Despite their success, Canadian immigration and settlement policies are producing some unintended negative effects on post-secondary education, housing, the labour market, and visa and immigration processes. Because these areas are interrelated, when one becomes compromised, others are also affected.
The number of scams, false claims and fake documents in the immigration and temporary workers’ permits process points to this issue. While there appear to be no hard statistics, media accounts and government warnings indicate they are an issue.
Canada is a world leader in accepting immigration. In the past few years, it has been adding about one per cent of its population yearly by immigration. In 2022, apart from permanent immigrants (437,000), the number of non-permanent residents increased by a net of more than 607,000, some of whom were admitted as temporary workers and/or international students. Canada’s population increased by more than a million people, largely as a result of a surge in immigration and temporary residents. The federal government is aiming to add 1.5 million more immigrants by 2025.
So far, these policies seem to have worked out. There is strong support for increased immigration among Canadians. Environics Institute’s recent survey shows that seven in 10 support the present level of immigration, though there is some recognition of the challenges arising from it.
One of these challenges is false documents, which tend to follow the priorities of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). For example, if the protection of people persecuted because of sexual orientation in a country is the priority, suddenly claims in that area increase. Some immigrant consultants, as well as human smugglers, tutor and manufacture documents to support such claims.
A recent story in the Toronto Star found that as many as 700 Indian students were admitted to study in Canada on fake admission letters. They lived and found places in different colleges for years before it became known that the letters were bogus. A regulatory body for immigration consultants, the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants, has had limited success in supressing such practices.
The post-secondary education sector’s structure and purposes have been widely compromised by the drive to recruit international students. Universities, and especially colleges, including private colleges, have come to depend on the international student enrolment fees. Access to higher learning may only be partially the motivating factor behind the scramble for foreigners trying to access Canadian post-secondary education.
Being an international student also opens the door to permanent residency in Canada. This is a big draw for students from abroad. It has been turned into a business by some post-secondary institutions. Even Ontario’s auditor general has identified the dependence on these fees as a vulnerable point in post-secondary educational finances.
About 500,000 international students contributed $16.2 billion in 2017 and $19.7 billion in 2018 to this country’s GDP and supported more than 218,000 jobs in 2018. These international students are also being used as a cheap way to combat labour shortages. Recent rule changes allow some international students to work up to 40 hours a week while attending classes. This is to serve the need of the labour market, rather than advance international students’ education. To accommodate their schedule, institutions are arranging classes in the evenings and on weekends. In Toronto, for example, young South Asians dominate the landscape working as delivery workers and van drivers. If they are students, one wonders how much time they can spend on their studies after working a full-time job.
The enrolment of large numbers of international students affects the quality of educational programs in post-secondary institutions. International students generally add to the quality of learning experiences. Many international students are among the brightest. But the aggressive recruitment — combined with studies becoming a path to permanent residence and employment — have affected the classroom. Classes dominated by students from abroad with wide variations of language skills and motivation inhibit discussion and compromise learning. This is hardly the Canadian education for which they paid.
Immigration is a positive force for the Canadian economy, making up for labour shortages and a potentially decreasing population. Yet it has been used for many unethical ends. The downdraft of capabilities and status that immigrants experience on arrival is well-known. The infusion of hundreds of thousands of new job-seekers a year prompts abuses in the labour market.
Gig jobs rather than careers have become the norm. Foreign workers are hired to replace Canadians whose seniority has raised their salaries. Many economists argue that immigration at least initially affects wages of Canadian workers in the fields where immigrant labour supply increases.
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In many professions, anecdotal evidence suggests that Canadians and long-standing immigrants are displaced after they have worked out new initiatives and routinized procedures. Foreign workers and new immigrants are then brought in at lower rates to run the programs. This means new immigrants and temporary workers often compete with second-generation Canadians in the labour market.
This affects the mainstream economy. International students and undocumented workers may be paid below minimum wage and off-the-books. A continual supply of young workers at lower salaries pushes older, more expensive and more experienced Canadians off the job market. It is not a surprise that businesses lobby for more workers from abroad.
The ethical responsibilities of attracting professionals in the fields of health and other critical areas from poor countries does not appear to register in discussions of Canadian immigration policies. The Global South needs professionals for development, yet rich countries such as Canada are attracting them to leave their homes with incentives for immigration.
This brain drain has long been an issue for the poor countries. It is particularly damaging in the case of medical professionals, who are direly needed in those places. The World Health Organization has taken note of the dilemma of health professionals emigrating from the Global South. It has established a global code for their recruitment, balancing individuals’ rights of movement and the social costs borne by poor countries.
Problems of housing adequacy, affordability and availability have buffeted Canada in one way or another for a long time. The demand-and-supply laws tell us that accommodating a million persons a year should exacerbate the housing shortages, particularly in major cities. This strain is expected, but what is of equal public concern are the abuses and illegal practices that the excessive demand is fostering.
Immigration funnels “black” money from abroad into real estate, leaving many housing units vacant for speculative gains. Toronto and Vancouver have lately recognized this problem and are restricting foreign buyers and taxing housing units kept vacant for six or more months.
More egregious is the practice of international students and other immigrants crowding in illegal housing, sharing rooms among many other, with their possessions spilling into the driveways. Neighbourhoods become noisy, choked with garbage and traffic. Brampton and Mississauga have been in news for the illegal basement rentals targeted at international students recruited from India.
Of course, a house is more than just a building. It requires infrastructure, schools, parks, sidewalks and roads. Housing requires major public investments and can result in higher taxes at local and provincial levels. Canadian cities are in a frenzy of increasing densities. Regardless of their success, these measures will change the quality of urban life for everybody. Immigration policies will change the form of our cities, potentially creating even more urban sprawl if there’s no careful planning.
Canada undoubtedly needs immigration, but post-secondary education and labour market policies are so interconnected that attention must be paid to the effect of an increase of a million new permanent residents. More enforcement against immigration scams, particularly aimed at post-secondary students, and the over-reliance of those institutions on foreign students should be deterred. The implications of more migrants on a housing market, particularly in specific cities, means a need for more careful planning. All of this suggests that these new immigration targets cannot be viewed as merely an issue of welcoming more faces. It requires careful planning, which to date does not appear to be happening.