Immigration Lessons From Our Northern Neighbor?

True or False: Canada has a higher foreign-born population, per capita, than the United States?  Surprisingly, it’s true and it speaks to the lessons the U.S. might learn on how to integrate immigrants into their economies.

While the United States has long had the image around the world as the refuge of the “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning”, its increasingly arcane and complex immigration system is coming under fire as inefficient in a global economy where labor, just as much as capital, is flowing freely across borders.  More business leaders and policymakers are arguing that immigrants, especially those with in demand skills, are needed to fuel economic growth.

Canada has already caught on to this trend and is taking advantage of gaps in the American system.  Look no further than canadavisa.com, where one of the main links is for foreigners in America on a H1-B or temporary work visa and how they can be fast tracked for Canadian immigration.  Canada, of course offers many of the same things to immigrants the U.S. does: a high standard of living, an advanced economy, rule of law, peace and safety.  In addition, Canada has made a concerted effort to use immigration to directly fill gaps in its labor force, something the US has yet to do.  To determine who is granted a permanent visa, Canada has a simple point system that awards points for things like level of education, occupational skills, language ability, and others factors relevant to productivity.  Only 22% of its immigration was for family reasons (i.e. reuniting mothers with children, brothers with sisters, etc.) while about two thirds of all permanent visas were granted for economic reasons.  In the U.S., the inverse is true: Only 13% of green cards last year were doled out for economic reasons, while two-thirds were for family reunions.

The StartUp Act 2.0, currently being deliberated in both houses of Congress, contains provisions that shift the immigration paradigm in the U.S. towards a more economic view.  The Act would create a new visa for immigrants who graduate from U.S. universities with a master’s degree or doctorate in STEM fields and also create an entrepreneur’s visa to enable immigrants with capital to start businesses and create jobs in the U,S,, rather than returning home to do it.

The U.S. faces both demographic changes (aging and shrinking labor force) and economic forces (e.g. a shortage of STEM workers) that can be solved by a smart immigration policy.  As of now, the US is educating and accepting intelligent and hard-working immigrants temporarily, who are then forced to either return home or go to a country like Canada, where they create jobs and contribute to growth.

Posted by: Sean Norris

Sources: CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

Photo Credit: Citizenship Ceremony courtesy of flickr user mars_discovery_district

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