For decades, Canada has been considered an international leader in welcoming and integrating newcomers. New data shows this long-established reputation of openness may no longer hold true.
The new data from the Migrant Integration Policy Index, or MIPEX, which will be officially released at Ryerson University on Wednesday, reveals that Canada’s performance has declined. This is Canada’s first dip since it was added to the index in 2008.
The one-point drop marks a turning point in our trajectory as a leader among countries that welcome immigrants. And it is likely only the start. It comes at the end of a decade of seismic change in Canadian immigration, thanks to the governing Conservatives, the results of which we are only beginning to see.
MIPEX is a benchmark tool compiled in consultation with scholars and institutions from 38 countries measuring laws and policies under 167 policy indicators on migrant integration.
Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels, which compiles the index scores and has been tracking international performance since 2006, says, “Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies.”
Over the last year, the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement and the Global Diversity Exchange contributed to the index by collecting information on newcomer integration along a range of social and political dimensions.
It has been found that, especially on the issues of family reunification and access to citizenship, Canada is moving backwards.
Becoming a Canadian is harder now than it was just a few years ago. The MIPEX scores indicate a steady decline in “access to nationality” from 71 points (out of a maximum of 100) in 2010 to 67 points in 2015.
This poor performance reflects recent and successive policy changes under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives since 2006. For example Ottawa has raised the fee for citizenship applications to more than $500 for an adult (a mark-up of 430 per cent since 2013) and made the citizenship test more difficult to pass. If those holding dual citizenship are deemed to have committed certain crimes against the state, Ottawa is now able to revoke Canadian citizenship with minimal formalities.
The government’s choice of revoking citizenship as opposed to using the existing criminal justice system is an indication of its tendency to view immigrants as something less than Canadians. Harper has gone on record to say that Canada has no intention of creating an underclass of immigrants. Actions speak louder than words.
The Conservatives’ restrictive policies have led to fewer immigrants becoming Canadian citizens. Only 26 per cent of immigrants who landed in Canada in 2008 became Canadian citizens in 2014 as opposed to 79 per cent in 2000. This becomes a problem when non-citizens are paying taxes, sending their children to school, and are committed to Canada.
Although Canada has traditionally scored high on family reunification, its scores are declining there too. Of particular concern, the score measuring eligibility for sponsoring family members dropped from 79 in 2010 to 64 in 2015.
It is now more difficult for immigrants to sponsor family. In 2013, Canada admitted almost 80,000 newcomers or 27 per cent of all immigrants to Canada, under the family stream. These immigrants are crucial to a successful settlement and integration experience because they provide social supports ranging from supplementary income to daycares and emotional assistance.
Recently, Ottawa has made numerous changes to family reunification policies including raising the sponsorship commitment from 10 to 20 years, increasing the income requirement for sponsoring parents and grandparents by 30 per cent, and instituting a longer period during which a sponsor must meet this requirement.
The younger generation too will find joining their families in Canada more difficult. The federal government reduced the age of dependants from 22 to 19, and exceptions for full-time students or financially dependent children are no longer available.
Canada’s story of exceptionalism is widely regarded by others as a model in how it manages immigration and succeeds in integrating immigrants. However, the evidence now portrays another story, one that is somewhat more tarnished than we know.
The new data signals a shift and encourages us to reflect on the most alarming trends and redirect where necessary. But there is some good mixed in with the bad. Canada still leads in labour market integration, anti-discrimination and creating a sense of belonging for newcomers.
Canadians have until the Fall to reflect whether the current policy direction under the governing Conservatives is the preferred choice. A federal election will take place on October 19, 2015.