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Hintergrund: Canada: a Cultural Mosaic

No immigration, no Canada

"Let me start with my parents. They were 30 when they moved to this country. She was pregnant with me. They didn’t have a thing. I bet they never imagined that their loud-mouthed kid would end up standing here today,” declared Naheed Nenshi in his inaugural address following the acceptance of his elected position of mayor of Calgary. Calgary was deemed the third largest Canadian city in 2010. Nenshi, a Harvard graduate, is the first Muslim mayor of a major city in Canada. His mother and father had immigrated to Canada from Tanzania. But after his election neither the Minister of Immigration nor other people in power wanted to highlight his origin. They wanted to maintain normalcy in the conduction of the event, while simultaneously celebrating that a first-generation Canadian could have the potential to be elected into a Canadian governing position.

In fact, Canada would not exist without immigration. The ancestors of the aboriginal peoples of Canada, the Inuit and the First Nations (formerly called American Indians), came to the country via the Bering Strait. The Bering Strait was historically used as a tool in connecting North America and Russia. Today, the so-called First Nations People are a minority in Canada. The European settlement through colonialism began in the late 15th century. Presently, many Canadians are descendants of European settlers. Canadian confederation took place in 1867. The first Canadian Prime Minister was, of course, an immigrant. Sir John Alexander Macdonald was born in Scotland in 1815 and arrived in Northern Canada as a child.

Immigration continues to shape Canadian society, contributing greatly to the population growth of the country. Today, citizens of China and South-East-Asia comprise the largest population of immigrants in Canada.

People from 200 countries immigrate to Canada

According to recent statistics, in 2011 a total of 6,775,800 people that were not Canadian-born citizens inhabited the country. The percentage of the immigrant population in Canada at this time was approximately 20.6 percent of the population of about 32.9 million. In Germany, only 13.1 percent of the population was born in another country.

The people immigrating to Canada originated from almost all over the world. Asia (including the Middle East) is the largest contributor to immigration in Canada. In 2011, 13.1 percent of newcomers to Canada were born in the Philippines. China and India came in second and third, as roughly 10.5 percent arrived from those areas. Completing the list of the top ten countries of which Canadian immigrants were born are: the United States, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Iran, South Korea, Colombia and Mexico.

In 2012, a total of 257,887 people immigrated to Canada. There are varying reasons as to why people immigrate to Canada and are allocated immigrant status by the Canadian government. Of the immigrants in Canada, 65,008 were parents, spouses or sons and daughters reuniting with family members that had already immigrated. Additionally, 23,094 were refugees who fear persecution back in their home countries. Most immigrants come to Canada because of better economic opportunities.

Do you have enough points to become an immigrant?

As time progresses, the terms under which immigrants are allowed to come to Canada have been altered. In the past, the Canadian government followed different policies than today, some of them even discriminatory in nature. For example, in the 19th century, the immigration offices focused on attracting farmers and labourers, preferably of European or American origin. Immigrants from China were especially discriminated against. They were the only ones required to pay a head tax and were still denied citizenship. As a result of the First World War, immigration by citizens of opposing countries such as, Germany, Austria and Hungary was outlawed. Until the 1960s, the Canadian immigration policies also discriminated against homosexuals and people suffering from mental disabilities. It was not until 1962 that racial discrimination was eliminated. From this point in time immigrants could no longer be rejected based on the color of their skin, ancestry or nationality. The Canadian government decided to select immigrants based on their skills.

In 1967, a points system was introduced in order to determine the contribution that an immigrant applying would make to the country. There are six categories in which potential immigrants can score. A total of 100 points were allocated, based on: English and/or French skills, education, experience, age, arranged employment in Canada and adaptability. The latter categories takes into account if the candidate or their partner have been working or studying in Canada. Those who score less than 67 points in total do not qualify to apply to immigrate into Canada as a skilled worker.

Recently, the government has refined the system to encompass more strict criteria. In addition to scoring enough points, applicants must have a job offer from a Canadian company, must be working for a doctor’s degree or work in a profession that needs labourers in Canada. For example, the government privileges engineers, physiotherapists and medical laboratory technologists, as there is a lack of Canadian workers in those fields. Canada does, however, offer other programs for immigrants with lower skill capabilities or on a temporary basis.

