Canada has in recent decades occupied a privileged place among the world’s top immigrant-receiving countries. Despite weathering many of the same economic and political challenges that have buffeted support for immigration in other countries—from recession to threats of terrorism—Canada has managed to maintain a consistently positive public consensus around its immigration system.
While Canada has a long history of immigration, since the 1980s policies governing new arrivals have, to a large degree, been tied to demographic and economic considerations. Permanent residents admitted for economic reasons comprised roughly 60 percent of all admissions to Canada over the past five years. Polls suggest that this is in line with public preferences: in a 2011 survey, for example, 69 percent of Canadians thought immigration policy should prioritize nationally relevant education and skills. Canada’s geographic isolation from global conflicts or extreme poverty has safeguarded its selection system from mass arrivals or large-scale unauthorized flows. Furthermore, the diversity of immigrant arrivals to Canada—in 2014, new permanent residents came from nearly 200 countries—has ensured that any conception of “the immigrant” is not reduced to one ethnic, racial, or religious identity.
Canadian attitudes sympathetic to immigration and globalized cultural diversity took time—and, arguably, political will—to develop. This Transatlantic Council on Migration report explores the evolution of Canada’s apparently unique attitude toward immigration and diversity by presenting a snapshot of the country’s public opinion polling on immigration, and discussing the matrix of social policies, institutions, and institutional practices that have driven this positive consensus.