9_immigration_square_statueA main theme of this issue is immigration. We feature two articles that shed light on diametrically opposed approaches to immigration, one by Elin Naurin and Patrik Öhberg from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the other by Herbert Grubel based on a report he wrote for the Fraser Institute.

The contrast is stark. Without much overstatement we can say that, according to Naurin and Öhberg’s description of the principles underlying Swedish policy, the primary if not sole criterion is the welfare of the immigrants. For Grubel, however, the primary if not sole concern should be a net benefit for the people in the receiving country, in this case Canada. He calls for significant changes in Canadian policy so as to meet this criterion. And, it is fair to say, under the current Conservative government Canadian immigration policy has been moving in this direction.

Traditionally Canadian policy has combined two goals. It has been assumed that those admitted as “economic immigrants” would in due course constitute a net benefit for Canada by increasing overall labour productivity and paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. While proportions fluctuate, in recent years this group constituted slightly over half of those arriving. “Family class” immigrants, most of whom are family members of economic immigrants, make up about a third of the total. “Refugees” make up about a tenth. The rationale for the family group is that economic immigrants are unlikely to come unless they can bring their immediate families with them. The rationale for the refugee group is, first and foremost, the welfare of those concerned.

Sweden, with a quarter of Canada’s population, now takes in almost twice as many refugees. Sweden’s door has opened wide in the last few years to welcome a large number of refugees from conflicts in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Central Asia. As a result, the great majority of immigrants to Sweden today are refugees and their families. As riots in Stockholm suburbs last summer showed, integrating the increasingly diverse newcomers is posing serious difficulties. Nevertheless, it remains politically incorrect to question the generosity of immigration policy.

In recent years, the politically incorrect terrain has been occupied by the Sweden Democrats, the populist party that wants to stop immigration. The Sweden Democrats are shunned by all other parties, from left to right. Naurin and Öhberg suggest that this leads to a disconnect. The question that should be answered is not asked: how can Sweden integrate an increasingly large number of immigrants, a group with major cultural differences from native Swedes and much lower average education levels? Even to pose this question would implicitly grant a certain legitimacy to the Sweden Democrats.

Grubel is not interested in refugees; he is content to leave their share of the total immigraton flow unchanged as long as there is a net benefit to Canada from all categories of immigrants combined. He attributes the increasing net cost of immigration to the Canadian economy to a decline in long-term productivity of those accepted as economic immigrants under the points system, and to overly lax regulations pertaining to their ability to sponsor parents and grandparents.

To ensure that there is a net benefit to Canada, he would go beyond current reforms that make it more difficult for asylum seekers’ parents and grandparents to obtain landed immigrant visas. He would exclude all parents and grandparents as permanent immigrants. His major proposal goes even further: he would scrap the points system. Instead, he favours nomination of immigrants by employers, subject to the constraint that they pay a salary at least equivalent to the average in the region. Admittedly, the points system has become subject to abuse, but employer nomination is a system that is also subject to gaming.

Given their size relative to population, Sweden and Canada are countries that can afford to be generous to people outside. Sweden provides the example of a country that has chosen one extreme – with long-term consequences still uncertain. Should Canada go to the other extreme? This is a debate that both countries need to pursue. In this and subsequent issues, Inroads will do its part.

“Courage, Hope and Dreams” sculpture, Hamilton, Ontario, by Paul Bolland