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Trump may praise Canada’s immigration model, but he would never adopt it

Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017.

Jim Lo Scalzo/CP

Although Donald Trump praised Canada's immigration system in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, he does not understand that system. To emulate the Canadian model, Mr. Trump would have to transform not only U.S. immigration, but his own thinking.

"Nations around the world – like Canada, Australia and many others – have a merit-based immigration system," Mr. Trump observed in his address. "It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially."

This is correct, as far as it goes, which is not very far. Yes, this country employs a points system that recruits immigrants based on their ability to integrate into the Canadian economy.

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But if Mr. Trump truly wished to adapt the Canadian immigration ethos, he would have to embrace concepts he currently rejects. First and foremost, he would have to fling open the doors.

The United States brings in about one million legal permanent residents each year, about a third of one per cent of its population. Canada will bring in 300,000 immigrants this year, just under nine-tenths of one per cent of this country's population. So to make the U.S. immigration system more Canadian, Congress and the Trump administration would need to almost triple the current annual intake, to around 2.8 million new arrivals a year.

That increased intake, if the Canadian way became the American way, would include 280,000 refugees. While most immigrants to Canada are either economic class or family class, about 10 per cent are refugees, brought in on humanitarian grounds. The United States typically brings in about 70,000 refugees a year, a quarter of the Canadian equivalent, and Mr. Trump wants to ban refugees entirely. That's really not very Canadian of him.

The President believes immigrants should be self-supporting, and indeed they should. But the most successful immigrants to Canada often do not have the professional degrees or fat bank accounts Mr. Trump no doubt has in mind. As my colleague David Parkinson reported, Canada seeks immigrants not only for the professions and knowledge industries, but in the skilled trades and other blue-collar sectors.

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Those sorts of jobs in the United States are often filled by illegal Latino workers. To emulate the Canadian system, the United States would have to convert the stream of illegal immigrants from Mexico into a legal stream. Mr. Trump is trying, instead, to choke off the flow altogether.

The President would have to welcome Muslim immigrants. The Canadian system is blind to ethnicity or religion. Muslims are as welcome as any others, provided they meet the criteria. Mr. Trump, in contrast, wants to ban the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States in any circumstances.

Most important of all, Mr. Trump would have to embrace multiculturalism: the celebration of diversity within a united society. Such a concept would be alien to the President and his supporters.

Immigration is the key to prosperity and growth for any advanced country. Both the United States and Canada have a fertility rate below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per mother. (The United States is at 1.9 and Canada is at 1.6.) Efforts to increase fertility rates in Europe and in Quebec have mostly failed. (You cannot bribe a couple to have a child; it is insulting even to try.) Immigrants are the best – indeed, the only – way to keep an economy filled with young workers paying the taxes needed to sustain the growing ranks of the retired.

But Mr. Trump, however much he might praise the Canadian model, will never adopt it. That sort of openness to the world just is not in his nature.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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