Canada has a long history of accepting immigrants. Its immigration policies have changed over the years, reflecting political trends. Generally, the policies have been flexible, allowing quick responses to emergency situations.
Canada's immigration policy bears a few hallmarks. One is its emphasis on absorptive capacity. Another is its non-discriminatory policy. Its regulatory system also stands out. Canada has traditionally adjusted its policies in response to its ability to absorb immigrants. Whenever unemployment has increased, Canada has limited immigration in an effort to increase job availability to current residents. It has also encouraged immigrants who perform specific jobs, in response to demands for more workers in specific occupations. Since the 1960s, Canada has implemented a non-discriminatory policy, allowing equal access to immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds. The policy is reflected by its fair distribution of immigrants from different countries.
The 1960s also saw the start of a broad regulatory system. Applicants are given different admission standards, based upon the categories into which they are divided. Those who apply based on family ties or refugee status are screened entirely according to those claims. Independent applicants are screened under the point system. Until 1993, refugees and those with family ties were given top processing priority.
Immigration to Canada became popular during the last decades of the 19th century. From 1870 to 1913, immigration policy was a part of national policy. All of Canada's provinces saw rapid economic growth and settlement of the West. Three new transcontinental railways and a beneficial land policy encouraged immigrants to move west.
As a whole, the policy was meant to unify the country, with manufacturers from the East selling products to the West. People in the West mined natural resources. Immigrants from the United States and overseas were welcomed, with no concern about the immigrant's country of origin. The high demand for laborers in forestry and mining further drove the immigration policy.
The policy changed in 1910, when control over the level of immigration and source countries of immigration was given to the Cabinet. From 1919 to 1929, immigrants from preferred countries were admitted openly. Britain, the U.S., Ireland, Newfoundland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand were preferred countries. Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe faced greater scrutiny. Immigrants from other countries had to be sponsored by a relative.
In the 1930s and 1940s, economic pressures led to a virtual halt in immigration. In 1931, the high unemployment rate caused Canada to close its doors. From 1931 until the end of World War II, immigration fell to nearly zero. Exceptions to the rule were British subjects or United States citizens with a proven ability to support themselves. Farmers with capital were also accepted. Post-World War II, Canada's immigration policy underwent a sea change. The government decided to foster the growth of Canada's population by encouraging immigration.
Among the populations welcomed were Polish war veterans, Dutch farm families, displaced war refugees, and Northwestern European people who performed various trades. The welcoming attitude did not extend to all populations. In 1950, those who wished to immigrate from Germany, Austria, Greece, and Finland were accepted only if they could perform certain trades. Those professions included agriculturists, domestics, and nurses. In 1956, the range was broadened to all Europeans whose professional training met Canada's labor market needs.
From 1960 to 1973, Canadian immigration again underwent a change. New guidelines granted dependents, such as spouses, children, and aged parents, top priority. Those with apparent means to support themselves in Canada were more likely to be accepted. Regulations preferential to immigration from particular countries were lifted.
The next period of time in immigration history, 1974 to 1985, saw waves of immigration and periods of inactivity. A 1978 Immigration Act gave priority to reuniting relatives of Canadian citizens, and upholding Canada's humanitarian beliefs by accepting refugees. Rather than fulfilling economic goals by targeting immigrants with specific occupations, Canada focused on helping those in need. Some immigrants without refugee status or family ties were processed and admitted, but only if they had prearranged employment.
Following the recession of the early 1980s, the Conservative government reviewed immigration policy. Leaders became concerned by Canada's low fertility rates and the forecast of a population decline. They also decided that immigration should be focused on fulfilling economic needs, so people from all professions should be accepted. At the same time, they warned against halting their humanitarian forms of accepting immigrants. Immigration would support growth in Canada, both physically and financially.
1995 brought a new policy framework with new immigrant strategies. Immigration levels were to be maintained at 1% of the level of the entire population. Immigrants with relatives in Canada would be allowed to enter in equal amounts with those who applied without family contacts. Once again, immigration to Canada became a source of economic growth, fulfilling the needs of the labor market.