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 “a key positive feature of Canada as a country.” About 1 Canadian in 6 disagrees (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 immigration should be increased, while nearly 4 in 10 (38.9 percent) believe present levels should be maintained. One in 3 (32.4 percent) believes immigration should be decreased (question 2).

While these conflicting findings might appear counterintuitive, 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 present economic cycle, coming out of a severe recession, they are more supportive of the status quo. In other words, immigration 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 “immigration 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 language and labour-market support to help immigrants settle in Canada, 2 Canadians in 3 agree (45.8 percent) or somewhat agree that they should (19.9 percent). Only 3 in 10 disagree (24.5 percent) or somewhat disagree (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 foreign workers “should enjoy the same rights as other workers” (question 5). While this finding is quite striking, it is also logically consistent in the sense that Canadians understand 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 predicament of guest workers.

Canadians also believe that, by and large, immigrants fit in well. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is “do not blend in at all” and 5 is “blend in completely,” 2 in 3 feel that immigrants 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 disagreed (21.0 percent) or somewhat disagreed (4.2 percent) (question 7). This response could be subject to current 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 caution that in difficult times, such as those we have recently experienced, Canadians generally do not want immigration levels to be increased.


Photo: dennizn / Shutterstock

Nik Nanos
Nik Nanos leads Nanos Research, which conducts research in Canada and the United States. He is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and a research associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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