Education is key to integration

April 13, 2017

By Ross Finnie, Times Higher Education |

For 2017, Canada increased its permanent immigration target to almost 1 per cent of the population. This was a decision of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but is more or less in line with the policies of previous Canadian governments, regardless of party and prevailing economic conditions. Immigration is part of the fabric of Canadian life. Currently, the populations of Toronto and Vancouver, Canada’s two largest cities, are approaching 50 per cent “visible minority”, and this is projected to increase to almost 70 per cent by 2036. Numerous policies support this rapid social change.

Official anti-discrimination and multiculturalism policies matter. So does selection of who can come. In 2016, about 54 per cent of immigrants to Canada were economic migrants (about 40 per cent of whom were families selected using a points system that predicts labour market success). A further 27 per cent were family members of Canadians, mostly of previous immigrants, and 19 per cent were refugees (including a large number of Syrians).

Another factor undoubtedly underlying the success of immigrants to Canada is that, when granted permanent residence, new immigrants are almost immediately afforded social benefits. These include language classes, targeted resettlement services and access to public health care. This reflects expectations among both policymakers and in wider civil society that immigrants should become full citizens relatively quickly, rather than being admitted on a conditional, short run basis.

But these policies are not sufficient conditions for immigrant success, especially in the longer run. Canada’s modern history as a successful immigrant-receiving nation owes a lot to its education system. That both childhood (first-generation) immigrants and second-generation immigrants have higher levels of educational attainment than those born to Canadian-born parents speaks to their determination and perseverance, and also to the openness and flexibility of the system they join.

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