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Immigrant Song

Canadians have had to formulate a new language to address new complications posed by immigration, and no one is quite sure how that language should sound.

· 8 min read
Immigrant Song
A glimpse of Chinatown, Toronto. Alamy.

On January 23, 2024, after months of alarm over the country’s housing and healthcare crises, Canada’s government placed a limit on foreign-student permits, and further adjustments to immigration policies may be in the offing. “In order to maintain a sustainable level of temporary residence in Canada,” said Immigration Minister Marc Miller, “as well as to ensure that there is no further growth in the number of international students in Canada, we are setting a national application intake cap for a period of two years for 2024.” Increasing the number of learners from overseas was supposed to boost revenue for Canadian colleges and universities and add to the Canadian labor pool, but these benefits were offset by the consequent strains on home expenses and medical services, among much else. As syndicated columnist Terry Glavin explained before Miller’s announcement: 

It wasn’t that long ago that Canadians were proud of the country’s immigration policy, and Canada’s multipartisan national consensus about the value of immigration. What’s changed is that without any substantive national debate, the federal government has scrapped Canada’s traditional points-based approach, which assessed prospective citizens’ suitability in advance of their arrival. We’ve outsourced immigration policy to employers who couldn’t be bothered to invest in labor training; budget-hungry university administrators eager to scoop foreign-student tuition fees that are sometimes ten times as high as Canadian students pay; and shadowy storefront colleges profiting from the sale of citizenship lottery tickets.

Throughout the controversy, however, a familiar consideration has been conspicuously absent. 

Like its southern neighbor—indeed, like all nations in the Western hemisphere, and the Anglophone dominions of Australia and New Zealand—Canada was built on immigration. Pier 21 in Halifax Nova Scotia is sometimes compared to New York City’s Ellis Island, as the initial gateway through which millions of newcomers from Europe arrived in the young democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Also like the US, the newcomers’ origins gradually evolved over time: first they came from England, Scotland, and France; then Ireland; then Southern and Eastern Europe; then the Caribbean. Meanwhile, complementary waves from South and East Asia landed on the country’s Pacific coast in fluctuating numbers over the same period.

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