Expanding Immigration Without Addressing Systemic Racism in Canada Could be Potential Disincentive for Newcomers

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Themrise Khan brings to light the systemic racism that is ingrained within Canadian society through her recent article in Policy Options. Her contention is that neglecting to address this issue – especially in the face of expanding economic immigration – could be dissuasive for potential migrants to choose Canada as their destination.

At the start of her piece, she highlights how both the Canadian government and the general populace are in favour of increasing immigration; the federal government’s latest immigration plan is to intake 1.5 million permanent residents between 2023 and 2025 (which is up from one million in 2020-22), and recent surveys reveal that public opinion towards immigration is more positive than before.

However, Khan writes in her Policy Options story that contrary to indications of a pro-immigrant sentiment – and despite the obvious economic benefits to immigration (it being a central tool for repairing Canada’s endemic labour shortages) – the social implications of bringing in newcomers are often underlined by racism and discrimination towards the “visible minorities” entering the country.

She cites “heightened surveillance of select immigrant populations, intense scrutiny of some of their financial resources and discrimination against migrant workers” as examples in support of her point.

Khan adds on that “there have also been incidences of hate crimes against members of immigrant groups. The government must address the issue of racism in immigration policy with a series of broad measures.”

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“Otherwise, if left unaddressed, these incidences have the potential to work against Canada’s intentions to continually increase immigration levels and grow its economy.”

Immigrants are drawn towards Canada in the hopes of improving their standard of living through increased economic returns; however, with a socially hostile environment as detailed above, their chances of accruing economic ground would be continually threatened.

They would resultantly not come to Canada in the first place, or instead leave prematurely to escape a systemically threatening environment for them and their loved ones.

It is not that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has not addressed racism in the past; it proposed stronger-than-ever anti-racism measures in its latest plans – confined, however, to its organizational strategy instead of the endemic racism affecting Canadian society.

As 70 percent of the annual immigrant intake comprises of non-white newcomers from the Global South, addressing such shortcomings is a must for Canada to maintain a strong immigration policy.

Nevertheless, recent policy implementations have only led to a furthering from that aim, with Bill 96 and its regressive recommendations representing a form of government-sanctioned discrimination towards immigrants.

Racist treatment of foreigners is not contained to purely interpersonal interactions, according to Khan, but is even propagated in official discourse.

They are treated as “numerical targets” to be achieved in a pre-specified time-frame – a form of dialectic subjugation that is implicit in capacity, but produces real-world consequences for immigrants’ and Canadian’s perception of newcomers to the country.

The point in question is again demonstrated in the form of the “ideal immigrant” narrative surrounding international students, which is nothing but a racist stereotype that is normalized by Ottawa.

Herein, students become numbers and factorials in broader calculations regarding the Canada labour market and long-term socio-economic returns, and are lost in micro-level considerations regarding their ability to enrich themselves and have a brighter future through education.

Khan’s main point – in discussing the foretasted social issues – is that immigrants are reduced to labels and economic tools, which separates them from any sociological evaluation of racism’s role in hindering their own social and economic flourishing.

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Furthermore, her opinion piece details how although skilled immigrants are treated as economic agents for the filling Canada labour market shortages, they fall far behind their Canadian-born counterparts in finding post-graduation work – or employment of any sort, for that matter. This highlights Ottawa’s inability to match job to person.

In ending her article, Khan proposes that immigrants can only contribute to Canada if they are treated fair societally, for which a holistic policy approach is required. For this aim, she makes a few important suggestions:

1. The language surrounding immigration to Canada needs to change, which starts with altering Canada’s framing of immigrants as a labour supply issue. “Immigration is a human right and not a numbers game.”

2. Immigration cannot be considered through a solely economic lens, as immigrants – just like Canadians – are social individuals with social realities.

Many of them are escaping conflict and instability in their home countries, and their admissibility should therefore be assessed through a more holistic framework.

3. Anti-racist philosophy needs to become the norm in services provided to immigrants, such as settlement services, employment, housing, education, and health.

4. Immigrants require not just economic compensation but also social protection, and therefore any immigration plan must include the latter consideration as much as it does the former.

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