Tag Archives: Canada

The Life of First-Generation Immigrants in Canada

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:

  1. 22% were first-generation immigrants
  2. 17% were second-generation
  3. 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.

Related reading

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:

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NAFTA’s Labor Agreement

Last November President Obama was heckled by pro-migrant activists demanding that his administration take action to halt deportations. The President responded that he was unable to take further steps and that this was an issue Congress had to tackle.

One wonders if the President has considered using administrative changes to ease use of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) labor agreement.

NAFTA dealt primarily with reducing barriers in goods and services, but it also provided for a minor reduction in barriers to labor as well. Canadian and Mexican professionals may acquire the non-immigrant TN status to work and live in the United States in renewable increments of three years. The relevant text can be found in Chapter 16 of the NAFTA treaty. Only a handful of professions are covered by the status and most of them require bachelor degrees, which means that expanding the TN status would not provide much aid to lower skilled migrant-hopefuls but it would nonetheless be a move towards more open borders.

At minimum the President’s administration could seek to ease the application process for the TN status. Currently most TN status holders leave the United States in order to renew their TN status in an US consulate or embassy in their home countries. This is costly to do and many would benefit from being able to apply from within the United States. A process to apply does exist within the United States, but it is rarely exercised due to the difficulty of doing so.

The President’s administration could also seek to allow those eligible for TN status to self-apply to renew the status without the need for cooperation from their employer. The TN status is quasi-portable; when first applying a TN holder must prove that they have a job offer in the United States but can change employers in the interluding time provided they file out some paperwork. Unfortunately the need to have their employers  help them renew their status limits the portability of the status. Allowing self-petition would remove this and make the status fully portable.

TN status is currently valid for increments of three years. The President’s administration could expand this to five or ten years. During the Bush administration the status was changed from one to three years, so Obama would merely be following in his predecessors’ action.

If the President was especially ambitious he could seek to expand the list of professions covered by the TN status. Unlike other proposals here the President would have to negotiate the terms of expansion with Mexico, Canada, and Congress. President Obama is down in Mexico discuss the future of NAFTA, could it be he is already toying with the idea of using NAFTA for a broader labor agreement?

Expansion of the TN status should be an attractive route and it is surprising that both successive Presidents and open border advocates have ignored it. The TN status  is already part of the US code (Title 8 Section 214.6) and no further enabling legislation from Congress would be necessary. The President’s administration would not be creating a new status using executive order, it would merely be easing the administration process of a well established aspect of US immigration law.

Regular opponents of increased immigration would be hard pressed to argue against expanding NAFTA’s labor provisions. The President could potentially increase the list of eligible professions, but the TN status would ultimately only benefit skilled workers. There is plenty of rhetoric against unskilled migrants, but it is rare to find the same passion against skilled migrants. The TN status does not provide a pathway to citizenship to its holder and therefore denies its holder the possibility of benefiting from most US welfare programs or voting. The types of migrants that come under the TN status are the most favorable ones; well educated middle income professionals who are here to do business.

Easing use of the NAFTA’s labor agreement could not easily be portrayed as misuse either. NAFTA was meant to reduce trade barriers between the US, Canada and Mexico. Both the letter and spirit of NAFTA would be carried out by easing the application process for the TN status. Is it fateful that the trade treaty celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The TN status has no numerical caps. Mexican applicants were numerically capped at its inception, but said cap was removed in 2004. Increasing the number of TN status holders would not reduce the number of visas available elsewhere and should not cause any significant backlogging of other visa applications.

In 2012 733,692 individuals were admitted into the US under TN status, mostly for short periods. Only a relative few reside in the United States for significant portions of time.

Source: DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2012

No labor certification process is required for those applying for the TN status.  The low number of TN status holders relative to the supply of potential applicants suggests that the administration is being stringent in who it grants the TN status to. It also implies that many more individuals could TN status if the President’s administration eased its application procedures.

