Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

TORONTO, THE 'MOST MULTICULTURAL CITY IN THE WORLD' Series: PITTSBURGH'S NEW IMMIGRANTS

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

TORONTO, THE 'MOST MULTICULTURAL CITY IN THE WORLD' Series: PITTSBURGH'S NEW IMMIGRANTS

Article excerpt

TORONTO - To get a quick view of the demographic divide between this bustling Canadian city and Pittsburgh, just drop by the Urban Eatery in the city's Eaton Centre on any weekday lunch hour.

The 980 seats are filled with customers whose faces reflect every hue of the human tapestry. Mandarin and Tagalog mix with English and Farsi as diners chatter with each other. And the food shops range from standbys like KFC and Subway to counters offering shrimp tom yum, chicken shawarma, nabeyaki udon and Moroccan stew.

While Pittsburgh, with a metro population of 2.4 million, sits at the lower end of American regions with a foreign-born population of just 4 percent, nearly half of the Toronto region's 5.6 million residents were born in another country. The nation's 2011 census said that 2.4 million people, or 45 percent of the region's total population, was foreign born.

The influx of immigrants shows no signs of peaking. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of newcomers to Ontario, the province in which Toronto sits, jumped by more than half a million, or 16 percent.

While Indian and Chinese immigrants have accounted for nearly a third of Toronto's recent newcomers, the region is incredibly diverse, with more than 230 ethnic groups. "In my opinion, Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world," said Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Ryerson Maytree Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University in Toronto.

There are two primary reasons for the stark difference in the immigration patterns of Toronto and Pittsburgh.

One is the fact that in Canada, where about a fifth of the overall population is immigrants, most newcomers head for one of three cities - Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto, Canada's largest city.

The other is Canada's immigration policy, which adopted a different, more proactive approach to welcoming newcomers in the 1970s.

About that time, Canada began using a point system to decide which immigrants to admit to the country, based on an applicant's educational credentials, ability to speak English or French, work experience and age. The policy allows successful applicants to bring their dependents with them, but unlike the U.S. immigration policy, it does not make reuniting family members the top priority for whom to let in.

The result has been a higher-skilled group of newcomers than in America. Not only has Canada not faced the challenge of millions of less educated immigrants crossing the border from a poorer country like Mexico, but its point system means that nearly 44 percent of immigrants between 2003 and 2012 had a bachelor's degree or greater. In the United States, about 30 percent of all adult immigrants have that level of education.

The main thrust of the law over the last 40 years, said Ms. Omidvar, is that "we decided to do away with place-based immigration, based on ethnicity and race, [and emphasized] immigration based on some kind of assessable competencies. We have gone out to select the best and brightest in the world with a deliberate blindness to source country."

Immigration debates

That doesn't mean that Canada has no immigration problems or controversies, though.

Joe Mihevc, a pro-immigration Toronto city councillor, believes it still takes far too long for Canadian immigrants to become citizens.

"The Canadian government has made becoming a citizen a long and arduous process," said Mr. Mihevc, sitting in his office in the modernistic Toronto City Hall. "While there's only a three-year wait" to apply for citizenship, "there's another three to four years of investigations and background checks, and in the meantime you've paid all this property tax and you're made to feel you're an outsider."

Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, feels there is still worrisome discrimination against many newcomers to Canada. …

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