December 2, 2012

The Value of Diversity: Canada’s Immigration and Integration Regime

Oliver Schmidtke

Migration is not a new phenomenon—it is as old as humanity. But in a world in which more and more goods and services are exchanged at an ever faster pace, migration has globalized as well. In contemporary capitalism, it has—following the general trend of neoliberal development—increasingly become socially differentiated: for economic reasons nation-states court a privileged group of highly skilled migrants while erecting higher and higher barriers against refugees from poverty and war. On the basis of this reasoning, the OECD countries’ aims regarding immigration and integration policies have more and more converged.

At the same time, xenophobic and racist currents have been growing in the last two decades on both sides of the Atlantic. Many European countries are confronted with the rise of parties of the radical right that agitate against migrants. In North America, a growth of “nativist” groups can be observed as well, though these are not organized as independent parties.

Despite these parallels, there are at times surprising differences in actual policies. This is true with regard to the options migrants have to legally enter the country but also for integration policies—up to the question of how societies envision their communities and the underlying sense of nationhood. In this respect, reactions to migration are more liberal in the classical immigrant countries of North America than in Europe. This is particularly the case for Canada—even though continuing immigration confronts the country with particularly profound societal changes.

In the last fifty years, Canada has changed from a society dominated and defined by white settlers into a multicultural society that generally accepts diversity as part of its self-conception. This transformation is at the heart of the study penned by Oliver Schmidtke, Professor of Political Science and History at the University of British Columbia in Victoria, Canada. Schmidtke demonstrates how the country has reformed its immigration and integration policies since the 1960s. In this sense, migration—and migration policies—have functioned as an engine of modernization, not least in terms of broad acceptance of multiculturalism in the society. His conclusion: While European countries may learn from Canadian migration policies, neoliberalism—with its “utilitarian” concepts driven by economic considerations—puts pressure on the very liberalism of these policies, leading to the expansion of a “guest worker status” and the decline of humanitarian concerns.