If done properly an extension of NAFTA’s labor provisions could lead to the the three member nations agreeing to reform the treaty to include lower skilled labor as well or possibly extending NAFTA membership to the Caribbean and Central America countries. These would all be marginal moves, but they may wet  things enough for a slippery slope towards open borders in the long run.

Opening the Canada-US Border

This is a guest post by Peter Hurley. Peter is an American who studied in Canada. He’s interested in the law and his relationship with a Canadian brings him in direct contact with issues surrounding immigration. The post is a follow-up to Vipul Naik’s bleg about US-Canada open borders from about two months ago.

This week, both the US and Canada celebrate their national identities.  In the US, we celebrate our independence from Britain.  In Canada, we celebrate our confederation into a distinct nation, under the same crown as Britain, but with a wholly Canadian government and constitution.

These celebrations reveal as much about the similarities between the US and Canada as our differences.  We share common traditions about law and human rights from our common origins, and have maintained peaceful relations for two centuries.  We even co-ordinate our holidays so we can have the same long weekends.  Often enough, it can seem like an American from Seattle is more similar to a Vancouverite than a Canadian from Halifax.

Or, at least it seems that way until you try to move between the countries.  Then you find out that the border is more than an inconvenience on your road trip to Niagara Falls, it’s a serious impediment to people’s lives.

Both Canada and the US would be made better off by opening the world’s longest and most peaceful border.

This idea isn’t particularly new, and there are some common objections to it that deserve answers.  Many of these objections are common to any open border scheme, and those are dealt with ably elsewhere on this site, so I confine myself to objections that wouldn’t be common to any open borders scheme.  To be clear, I am proposing free transit over the border between the two, but with limitations on the ability of non-citizens of the US and Canada to use the open border to work or live permanently in the other country.

Economic Argument

One of the main practical arguments against an open border is that it will be economically harmful, particularly to Canada.  The concern is that Americans will flock to Canada to utilize government provided health care and that Canadians will dodge taxes by crossing the border to shop.  The latter is an argument that probably scares tax officials more than the Canadians who shop in the US and then wear everything they bought home. 

As to healthcare: with Obamacare coming into force, most Americans would see only a small health care savings by moving to Canada.  Obamacare means Americans earning low incomes get free or extremely cheap health insurance, and only relatively high-income people will pay substantial sums for healthcare.  And those high-income people are much less likely to be a net drain anyway.  Plus, Canadian healthcare currently requires a substantial period of residency before one becomes eligible for free coverage, so it requires substantial time commitment to living in Canada to qualify for healthcare.

Apart from healthcare, the welfare states in the US and Canada are remarkably similar, so there is little incentive to move from one to the other for benefits.  Disability, welfare, unemployment, food security, and retirement benefits are similar, and Old Age Security/Canada Pension Plan and US Social Security Administration already credit contributions from one towards the other.

The benefits of integrating labour markets between the two countries is very substantial as well.  Border areas often have labour markets which tilt heavily depending on whether the US or Canadian dollar is stronger.  An open labour market will allow workers from depressed areas in either country to seek work in nearby areas with relatively booming markets.  So a laid off construction worker in Buffalo can go build condo towers in Toronto, and oil field workers can move quickly between Alberta and North Dakota, without waiting months between jobs for immigration paperwork to be done.

Also, the monetary costs of border enforcement are substantial.  Both governments could reduce spending on border guards, as well as eliminating the giant deforested 20 foot swathe between the two countries.  More than that, the time that people spend waiting at the border is valuable.  About 62 million people crossed into the US via Canadian land ports of entry in 2012.  Assuming about as many entries into Canada, and assuming (generously I think) a 20 minute wait on average, that comes to 41 million wasted hours, plus a ton of pollution from the cars idling.  And that doesn’t even count trucks.

