Head off Trump-style anti-immigrant politics by using economics to guide policy, lawyer urges

Last week's election of Donald Trump as president was, in part, a repudiation of U.S. immigration policies. To maintain the support of its citizens, Canada’s immigration policy should be, first and foremost, a tool for economic growth, Reis Pagtakhan writes.

Donald Trump election, Brexit fuelled in part by rejection of immigration policies, Reis Pagtakhan writes

Last week's election of Donald Trump as president was, in part, a repudiation of U.S. immigration policies, Reis Pagtakhan writes. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Last week's election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the vote in the U.K. earlier this year to leave the European Union are, in part, a repudiation of the immigration policies of the U.S. and U.K.

While there were many other factors that caused people to vote for Trump or Brexit, these votes should serve as a reminder that public support is essential for the success of the immigration policies of government.

On immigration, a common theme in the U.S. and U.K. votes was the belief that immigrants were taking jobs away from local citizens. To maintain the support of its citizens, Canada's immigration policy should be, first and foremost, a tool for economic growth.

Regardless of what one thinks of president-elect Trump or Brexit, it is the role of government to provide avenues for the economic prosperity of its citizens. Immigration Minister John McCallum must ensure that Canada's immigration policy makes recruiting foreigners who will strengthen our economy a priority.

Bring in people who create jobs

To do this, the first thing the government needs to do is end the immigration of foreign nationals without a government-approved job offer, previous Canadian work experience or previous Canadian education. While exceptions should be made for a limited number of refugees and people who want to bring their spouses and young children to Canada, the main goal of our immigration policy should be to bring people who create and fill jobs in Canada.

Allowing foreign nationals to come to Canada without jobs not only burdens our society but also takes skilled workers away from their home countries. It also places tremendous strain on the new immigrant, who is not only unemployed but unemployed in a new country.

McCallum's recent announcement that the government will provide a path to citizenship for foreign students and temporary foreign workers under the Express Entry program is welcome.

As a result of these changes, many foreign graduates who have completed Canadian studies and many temporary foreign workers who have worked in Canada will now have a path to citizenship. By allowing individuals who have worked, studied and lived in Canada to immigrate here, Canada is choosing individuals who are not only familiar with our country but who have been our neighbours, friends, employees, co-workers, classmates and, yes, taxpayers. Who better to invite to Canada than people who know our country and have contributed to our economy and society?

By promoting the immigration of temporary foreign workers and foreign students, Canada is sending a message that the best way to immigrate here is by going to school or working here. For those foreign nationals who do this, Canada will provide a route to citizenship.

While these changes are welcome, the government needs to look at other changes to the system to ensure the immigrants we choose make the biggest economic impact.

Foster investment and innovation

One thing McCallum must develop is an immigration business program that fosters investment and innovation. The failed business immigration programs of the past must be replaced with a business immigration program that allows Canadian business owners, not government, to choose their partners from abroad. One thing that should be looked at is a program that allows small- and medium-sized business owners who are looking to retire to find partners abroad who can take over their businesses so they continue to employ Canadians.

The third thing that has to be done is for Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk to eliminate the delays businesses experience with the temporary foreign worker program. In order to promote the temporary foreign worker program as a probationary permanent residency program, businesses must be able to get their workers to Canada quickly without the dizzying and, often, Byzantine rules and procedures that have plagued the temporary foreign worker program. 

As long as it can be shown that there are no Canadians willing or able to fill a job, businesses should be able to fill their vacancies in a few weeks. As it stands now, many businesses have to wait months to hire temporary foreign workers.

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.