Language matters, a lot

Economic studies have consistently shown the most successful immigrants to Canada are those who are adept at English or French. “There is a positive correlation between language skills and earnings,” says Green.

Source country also makes a difference

“People from source countries where English or French is not the main language, or with different educational institutions, do less well in the Canadian economy … compared to immigrants from Northern Europe or the U.S.,” says Green.

When Australia introduced stricter language testing of immigrants, economist Andrew Clarke and others found immigrants earned higher incomes. But that could be because the new language demands led to more people going to Australia from Europe.

Foreign degrees not quite as valuable as Canadian degrees

Immigrants with a foreign degrees don’t always gain greatly from it, unless they’re literate in French or English, according to economist Joseph Schaafsma.

“The implication is that, on average, immigrants have lower returns on education because their education skills are not as productive in the Canadian economy,” says Green, who nevertheless adds it’s still valuable to select educated immigrants.

It might help if Canadian officials improved efforts to recognize the credentials of people trained outside the country, Green says, “but it won’t be a panacea.”

Offshore work experience doesn’t pay off as expected

This is a harsh reality for many new immigrants.

“Foreign-acquired work experience obtains a zero return in Canada,” both Green and Carleton’s Christopher Worswick discovered. Work skills that immigrants develop in their home countries might not be as useful in the Canadian labour market as they would like.

While it’s hard to pin down exactly why immigrants do not benefit greatly from work experience in a foreign land, Green says it could partly be attributed to “discrimination.” But it’s also a result of old-country experience not easily transferring to a new land.

There are winners and losers in migration

Although the across-the-board impact of immigration on Canadian wages is flat, some low-wage workers can get hit.

American economist Giovanni Peri is among those who have found that relatively recent immigrants can be financially hurt when a new wave of immigrants arrives soon after them.

Although U.S. evidence doesn’t translate easily to Canada, it suggests immigration can have a negative impact on the wages of lower-skilled workers, including both immigrants and the native-born. Some domestic workers adjust by moving into jobs that require strong English-language skills.

There can also be negative impacts on the wages of those in the host society when temporary workers come to Canada, says the University of Ottawa’s Pierre Brochu. The number of temporary workers in Canada, including the low-skilled, has roughly doubled since the 2015 election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Immigrants tend to pay less in taxes

Since immigrants start in Canada with earnings that are below the national average before they gradually catch up, Green says it “implies they will tend, on average, to contribute less to the public purse.”

Immigrants lean to self-employment and small businesses

Even though commentators point to the way immigrants appear slightly more likely than the native-born to “create businesses,” the trend is a bit more complicated.

“We find that immigrants are more likely to open firms, but they are much more likely to be spells of self-employment, rather than incorporated firms that employ others,” says Green. “And even the incorporated firms tend to be small.”

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Although the financial data is not all rosy for immigrants to Canada, it doesn’t mean most don’t benefit from leaving their homeland.

Most economists agree nearly all immigrants gain tremendously by moving to a high-wage country such as Canada from their own countries, which typically offer lower wages and are often dysfunctional.

What’s more, the United Nations’ Happiness Report, co-run by UBC economist David Helliwell, finds that immigrants who move from “unhappy” countries (where residents report low rates of life satisfaction) to happier ones such as Canada soon end up as happy as the host society.

In addition, many immigrants make their life-changing move to a new land as part of a long game for their families, so their children can get better educations and grow up in more stable societies and stronger economies.

Indeed, Statistics Canada studies reveal the offspring of immigrants do far better than the native-born in both obtaining university degrees and high-skilled jobs. Says Green: “There are potential gains to Canada as whole from the second generation.”

Many people make sweeping generalizations for and against immigration, but instead of going with bombast, economists show the truth is in the details.

Source: Immigration’s impact on Canadian economy cuts many ways for economists

Todd: High migration might trim wages … in some places, in some jobs

Valid notes of caution by the economists cited:

University of B.C. economists Craig Riddell and David Green, and Carleton University’s Christopher Worswick, caution both boosters and critics of high in-migration to temper their rhetoric.

The economists could have been referring to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who on Nov. 1 pushed up immigration levels while showcasing a prosperous newcomer family.

“Our ambitious plan,” Hussen said, “will benefit all Canadians because immigration contributes to our economic growth and keeps our country competitive in a global economy.”

The federal Liberals’ target for immigrants in 2020 is 340,000, which is a 36 per cent jump from 250,000 in 2014.

Without publicizing it, Ottawa has also sharply increased the number of temporary workers. The number of non-permanent residents in Canada last year, 891,000, was more than twice the total in 2006. 

More than 330,000 of them are international students. Another 55,000 are temporary foreign workers, while 289,000 are “international mobility” workers.

Metro Vancouver gets almost 30,000 immigrants each year, in addition to being home to 130,000 non-permanent residents, mostly international students (who also get work visas).

The economists focused on immigration rates, not necessarily temporary workers, in concluding that “increased immigration inflows have small impacts on wages and employment in the medium to long run.”

The UBC economists, however, caution that “immigration cannot be relied upon as a source of higher per capita incomes.”

In a major article in Policy Options, the three economists warn “it is important not to get distracted by individual stories of successful immigrant entrepreneurs. They certainly do exist, but that is not really relevant.”

The economists challenge the immigration minister’s claim that increasing immigration rates “will help us ease the great challenges of the coming years, such as … labour shortages linked to Canada’s aging population.”

It’s not possible to replace the aging baby-boomers, the economists say. “The results are definitive: Immigration is not a means to substantially alter Canada’s age structure and impending increase in the dependence ratio. Inflows of immigrants are just too varied in their age structure.”

Similarly, SFU’s Wu Qiyan says bringing new people to Canada’s major cities is a “double-edged sword.”

At one level, Wu said, an influx of newcomers into Toronto and Vancouver can “create less job opportunities for locals,” while raising rents and housing costs.

On the other hand, Wu said, more people “can also create more opportunities,” by increasing consumers and businesses.

UBC economist Thomas Lemieux said the question of whether more immigrants and temporary residents reduce wages is one of the most controversial in his field, particularly in light of rising nativist movements in the U.S., Europe and Quebec.

Lemieux’s own research focuses on how immigrants themselves fare in Canada’s labour market, with the general conclusion being they’re doing worse financially than in the 1990s.

Newcomers from Europe “tend to do much better” than those from India and other South Asian countries, Lemieux said, “even while there are fewer and fewer coming from Europe.”

Virtually every labour economist says the Canadian public and prospective immigrants deserve more research into, and more robust discussion of, the links among immigration, non-permanent workers, economics and wages.

With Canadian politicians making the country a unique global experiment in mass migration, few issues call out for more investigation.

via Todd: High migration might trim wages … in some places, in some jobs | Vancouver Sun