The U.S. has had trouble passing immigration reform for years. It seems that every time they come close to a solution, one side of the debate or the other derails the process. However, if they do pass new laws that make it easier for temporary foreign workers to enter the U.S., this could have a significant impact on immigration to Canada.
In an article this week from the National Journal, Fawn Johnson discusses the White House’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Amongst other things, she indicates that the plan will include:
1. a path to U.S. citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants,
2. a new temporary-visa programs for low-skilled foreign workers when American workers aren’t available,
3. mandating electronic verification of all new hires, and
4. giving more green cards to foreign math and science graduates at U.S. universities.
If a plan passes that would allow for #2 and #4 to happen, this could severely affect the pipeline of immigrants to Canada.
A number of years ago, Microsoft announced that it was shifting jobs from the U.S. to Canada because of the limited availability of visas for foreigners to work in the U.S. In fact, this lack of visas in the U.S. became so acute that Alberta, for a period of time, introduced an Alberta immigration program targeting U.S. visa holders.
If the U.S. opens up its immigration system to temporary and permanent immigrants, Canada could be in for some tough competition. Last summer, I wrote an op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled Foreigners are valued customers. In that article, I argued that as the economies in countries such as India, China and the Philippines improve, these countries will stop being net exporters of immigrants but will be net importers of people.
If the U.S. opens up their system, Canada will have to compete with a country which is bigger and, by reputation, offers greater opportunity. As well, for many countries, the U.S. is the first country of destination for immigrants. In terms of historical ties, U.S. ties to a country like the Philippines – a major source country for immigrants to Canada – go back to the 1800s. Also, and this should not be underestimated, the fact that most of the U.S. is warmer than Canada will have an impact.
Canada still has time to make itself the destination of choice for immigrants. With recent reforms to the system, it looks like we are well on the way to doing so. However, Canada must realize that we are in a competition with other countries. Immigration to a country, like almost anything, is a commodity. We need customers to buy.