A cultural mosaic: Why Canada is such a popular destination for immigrants

But why do so many people want to come to Canada? Globally, Canada is famous for being economically efficient and offering high levels of education and health services. In general, immigrants have full and immediate access to social benefits offered by the Canadian government.

It is Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism that makes it attractive for immigrants and sets it apart from other countries. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to officially implement a legislative framework for multiculturalism. A multicultural society is characterized by ethnic or cultural heterogeneity and fosters the ideals of equality and mutual respect amongst differing ethnic and cultural groups. Canada emphasizes the concept of "the mosaic". Whereas the United States of America are known as a melting pot, meaning that different cultures are blended and integrated, Canada is know for its diverse population, thus: the mosaic. According to recent polls, only a minority of Canadians is skeptical of immigration. The polls indicate that only 37 percent believe that immigration does not benefit the economy, whereas 71 percent of Germans agree to this.

Language classes and partner programs: Special help for immigrants

Refugees and immigrants to Canada receive a great deal of aid provided by the government in order to integrate them into the society. For example, the government offers pre-arrival programs. Before the immigrants or refugees move to Canada, they are informed about the costs of living, climate, the housing and job market and the rights and duties of the inhabitants. Free workshops are held in several countries globally, either in the language of the immigrants or in English.

After arriving in Canada, newcomers benefit from a variety of programs that aid in their integration. This includes: language training, information services, employment assistance and counseling.

The Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program for example, provides a host program in which Canadians pair up with newcomers in order to help them learn English, look for a job and participate in community life. The services are funded by the government, but are mostly carried out by non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Becoming a Canadian citizen: a test, a ceremony and an oath

Immigrants who are being welcomed into Canada permanently and not just as temporary workers or international students are at first granted a so-called "landed immigrant" status. They still receive most social benefits and are permitted to work everywhere in Canada. However, they cannot vote or run for political office, unlike permanent immigrant residents who have applied to become Canadian citizens. To obtain Canadian citizenship, "landed immigrants" must fulfill the following requirements: they have to live in Canada for at least three years without permanently leaving for any allotted amount of time and they must prove, for example with a diploma, that they have adequate skills in English or French. In addition, immigrants cannot become Canadian citizens while they are incarcerated or on probation. Moreover, potential Canadians must pass a government-issued examination testing their knowledge of Canada. Test questions may include the names of Canadian symbols or ask how members of parliament are being chosen. Furthermore, questions may cover topics such as election procedures, the rights and responsibilities of a citizen, social history or geography.

Immigrants who have passed the test and met all other requirements are invited to apply for Canadian citizenship. As part of the ceremony, the new citizens have to take an oath of citizenship. Then they receive a certificate of citizenship and can apply for a passport or other services.

Lost potential: Immigrants are struggling to integrate into the labour force

Although the Canadian points system of integration is complimented as being anti-racist, critics say that it discriminates against skilled tradesmen and untrained workers that are needed in construction or industrial companies. The Canadian job market is in need of that demographic, yet they mainly only enter the country on a temporary basis.

Internationally, Canada is known for its successful economic integration of immigrants. Nevertheless, it has considerably decreased in its effectiveness in recent times. The reality is that the unemployment rate among newcomers has risen and their income levels have dropped, while their level of work skills and language have remained the same. Many immigrants have to accept jobs that do not fit their qualification and for which they have not been trained. Experts have determined several reasons for the difficult integration to the labour market. Firstly, skilled immigrants struggle to get their foreign qualifications and work experience recognized by Canadian employers. A doctor with an India diploma or a lawyer who was trained in Pakistan needs the official recognition that his education is equivalent to Canadian standards. Secondly, the newcomers' English and French skills often are not sufficiently sophisticated for professional occupations. In addition, studies have indicated that immigrants are discriminated against applying for jobs. When sending in resumes, people with English-sounding names often receive more invitations to come in for a job interview than candidates with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names. The Canadian government has reacted to those problems. In 2007, the Canadian government founded the Foreign Credentials Referral Office that assists immigrants in having their qualifications recognized.