The executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump suspending refugee admissions and blocking citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country has rightly earned him widespread condemnation from many, including Memorial University.
Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in many parts of the world, and even Canada is not immune, as the recent shootings of Muslims in Quebec have sadly shown. However, Canada as a nation remains one of the countries most welcoming to immigrants.
In the aftermath of Trump’s action, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Dwight Ball have repeated and reinforced their positions welcoming immigrants and refugees to our shores.
Newfoundland and Labrador and the other Atlantic provinces in particular are coming to recognize that bringing in newcomers from overseas is not only a just and compassionate response to human need but also is in our own interests, and vital to secure the future prosperity and cultural richness of the region.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s aging population, the departure of many of its young people and the low birthrate among those that remain pose significant challenges for the province’s future.
Without intervention, employers may find themselves unable to expand due to labour and skill shortages, and the retirement and medical needs of its older people will have to be paid for by a diminishing workforce.
Contribute more than they cost
Our research and that of many other scholars in the area suggests that immigrants who were brought in through skilled worker programs, those who stay after arriving as international students, and those who came as refugees all contribute much more to society in the long term than they cost to support in the short term.
In part these benefits are financial — firstly, immigrants spend their money in the local economy, they invest it here and pay taxes, all of which creates jobs in the public and private sectors.
Secondly, they are more likely to start their own businesses, which creates jobs for others.
Thirdly, they are part of new networks of personal and professional connections that can spur international trade.
Fourthly, the new ideas and cultural diversity they bring stimulates the creative sector, which will be central to the province’s future growth.
“Their children help keep schools alive, and the cultural variety they bring makes this province a more interesting place.”
But there are many other benefits that immigrants bring, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador — their children help keep schools alive, and the cultural variety they bring makes this province a more interesting place.
Low compared to rest of Canada
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has acknowledged the importance of supporting immigration.
It is a partner in the Atlantic Growth Strategy, which has increased immigration as one of its pillars, and in the government’s Way Forward plan it set a target for 1,700 immigrants to be accepted annually by 2022 — a 50 per cent increase on current numbers.
The number of migrants to the area remains low, however, compared to other parts of Canada. In 2011-12 the immigration rate was 0.7 per cent across Canada but only 0.2 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador, a pattern that has persisted for many years.
“As of 2011 only 1.8 per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is immigrants, compared to 20 per cent of the population in Canada as a whole.”
Moreover, retaining the immigrants we receive can be a problem. While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data suggest 72 per cent of skilled immigrant workers remained in the province after three years, only 39 per cent of refugees stayed.
Fewer than 25 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador’s international students who become permanent residents remain in the province five years after graduation, compared to 70-80 per cent in the four most populous Canadian provinces.
As a result, as of 2011 only 1.8 per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is immigrants, compared to 20 per cent of the population in Canada as a whole.
Measuring the benefits
Memorial University supports a growing number of researchers studying immigration, including our team, which is working out of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Economics.
Our research is devoted to measuring the benefits that immigrants can bring and finding better ways to integrate them and encourage them to stay in the province.
Our next task will be building a network of scholars, policy-makers and the organizations serving immigrants across the Atlantic provinces to spread the understanding of this research and deepen our knowledge of the problems and issues agencies and organizations face.
Building a network
The Trump administration may set immigration policy in the U.S. back for years to come, but this offers Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador an opportunity it must seize to make our land the first choice for the newcomers this country so badly needs.
We also want to make fostering immigration and supporting refugees at the centre of public debate in the coming years.
Please join us in this important task and contact us if you or an organization you work with would like to join this network.