The Status Quo Is Easy: Canada and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Immigration is one of the big issues in the news lately, largely due to the refugee crisis occurring as a result of events in Syria and Europe. Canada has stepped up to do its part to help alleviate the problem by committing to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of next month. The Liberal party successfully emphasized this as an important election issue and one that could see a result early under the new administration and illustrate a quick-to-get-things-done approach to politics.

Though the decision to increase refugee acceptance is supported by many, it doesn’t please all Canadians. Some worry about such consequences as reduced availability of jobs for Canadians, the cost of transporting and providing for refugees, available housing, changes to the country’s cultural makeup, etc. These are valid concerns and it would be irresponsible of the government to ignore them, as they involve a cost-benefit analysis and force a discussion that considers the degree to which we are able to accommodate the added economic and social weight of an increasing population.

Change is something we often try to avoid. The status quo is easy, it’s what we know best. However, it can be useful to consider the scope of Canada’s contribution to the immigration issue and the benefits of increased immigration to the nation.

Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society in the UK, takes a look at the Canadian contribution, adding that the plan to take in 25,000 refugees currently and another 50,000 by the end of the year places our country as a leader among others (the US has agreed to take in 10,000, Australia 12,000, and the UK 4,000). This is promising and brings Canada up to the immigration levels it reached in 1979, when Southeast Asian refugees entered the country in the wake of the Vietnam War, but there is concern that more can be done. The article compares the North American contribution to that of Germany, which accepted 400,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. Of course, Germany’s geographical location to Syria is very different than Canada’s making immigration a quicker and perhaps easier process, but the point is still made: more can be done.

What benefits come from increasing immigration to Canada in light of the Syrian crisis? The World Economic Forum has recently posted that there are positives to come from increasing immigration globally:

In the US, over a third of documented immigrants are skilled. Similar trends exist in Europe. These percentages reflect the needs of those economies. Governments that are more open to immigration assist their country’s businesses, which become more agile, adaptive and profitable in the war for talent. Governments in turn receive more revenue and citizens thrive on the dynamism that highly-skilled migrants bring.

Yet it is not only higher-skilled migrants who are vital. In the USA and elsewhere, unskilled immigrants are an essential part of the construction, agriculture and services sector….

Research on the net fiscal impact of immigration shows that immigrants contribute significantly more in taxes than the benefits and services they receive in return. According to the World Bank, increasing immigration by a margin equal to 3% of the workforce in developed countries would generate global economic gains of $356 billion. Some economists predict that if borders were completely open and workers were allowed to go where they pleased, it would produce gains as high as $39 trillion for the world economy over 25 years.

 Of course, completely opening boarders to workers is an unlikely action for governments to take in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, but even a small increase could have economic benefits for Canada. It takes some looking beyond the immediate short-term costs and recognizing that there are job opportunities for immigrants beyond what would have been available to them in their home country (it’s also worth mentioning that often immigrants fill job positions that are among the lower paying in the economy that many Canadians would not seek themselves, but are of great benefit to newcomers, while filling vital roles in society).
The words of Ian Goldin above are valuable to bear in mind. Canada prides itself on being multicultural, accepting, and a welcoming place for our own people as well as others, and it’s easy to let the fear of change influence decisions about immigration. There are two sides to every coin, and in order to make the best decisions for our country we owe it to ourselves to consider both sides.
And beyond the purely economic benefits, is there not also something to be said for doing what is good, right, and proper to help others attain the fundamental freedoms, levels of safety, dignity, fairness, and opportunity to which we feel we are entitled?

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