As part of our efforts to better understand global migration, we accept submissions from people or groups who have experience or direct involvement with immigration. This post, submitted by My Visa Source, a Canadian immigration firm, examines the experience of first-generation immigrants to Canada.
Leaving your familiar homeland to live out your life in a new and radically different environment is an experience both difficult and rewarding. Despite the demands of learning a new language and cultural framework and the many risks inherent in the transition to a new country, millions choose to take up this challenge every single year.
Why Do People Choose the Life of a First-Generation Immigrant?
Few opt for the life of an immigrant out of a mere sense of adventure and curiosity. In most cases, one or more of the following factors will be involved in the decision:
- The prospect of a better economic situation
- The opportunity for the immigrant or his/her children to achieve important educational goals
- The desire to be with relatives or friends who have already immigrated
- Conditions of poverty, persecution, or discrimination in their native land
In sum, we could say that most immigrants are looking for a chance to live a better life. They often have not only their own futures in view, but also the future betterment of their children and grandchildren.
How Is a First-Generation Immigrant Defined?
“First-generation immigrant,” as used here and in most other contexts, refers to a foreign-born individual who becomes a citizen or permanent resident of another nation. Some have used the term to refer to the first generation born in the new land, but we shall refer to that as “second generation” immigrant. In Canada, 55% of second generation immigrants had two foreign-born parents, with the remaining 45% having only one.
The National Household Survey of 2011 broke down the Canadian population as follows:
- 22% were first-generation immigrants
- 17% were second-generation
- 61% were third-generation or more
Where Do Most First-Generation Immigrants Live?
Over 80% of Canadian immigrant families live in major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. They are fairly evenly spread across the country, but British Columbia and Ontario are the only two provinces where first and second generation immigrants total over 50% of the population. Quebec and Newfoundland have significantly low numbers of immigrants.
How Long Does Assimilation Take?
Most second generation immigrants in Canada are fully assimilated, but those born abroad may take a life time to adjust to the culture. In the process, they will also contribute to the culture, enriching it and expanding it. Canadian immigrants come from over 200 nations of the world, so it is not surprising if many immigrants experience intense “culture shock” upon first arrival. Nonetheless, with a willingness to be flexible and learn new things, a greater “blending in” will inevitably occur with the passing of time.
One of the main challenges to Canadian first-generation immigrants is simply finding adequate employment. Studies of Canadian immigrants over the last 25 years have shown that linguistic, cultural, and informational barriers tend to make their employment opportunities fewer and lower-paying initially. In the long-term, however, immigrants actually out-perform their Canadian-born counterparts. Blending into the workforce, or “economic assimilation,” is one important aspect of immigrant assimilation.
While immigrants to Canada were mostly from Europe, today most come from Asia. This has increased the linguistic and cultural “distance” at which immigrants begin assimilation, but this has not changed the fact that those born in Canada grow up well integrated into the new language and cultural systems. Even ethnic “visibility” decreases over time: 60% of first-generation immigrants to Canada are considered “visible immigrants,” 30% of second-generation, and only 1% of third-generation. Finally, there is some debate as to whether Canada will be a “melting pot” or a “cultural mosaic” in years ahead. If the latter, the degree of assimilation required will be lessened.
How Strong are First-Generation Immigrant Families?
Most Canadian immigrants tend to have very strong familial bonds. Partly, this stems from the cultural milieu of their country of origin, but it also is tied in with the immigrant situation. A strong sense of family obligation often leads children of first-generation immigrants to high academic achievement as well as long-term residence with/near their parents. While the stresses and strains of the immigration undertaking can be great, the overall effect on immigrant families is generally beneficial in every realm: academic, economic, and social.
The Prospects for Assimilation for First-Generation Immigrants
While immigrant communities often tend to initially form small enclaves in major cities, it only takes one generation for assimilation to occur. First-generation immigrants may never fully forget the ways of “the old country,” but they can gradually acquire a second culture in “the new country.” Total immersion will, over time, wear away the effects of culture shock. New friends and acquaintances, local family ties, and participation in social events will help them to “feel at home” and gain a sense of belonging. Like transplanted trees, first-generation immigrants’ lives will thrive as they put down deep roots in new soil.
This section has been added by Open Borders: The Case editorial staff. The author of the original piece is not responsible for it.
Related Open Borders: The Case blog posts:
- A critique of the assimilation concept by Vipul Naik, April 7, 2014.
- Canadian federalism applied to immigration by John Lee, November 29, 2012.
- Would migration levels under open borders be optimal, too high, or too low? by Vipul Naik, February 26, 2014.
Other related material:
- Wikipedia’s immigration to Canada page offers a good basic summary and links to many primary and secondary sources.
- Open Borders Action Group post by John Lee, December 21, 2014, noting that Canada is the top completion on Google Search if you type in “how to immigrate” into the search bar.
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