Canada third in global study on welcoming immigrants
International researchers have applauded Canada's efforts at helping newcomers integrate in a report that ranks this country third in the world in how it reaches out to its immigrant population.
Canada placed two notches higher compared to last year — just behind Sweden and Portugal — in the annual Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) released Monday by the British Council and the Migration Policy Group, organizations that track immigration policy in dozens of countries.
Overall, Canada received 72 points out of a possible 100, while Sweden, sitting at No. 1 on the list, received 83.
Canada moved up on the list because of the federal government's recent focus on recognizing the education and credentials of immigrants, results showed.
The MIPEX findings, which compare 31 North American and European countries, are meant to help governments examine their current policies, said Jan Niessen, director of the Migration Policy Group. He noted that the study doesn't completely convey an immigrant's experience in each country, though.
Officials should examine the findings carefully as the demand for skilled immigrants increases, according to Howard Duncan, executive head of Metropolis, a Canadian organization that studies immigration.
"One thing we're seeing, not just in North America and Europe, is a growing competition for immigrants who have a high level of education and high level of skill. . . . The competition for migrants is going to be, in part, won or lost in terms of integration policies," he said.
For the study, about 100 researchers from around the world looked at 150 factors, broken into seven categories, such as access to education and the labour market, chances of reuniting with family, the possibility of permanent residency and political rights.
Canada's large backlog of immigration applications awaiting processing was a source a concern. The report said Canada's wait list is a "major weakness."
While Canada tied with the United States for promoting anti-discrimination and equal opportunities, the report showed that Canada limits newcomers' voting rights and input in public discussion, Niessen said.
Canada received a "slightly unfavourable" 38 points in the political participation category because it has not extended the right to vote to those in line for citizenship, while 18 European Union countries already do.
Recent national surveys on the issue show that Canadians are divided on whether potential citizens should be allowed to vote, said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies.
Jedwab said the findings should be interpreted with "caution."
"We need to look at the overall rankings and where we stand and not determine or be satisfied with being third best on the list," he said.
"We do know on the ground from various research that immigrants do face challenges when it comes to labour-market integration and the labour-market situation," he said.
But Canada also ranked high in the labour-mobility stream compared to Europe and the U.S.
"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 said.
Canada was in second place after Sweden in the education category, which showed that Canada addressed the specific needs of immigrant children with its English-as-a-second-language programs.
Jedwab said Canadian cities should step in to fill in gaps in the integration experience for newcomers. For example, cities known to have high rates of immigration should consider creating services that will help new residents prepare for citizenship tests, he said.
Earlier this month, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada admitted a record number of immigrants in 2009 when more than 280,000 people moved to the country.
It was the largest number of newcomers to Canada in 57 years, he said.
cchai @ postmedia.com
Top 10 countries, and their scores, in a global study of immigrant experience:
1. Sweden — 83
2. Portugal — 79
3. Canada — 72
4. Finland — 69
5. Netherlands — 68
6. Belgium — 67
7. Norway — 66
8. Spain — 63
9. U.S. — 62
10. Italy — 60
Worst 10 countries, and their scores:
1. Czech Republic — 46
1. Estonia — 46
2. Hungary — 45
2. Romania — 45
3. Switzerland — 43
4. Austria — 42
4. Poland — 42
5. Bulgaria — 41
6. Lithuania — 40
7. Malta — 37
8. Slovakia — 36
9. Cyprus — 35
10. Latvia — 31