Political Argument

Another big worry that people have about opening the border is that it will change the character of the countries drastically as immigrants from Canada or the US flood in and overtake the culture (Canada) or make the country much more socialist (US).  I think this concern is not as big a deal as people make it.  Both countries have areas that are quite conservative (Alberta, Texas) and quite liberal (Vancouver, Boston).  There’s no reason to think that the average American who chooses Canada would be likely to push the political consensus very far, and would very likely fall somewhere into the mainstream of Canadian society.  Furthermore, open borders do not mean open citizenship.  Canada and the US can set whatever standards of residency and knowledge of local culture and government they want as requirements to attain citizenship. As to cultural assimilation, open borders do not kill cultures.  The southern US and Quebec both have open borders to their countries, and yet have different cultures from the rest of their countries: more so in the case of Quebec.

The Quebec Question

Within Canada, Quebec has maintained a distinct culture and language, and has taken extensive efforts to maintain that distinction, including a separate immigration regime on top of the federal system, as well as significant language restrictions regarding both public displays and schooling.  It is safe to say that opening the border to the US would be seen as a major threat to the separate culture of Quebec.  They shouldn’t be.  As it stands, millions of English-speaking Canadians are freely capable of moving to Quebec.  And that hasn’t stopped Quebec from maintaining its culture and institutions.  Open borders will not allow Americans to vote in Quebec or Canada, and the democratic institutions of Quebec are strong enough to handle a free and open dialogue with the world.  Even ardent sovereigntists don’t generally want to seal Quebec’s border with Canada upon independence.  And the open US border with Quebec provides the same sort of benefits for Quebec that the open borders with New Brunswick and Ontario provide.


The Canada/US border is probably one of the easiest questions of open borders in the world.  We are both rich countries with strong economies and extremely similar systems of law.  We have lots to gain from opening up what is already a slightly ajar door.  If you want to take incremental steps to opening borders, the Canada/US border is the first increment.

The photograph featured in the header of this post is of the US-Canada border. Via Reddit.

US-Canada open borders referendum bleg

I define “open borders between the US and Canada” as meaning that US and Canadian citizens are free to enter the other country not just for short-term visits but for long-term visits and can settle in the other country to live, work, marry, or do other stuff, without needing to go through any immigration bureaucracy. Border checkpoints may still exist. One might define open borders more expansively to include all permanent residents of either country. As co-blogger John Lee noted in this post, the US-Canada border is not completely open in this sense: while citizens and even permanent residents can move freely between the countries for short-term visits, they still need to go through a bureaucratic (and uncertain) process in order to take up a job or settle long-term.

My two bleg questions:

  • If the United States had a nationwide referendum among citizens (with simple nationwide vote-counting, unlike the complicated electoral college system used for presidential elections) on whether the US should have open borders with Canada, would the referendum pass, and by what margin? Feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.
  • If Canada had an equivalent nationwide referendum, would it pass? Again feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.

UPDATE: A friend on Facebook had pointed me a while back to Annexation movements of Canada.

Open borders, crime and targeting the natives: the case of South Africa

Two objections to open borders are that under open borders (1) recipient countries are likely to experience an increase in crime and (2) natives, since they are on average richer than the new comers, are likely to bear the full brunt of crime. The two objections are not necessarily related: one can think of a scenario whereby the crime rate falls following open borders but the residual crime is disproportionately borne by natives. This post does not confront the first objection, namely that open borders might lead to an increase in crime, because others on this site have done so. In addition, I have speculated in a previous post that the increase in crime that immediately followed the collapse of apartheid in South Africa (to all intents and purposes an “open borders event”) was due to the fact that background checks were never performed on the “new comers” to isolate those with criminal records. (In that post, I also noted that it was impossible to perform such checks in South Africa’s case without upsetting an already delicate situation). My intention in this post is to confront the second objection, namely that natives are likely to bear the brunt of any crime that takes place under open borders. I will do so by appealing to South Africa’s post apartheid experience.

