Canadian Immigration History

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.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Goals of Canada's Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective
Green, Alan G.; David, Green.
Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, Summer 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
State-Society Relations in the Making of Canadian Immigration Policy during the Mulroney Era [*]
Veugelers, John W. P.
The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 37, No. 1, February 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
North to Canada: Men and Women against the Vietnam War
James Dickerson.
Praeger Publishers, 1999
All American Boys: Draft Dodgers in Canada from the Vietnam War
Frank Kusch.
Praeger, 2001
Post-War Immigrants in Canada
Anthony H. Richmond.
University of Toronto, 1967
Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective
Wayne A. Cornelius; Philip L. Martin; James F. Hollifield.
Stanford University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Countries of Immigration: The United States and Canada"
Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Venturing Abroad in the Age of Globalization
Robert Kloosterman; Jan Rath.
Berg, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Canada: A False Consensus?"
Transnational Geographies: Indian Immigration to Canada
Walton-Roberts, Margaret.
The Canadian Geographer, Vol. 47, No. 3, Autumn 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A New Lease on Life: Landlords, Tenants, and Immigrants in Ireland and Canada
Catharine Anne Wilson.
McGill-Queens University Press, 1994
Fleeing the Famine: North America and Irish Refugees, 1845-1851
Margaret M. Mulrooney.
Praeger, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "An Unprecedented Influx: Nativism and Irish Famine Immigration to Canada"
Reluctant Exiles? Migration from Hong Kong and the New Overseas Chinese
Ronald Skeldon; Wang Gungwu.
M. E. Sharpe, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Part III "Canada"
The African Diaspora in Canada: Negotiating Identity and Belonging
Wisdom J. Tettey; Korbla P. Puplampu.
University of Calgary Press, 2005
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