What do we want our immigration system to accomplish?

This week, the Fraser Institute released a report saying that, on average, immigrants cost Canadian taxpayers much more in social services than they end up providing, even after they have been here for long periods of time.  In total, the net annual cost for all immigrants is somewhere between $16.3 billion and $23.6 billion per year.  The long and short of this is that the Fraser Institute suggests that we should vastly restrict our immigration system and only let in people who already have job offers, and stop allowing immigrant to bring over elderly parents and grandparents.  The authors of the report feel that our immigration system should only let in people that will leave the government richer than it would have been without them.

Of course this is not the sort of critique we are used to hearing in Canada.  We often hear that we need immigrants to sustain our economy as our population ages and our birth rate declines.  We also like to boast about the ‘cultural diversity’ that it brings.  But what if, on average, that our immigration system is not actually producing a net benefit for the country?

The main problem that I see is that we have never actually had a discussion about what we want our immigration system to accomplish.  As far as I can tell, no politician has ever laid out a set of goals for our immigration system, and then measured the results against those goals.  The current system seems to only want to get as many bodies into Canada as possible (subject to a few restrictions), and then hope everything works out.  The Fraser institute wants a polar opposite approach where we don’t let in anyone who will cost more in social services than they pay in taxes, which by design would severely decrease the number of immigrants we take.  Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong intrinsically, but either approach, or something in the middle, has consequences and benefits.

It’s time for our leaders to start debating what we actually expect from people that want to move to Canada.  How many people do we want to let in?  The Liberals in the past, and the Conservatives in the present have essentially taken an approach of ‘the more the merrier’ in fear of being labeled racist and anti-immigrant by the opposition.  Clearly, that’s not the best place to start when setting policy.

I think we can all agree that having specific goals in mind for the immigration system will end up being better for everyone.  We can’t ignore the fact that new immigrants will want to bring their families with them, but we also can’t ignore the costs that many in the family reunification class incur for the taxpayers.  There is probably a middle ground in there somewhere, but there is no way to reach a middle ground unless we start talking about it.