The dominant narrative on South Africa is that crime increased and has continued to increase in the post apartheid period and whites have largely been the victims of the crime wave. I took on the first part of this narrative in this post and showed that it was largely false — homicide rates (the most reliable measure of crime) have been declining every year since 1995 (apartheid officially ended in 1994). As a matter of fact, homicide rates are 50% lower today than they were in 1995. The second part of the crime narrative has a common sense appeal: whites are disproportionately the victims of crime because the average white South African is many times richer than the average black South African making him/her an attractive target for criminals. Official confirmation of this narrative seemed to have arrived when in 2009 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) granted Brandon Huntley, a white South African living in Canada, refugee status on the basis that “[Huntley] would stand out like a ‘sore thumb’ due to his color in any part of [South Africa]”. Huntley “reported being the victim of several assaults by black South Africans. He alleged that those assaults were racially motivated, and stated that he did not seek police or state protection because the authorities [were] unwilling or unable to help white South Africans…The [IRB] found [Huntley] credible and accepted his evidence with regard to the attacks. One of [Huntley’s] witnesses, Ms. Kaplan, whose brother was victimized by black South Africans, also testified that the police [were] corrupt and [do] not help white South Africans, and that a genocide is occurring against white South Africans” (source). The ruling by the IRB sparked off a series of heated debates in South Africa with some seeing the decision as vindication of their long-held suspicions and others condemning it as unfounded. This prompted James Myburgh, the editor of Politicsweb, a popular local news and opinion website, to analyze several rounds of national victimization surveys whereupon he found that “whites were somewhat more likely to fall victim to crime than other race groups”. Myburgh’s conclusions were regarded as the final verdict on the matter by many since national victimization surveys were nationally representative and were conducted by Statistics South Africa, the Institute for Security Studies and the Human Sciences Research Council, bodies widely regarded as credible. The matter did not rest there, however. In December 2009, Gavin Silber and Nathan Geffen published an article in SA Crime Quarterly arguing that national victimization surveys (or NVSs) were not the best tool to use in answering the crime victimization question because they relied heavily on people’s opinions. Silber and Geffen advanced the following reasons [footnotes omitted]:

Firstly, the very concept of crime or criminality can be relatively subjective, as indeed is the case with ‘victimhood’. Some respondents to NVSs classify the threat of violence as a criminal act, while others might only classify its use as criminal. In addition, the distinction between perpetrator and victim can also be somewhat blurred in cases such as assault.

Secondly, there is strong evidence showing that reported victimization levels tend to increase with education, which is obviously (and particularly in South Africa) linked to income. A study in the United States showed that people with university degrees recalled three times as many assaults as those with a high school education. It is conceivable that over-exposure to a particular crime category amongst certain NVS respondents (in this case people with little education) may result in lesser infringements – such as assault – not qualifying as ‘criminal’. This has also been observed in studies illustrating how various developed cities/countries have produced higher victimization rates than poorer countries with higher levels of recorded crime.

Thirdly, reporting of property-related and violent crime tends to differ significantly, based on various circumstances. When a given sample is questioned on exposure to violent interpersonal crimes such as assault and sexual abuse (particularly when it involves a non-stranger), the results are likely to reflect a significant underreporting of actual exposure, due to a reluctance to report sexual abuse, child abuse, general assault and domestic violence.  Moreover, there might be differences in the way poor and relatively wealthy respondents perceive property-related crime. Relatively wealthy people have more items of value, and are able to afford insurance, which requires reporting such crimes to the authorities. This might mean they are more likely to be conscious of, or remember, thefts they have experienced in the period covered by the NVS.

They proposed an alternative method that looked at trends in deaths from non-natural causes, and in particular homicide rates. Such an approach yielded a different set of conclusions to those arrived at by Myburgh. For instance [footnotes omitted]:

In 2008/2009 18,148 people in South Africa were murdered. This amounts to 37.3 people per 100,000, or just under 50 per day. The evidence we have examined indicates that the victims are disproportionately african and coloured working class people.  We examined Statistics South Africa mortality data to determine the breakdown of murders by race. Our analysis is inconclusive but it indicates that victims are disproportionately africans and coloureds.

