On February 28, the British Council and the Migration Policy Group published a study that ranked Canada third in the world for its policies on immigrant integration. The study compared Canada to 29 other countries, including all European Union member states as well as Norway, Switzerland, and the United States.
The British Council and the Migration Policy Group are organizations that track immigration policy in various countries across the world. Their study brought together 100 researchers to look at different categories of integration experienced by immigrant workers and their families. These included access to education and the labour market, ability to reunite with family, the possibility of permanent residency, and political rights.
The Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) was used to benchmark whether governments grant equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities to all their residents. The aim was not to measure change in the influx of migrants to the 31 countries, but to determine which practices most benefitted these migrants.
A press release on the report noted that having high standards was critical. “Successful integration helps create more competitive and cohesive societies,” the report said.
Overall, Canada received 72 points out of a possible 100, which ranked the country behind Portugal, with 79, and Sweden at 83.
The report cited the federal government’s recent focus on recognizing the education and credentials of immigrants as the reason Canada moved up two spots from last year.
Canada scored highly in the education category, as its English as a Second Language programs often successfully address the needs of immigrant children. Canada’s labour mobility also earned a high score.
“Migrant workers and their families have some of the best labour market opportunities in Canada. Foreign residents and nationals have the same right to work in any sector, start a business and use public job services. All have the same working conditions and access to social security,” the report noted.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, said that these findings should be interpreted with caution.
“We need to look at the overall rankings and not be satisfied with being third best on the list,” he said.
While Canada has some of the strongest policies in place to ensure immigrant integration, the study revealed many other areas where it can improve. The report recommended policy adjustments such as removing the extensive backlog for processing immigrant applications, recognizing that non-citizen residents should be given the right to vote, and providing leaders of immigrant associations with the chance to inform integration policy through consultative bodies.
Howard Duncan, director of Canadian immigration studies organization Metropolis said that the study’s findings should be examined carefully, and noted the increasing demand for skilled immigrants.
“One thing we’re seeing, not just in North America and Europe, is a growing competition for immigrants who have a high level of skill,” Duncan said. “The competition for migrants is going to be, in part, won or lost in terms of integration policies.”
Morton Weinfeld, a professor of Canadian Studies at McGill University, said integrative immigration policies benefit Canada by helping to avoid some of the high-profile problems found in Europe, including the rise of explicitly anti-immigrant parties. However, he was also skeptical of MIPEX.
“I’m not sure how meaningful all this is,” Weinfeld said. “Sweden does have an anti-immigrant backlash, and Portugal is not known as a major migrant-receiving country.”
According to Weinfeld, “Canada is lucky,” because immigrants to the country tend to be relatively educated, it does not have many illegal immigrants, and it has not had a major guest worker program like Germany.
“Unlike Europe,” he said, “we are really an immigrant society with lots of experience in dealing with immigrant integration.”
Canada admitted a record number of over 280,000 immigrants in 2009—the largest number in 57 years.
The top 10 countries in the study, in order from best to worst rank were Sweden, Portugal, Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, the U.S., and Italy.
The bottom 10 in the study were the Czech Republic and Estonia, Hungary and Romania, Switzerland, Austria and Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Cyprus, and Latvia.