by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
David Frum's point about more high-skilled immigration struck a cord with me. As a Canadian who has been living and working in the US for more than a decade I can attest to how difficult it is to become a permanent resident, let alone a US citizen. The US has high-skilled visa programs, and for high-skilled Canadians in particular it is fairly easy to get a T-1 or H1-B visa and live and work in the US indefinitely. But there are restrictions and a lack of permanency and stability that come with these "temporary" visas. For example, you could never be self-employed or start your own business, and if you change employers you might lose your visa status or have to leave the country and return under a newly issued visa. A hassle at the least for Canadians, but can be incredibly disruptive and unsettling if your home country is India or Romania. Then there's always the threat that if you ever leave the US you'll have trouble returning.
Immigration and border security policies are constantly changing and an arbitrary decision by an INS agent can turn into a nightmare scenario. Imagine at the end of a vacation not being allowed to return to your whole life, where you own a home, have a job you need to return to, significant other, a dog or cat, a car left in airport long-term parking, etc. Your only recourse are frantic calls to an immigration lawyer, your boss, your family, hoping someone can help resolve the situation. This sort of thing happens more often than you'd think. I know this from personal experience, and the experiences of other Canadians working in the US.
The lack of permanency means Canadians in the US always have at least one foot out the door. Many of my friends eventually return home because they never really put down roots. And Canadians have it relatively easy compared to other nationalities. As you can imagine, the difficulties and barriers are magnified when your home country is across an ocean.
It seems crazy that these high-skilled workers are not granted permanent residency the minute they arrive. I think if that were the case, most would stay longer, or if they did leave they would be more likely to return at some point in the future. There would be nothing but benefits for the US if these workers had permanency.
Another Canadian writes:
With Canadian unemployment rate of 7.6%, there is no suggestion of reducing the number of new permanent immigrants (equivalent to U.S. green card holders) from the usual rate of around 250,000 per year (2.5 million in U.S. population terms). All political parties are in favor of high rates of immigration, in part because new Canadians are politically active and have the resources to support political parties. Anti-immigrant newspaper or TV reports are almost non-existent. A recent NY Times article even described how one province was actively competing for skilled new immigrants
We are told that researchers from other countries (most recently a CBC radio report about Northern Ireland) come to Canada to figure out why the immigration system works. The media reports what doesn't work: Quebec's commission on "reasonable accommodation" which seemed to focus mainly on Muslim women wearing hijabs, foreign trained doctors driving cabs, Tamil refugees arriving on a boat from Asia, Sikh men carrying the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, etc. I have no reason to believe that on a personal level, Canadians are any less racist than the average American - read the comments section online of the CBC, the Globe and Mail or any other newspaper - but there seems to be widespread acceptance that if we can't reproduce ourselves, then we need new Canadians to replace retiring workers (and to look after us in our dotage).
The question remains: why does it work? (My guess is it was more good luck than good planning; federal multiculturalism legislation may have provided a political framework in the 1970s but individual initiative and community support have probably had more important roles to play. It would be nice to hear from those foreign researchers...or maybe Mr. Frum can explain it to me.)