More compelling data come from the Medical Research Council (MRC). In an investigation into female homicide rates in South Africa in 2004, the MRC used national mortuary data to determine that 2.8 of every 100,000 white women die as a result of murder, whereas 8.9 africans and 18.3 coloureds meet the same fate. This shows that, at least for women, Myburgh is very likely wrong […] Black women are disproportionately murdered.

Another recent study by the Centre for The Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) analysed homicide rates in high-risk areas in Kwazulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng, using a representative sample of police dockets. Of the sample 85% of homicide victims were black, 9% were coloured, 5% asian and 1% of victims were white.

Silber and Geffen also looked at mortality reports produced by Statistics South Africa going all the way to the year 2000 and arrived at similar conclusions to those reported above.

So using an approach that counts the actual victims of crime shows that, contra Myburgh, the burden of crime in post-apartheid South Africa has largely been borne by the country’s non-white population.

The above notwithstanding, it is still quite possible that the homicide rate of whites has gone up since 1994 even though whites bear a lesser burden of crime when compared to other groups. Unfortunately, race specific homicide data were not collected prior to 1994 making it difficult for us to  work out and compare victimization rates for whites before and after apartheid. But the information that exists currently suggests that homicide rates for whites have come down or at the very least stayed the same since 1994. For instance, South Africa’s homicide rate began rising in the mid-1950s and continued on this upward trend, with an additional 5,000 homicides per decade, until 1994 (see the figure on page 10 of this document). And this happened during the period when the definition of South Africa excluded the homelands where most blacks (who were the majority of the population) lived suggesting that the increase in homicide rates over this period must have been largely borne by the citizens of South Africa as it was then defined. This piece of evidence coupled with the fact that homicides rates for the country as a whole have fallen by 50% after 1995 suggests that the homicide rate for whites must have declined alongside the country’s homicide rate or at the very least stayed the same since 1994.

Or perhaps certain types of victimization have increased since 1994 even though whites as a group are less vulnerable to crime when compared to whites before 1994 or when compared to other racial groups in contemporary South Africa. The typical case that is usually cited to illustrate this concern are the widely publicized attacks on white farmers. However, even here the current evidence seems to suggest that white South African farmers and their families are no more likely to fall victim to murder than the typical South African citizen. It is however important to point out that there is currently not a systematic and reliable way of collecting data on attacks on white farmers so the best analyses rely on data triangulations and assumptions implying that there is bound to be some dispersion in the conclusions. But be this as it may, all reasonable analysts of this story agree that there is currently no evidence to suggest that there is a genocide of white South African farmers, contrary to what some groups are claiming. Further, all experts agree that these attacks are not racially motivated nor do they have a political angle to them. According to a researcher who has had first-hand experience in investigating farm attacks, “most farm murders were criminal acts committed with a material motive behind them“.

What implications, if any, might this have for the open borders discussion since I have argued elsewhere that the fall of apartheid was an open borders event? Firstly, South Africa’s experience shows that crime rates do not necessarily rise following open borders — in South Africa’s case, the rate of crime has fallen in each year since 1995. And secondly, it is not clear-cut that the burden of crime will always be borne by natives following open borders — in South Africa’s case, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the victims of crime have overwhelmingly been the black (and to some extent, the coloured) population. In any case, open borders would present a way out for people such as Brandon Huntley who believed they were in danger of victimization. And under open borders, people like Huntley would not have to prove their case.

The specter of crime does not, in my mind, constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the presumption in favor of open borders — South Africa’s experience, with zero background checks, shows that crime is much more a concern for the new comers than it is for the natives. And I think it is possible to reduce the possibility of crime to a minimum by relying on background checks among other options. The alternative of consigning poor people to countries where they are perpetually the victims of crime, and to say nothing of poverty, is much worse.