The Goals of Canada's Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective

By Green, Alan G.; David, Green | Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Goals of Canada's Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective


Green, Alan G., David, Green, Canadian Journal of Urban Research


Abstract

An examination of the historical development of key institutional features of Canada's immigration policy can provide a basis for interpreting recent policy changes. The history of Canada's immigration policy has been defined by an ongoing battle between proponents of using immigration for long term (economic growth and demographic) goals and proponents of using it for short-term (current labour market) goals. In the past, a concern with the "absorptive capacity" of the economy has affected immigration levels, with alternating periods of large inflows targeted at specific economic goals and periods of drastic cutbacks in numbers during economic downturns. By abandoning the concept of absorptive capacity, as traditionally defined, Canada's current immigration policy is dramatically different from historical norms. This is signalled most clearly by the failure to cut back the number of immigrants during the labour market difficulties of the 1990s. Current policy appears to be based on the idea that immigration generates economic growth and thus represents a victory for the proponents of the long term view of immigration policy. Unfortunately, the government provides little evidence to support the claim that long term growth benefits offset short term costs in a poor labour market. Questions, therefore, remain about why the shift in policy has occurred.

Keywords: Immigration, Policy, Canada, History

Resume

Afin de mieux comprendre les recents changements de la politique d'immigration canadienne il importe d'analyser le developpement historique de la politique d'immigration du Canada. Le developpement historique de la politique d'immigration du Canada est caraeterise par une tension entre les partisans qui concoit l'immigration a long terme (la croissance economique et demographique) et les partisans qui concoit l'immigration a court terme (le marche du travail actuel). De par le passe, la preoecupation concernant la capacite d'absorption de l'economie a influence les quotas annuels d'immigration. Ainsi, le Canada a alterne entre des periodes de haut taux d'immigration associees a des buts economiques specifiques et des periodes de faible taux d'immigration au cours de recessions economiques. En abandonnant le concept de capacite d'absorption, la politique d'immigration actuelle du Canada differe radicalement des normes historiques. Ce constat est d'autant evident etant donne que le Canada n'a pas reduit le nombre d'immigrants pendant les difficultes economiques du marche du travail des annees 1990. La politique actuelle semble done etre base sur l'idee que l'immigration contribue a la eroissance eeonomique. Si tel est le cas, cette position represente ainsi une victoire pour les partisans qui congoivent I'immigration a long terme. Malheureusement, le gouvernement fournit peu de preuve pour soutenir la revendication que les benefices de croissanee a long terme eompensent les depenses b. court terme dans un marche du travail appauvri.

Mots cles: Immigration, politique, Canada, histoire

**********

Immigration policy in Canada is a complex entity consisting of an interconnected set of guidelines, regulations and actions by government agents. It is often difficult to determine what the main goal of the policy is, especially since so much of it is set out of the public eye. In this paper, we try to cut through this Gordian knot by starting from the point at which its individual components were first tied. Then by working forward in time, noting when new elements were added and others dropped, we hope to present an understandable picture of what the different components of immigration policy do and why they are important. Further, we can observe how particular components were emphasized or de-emphasized as various policy goals were pursued. With that evidence in hand, we will be in a position to evaluate the current bundle of regulations and directives, and so, hopefully, to untangle the direction in which current immigration policy is moving.

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