Canadians overwhelmingly support immigration and see it as a positive feature of our country, but a strong majority believes immigration should be maintained at the current rate of nearly 250,000 per year or decreased.

These are the principal findings of the latest Nanos Research poll for Policy Options, conducted by telephone with 1,008 randomly selected Canadians between May 29 and June 3, 2010.

Four Canadians in 5 agree (65.3 percent) or somewhat agree (16.1 percent) that immigration is ”œa key positive fea- ture of Canada as a country.” About 1 Canadian in 6 dis- agrees (11.8 percent) or somewhat disagrees (4.2 percent) with this statement (question 1).

Yet when asked if immigration levels should be increased, decreased or maintained at present levels, Canadians are much more ambivalent. Only 1 in 5 (21.4 percent) believes immigra- tion should be increased, while nearly 4 in 10 (38.9 percent) believe present levels should be maintained. One in 3 (32.4 per- cent) believes immigration should be decreased (question 2).

While these conflicting findings might appear counter- intuitive, they are logically consistent with the current economic cycle. In good times, with the economy growing, Canadians would likely be more supportive of bringing in as many immigrants as there are jobs to be filled. In the pres- ent economic cycle, coming out of a severe recession, they are more supportive of the status quo. In other words, immi- gration is a good thing, but we don’t want too much of a good thing.

Just as Canadians regard immigration as a positive feature of the country, they also regard it as vital to strengthening the economy. Seven Canadians in 10 agree (51.8 percent) or somewhat agree (18.5 percent) that ”œimmigration is one of the key tools Canada can use to strengthen the economy.” Only 1 in 4 disagrees (18.9 percent) or somewhat disagrees (6.6 percent) with this assertion (question 3).

Canadians also evince a high degree of sympathy for the difficulties immigrants encounter in settling in a new land. When we asked if governments should do more through lan- guage and labour-market support to help immigrants settle in Canada, 2 Canadians in 3 agree (45.8 percent) or some- what agree that they should (19.9 percent). Only 3 in 10 dis- agree (24.5 percent) or somewhat dis- agree (6.2 percent) (question 4).

And to a remarkable degree, Canadians are also sympathetic to the plight of temporary foreign workers in terms of their access to benefits to employment insurance and workers’ compensation.

Seven Canadians in 10 agree (55.4 percent) or somewhat agree (15.7 percent) that temporary for- eign workers ”œshould enjoy the same rights as other workers” (question 5). While this finding is quite strik- ing, it is also logically consistent in the sense that Canadians under- stand visiting workers are likely the least fortunate in the labour force, enjoying none of the benefits of our wealthy society, even as their fruit of their labours " often quite literally " helps Canadians enjoy a better life. This likely explains the high degree of empathy for the predica- ment of guest workers.

Canadians also believe that, by and large, immigrants fit in well. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is ”œdo not blend in at all” and 5 is ”œblend in completely,” 2 in 3 feel that immi- grants blend in here, rating 3 through 5 on a 5-point scale, while 3 in 10 think new permanent immigrants do not blend in at all (9.2 percent) or blend in very little (19.8 percent) (question 6).

Finally, when we asked if Canadians should be allowed to hold dual citizenship, 7 in 10 agreed (58.9 percent) or somewhat agreed (11.8 percent). One Canadian in 4 dis- agreed (21.0 percent) or somewhat disagreed (4.2 percent) (question 7). This response could be subject to cur- rent events, such as the hostilities between the Israelis and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, when the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade spent millions of dollars evacuating dual citizens of Canada and Lebanon during. In other words, Canadians likely support the right of other Canadians to hold another passport, provided taxpayers are not significantly burdened by it.

Overall, the results of this poll are very positive on immigration and related issues, subject only to the cau- tion that in difficult times, such as those we have recently experienced, Canadians generally do not want immigration levels to be increased.