As an immigration attorney living and working in Canada, helping those seeking to visit or immigrate to the United States, I have the opportunity to see some significant differences between the two countries when it comes to immigration policy. Frankly, while both the U.S. and Canada are historically immigrant-friendly countries, the current climate in the U.S. is overtly anti-immigrant. In comparison, Canada is making an aggressive push to actively solicit immigrants from across the globe. Canada’s immigration policies reveal a different set of priorities and a far different way of thinking about immigration.
Why is there such a stark contrast between the U.S. and Canada? In my opinion, the U.S. has a different ideology than Canada when it comes to immigration. Canadians overwhelmingly believe that immigration is key to its national livelihood. Canadians recognize that immigration has a positive impact on the economy and is one of the best ways to respond to the country’s aging population.
Canada welcomes immigrants – the country actually has a permanent residence program called Express Entry that facilitates easy and fast immigration to Canada without requiring employer sponsorship. Individuals who are educated, have experience in their fields, are young, and speak English and/or French can have their permanent residence applications processed in 6 months or less.
And it’s not just the existence of a path to permanent residence like Express Entry – there is a clear difference between Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when it comes to processing applications for admission. Why? Because CBP officers take their cues from CBP headquarters in Washington, DC which is under the purview of DHS and the President. As the current U.S. President’s policies are not pro-immigration, some officers seem to see that as tacit approval to err on the side of denial when adjudicating applications for admission. As a result, reports of refusals, referrals to secondary inspection, and aggressive questioning by CBP have risen since the election. More denials means fewer immigrants.
Having said that, CBP seems to view Canadians and those entering from Canada differently than those seeking admission at the southern border. Because there is greater economic parity between America and Canada, perhaps the risk of individuals from Canada overstaying their visa or working without authorization in the U.S. doesn’t seem particularly high.
However, one phenomenon that has manifested itself in recent months on both borders is increasing suspicion and higher scrutiny of visible minorities. I live in Toronto, which is one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the world. Toronto Pearson International Airport pre-flight inspection is the fourth largest port of entry into the U.S. and regularly processes people of many different nationalities and ethnicities seeking entry to the United States. In my opinion, this makes it one of the better ports of entry. Of course, not all ports of entry at the northern border are uniform in their approach and smaller land ports of entry may have a different orientation to those of different ethnicities.
Will the anti-immigrant sentiment emanating from Washington, D.C. subside in the coming months? Or will negative rhetoric and policies escalate to the point where the delineations between U.S. and Canadian immigration policies are even clearer? The U.S. has already lost some brilliant minds to Canada over the travel ban and other policies – and stands to lose many more.
The United States should do all that it can to encourage individuals to bring their skills and talents to America, as well as continue its longstanding commitment to family reunification which has contributed to America’s shared prosperity for so long. The lost opportunities are piling up – when will Congress act?