The dangers of immigration

When people express concerns about immigration it’s typically related to culture shock, increased crime, draining public assistance and other issues along those lines. In short, issues that concern the country into which the immigrants relocate.

I have concerns about the effect of immigration on the countries from which the immigrants came.

Almost anybody you talk to who moved to Canada from some other country will explain that part of their rationale was to pursue “a better life.” Something about Canada is inherently better, in some capacity, than wherever they came from. Whether its war, as in Syrian refugees, corruption in government, lack of career or business opportunities or any other of a plethora of reasons, they leave their homes and come to Canada (and other Western nations) to get away from the less desirable elements.

Canada = great

Home country = not-so-great

Personally, I completely understand the motivation. In light of the NDP impact on Alberta I have brainstormed with friends and family of where one might find a better economic scenario. We are extremely unlikely to ever move, but the thought has crossed my mind. How much stronger would that thought be in the minds of those whose lives and families are being threatened, or who cannot provide for their loved ones?

The desire makes complete sense, hence the steady stream of immigrants. But we need to ask some questions about the demographics of those who land on our shores. What can we know about them, and what impact might our immigration policies have on the demographics of those who land here.

If they have the means to travel, then clearly they have at least some economic resources. Immigrants to Canada would typically not come from the most poverty-stricken socio-economic stratus. In some cases they are actually quite wealthy because those with the most wealth typically have the greatest means to relocate when and where it suits them.

Immigrants are often also skilled, and there is a reason for this. Canada, for instance, has an Express Entry system that specifically streamlines the process of getting skilled workers into our nation. That doesn’t necessarily mean we exclude others, but we certainly lower the barrier to entry for those with specific skill sets. And there are those who propose that we make it even easier for skilled workers work in Canada.

The measure of skill includes two key components; education and work experience. More education and more work experience equal greater skill, and we give priority to individuals who meet those criteria. In fact, our universities are starting to overflow with students from other parts of the world coming to get an education in Canada and, presumably, stick around and work after they graduate. But to be a university student one must already have a solid high school education.

The benefits to Canada are self-evident. Many people who move here (except by way of a refugee situation) are likely to be:

  • Reasonably financially secure / wealthy
  • Reasonably educated
  • Reasonably skilled

Which is great for Canada, of course, but what about the country from which they came? What about those left behind?

It seems self-evident to me that if we give priority to the wealthy, the educated, the experienced – in short, the leaders of a nation – then Canada benefits at the expense of the countries from which these people immigrate. If a country is in trouble so a whole bunch of its financial resources leave, a whole bunch of its educated class leave, and a whole bunch of its skilled labour leaves, those who are left behind are more likely to be:

  • Not so financially secure / wealthy
  • Not so educated
  • Not so skilled

Those without wealth, without a real education, and without significant work experience, are going to have a harder time making their way to another country. Rather obviously, if I barely have enough money to buy food for today then I do not have enough money to get a bus ticket, airplane ticket, boat ticket, or whatever other kind of ticket to get to a better country. I also almost certainly lack the knowledge of how to enter the country.
What paperwork do I have to fill out? What phone number should I call, or website must I visit. I may even be illiterate. People in this situation are unlikely to ever get out of their situation, whereas the wealthy, educated and experienced can more easily find the best situations in the world and plant themselves there.

And if the country started off in a less-than-desirable situation before all the leaders left, is their departure more likely to improve the situation in that country or make it worse? It would be an optimist of a supernatural order to think the departure of the nation’s leaders is going to be a good thing when the country is in such a fragile state. Government corruption is not likely to improve if the leaders leave. Poverty is not likely to be reduced if the wealthy leave. Health is not likely to improve if the doctors leave. Justice is not likely to improve if the lawyers leave. Education is not likely to improve if the educated leave.

It seems apparent to me that the departure of those folks that Canada eagerly welcomes into our borders necessarily destabilizes the nations from which those folks have left. Whatever their reasons for leaving, their act of leaving is more likely to make matters worse, not better.

I would argue that Canada’s open borders – our willingness, even eagerness, to accept immigrants – is plausibly making Canada a better place to live at the expense of the developing world. Our comfortable first-world existence comes at the price of turning the clock even further back in the developing world.

With all the hand-wringing about the income gap between the wealthiest nations and the poorest nations, it may very well be that the open immigration policies of the wealthiest nations is at least exacerbating global poverty and, at worst, possibly even causing it.

A modest proposal

But this is a sticky situation, isn’t it? Canada doesn’t exactly want to shut its borders to immigrants because there are a lot of places in the world that people are right to flee from. Especially during war time. As Syria descends into chaos who in their right moral mind could possibly say, “sorry, no refugees allowed?” To close our borders would be moral lunacy.

And yet, to keep our borders open seems to be making the situation worse. Consider Syria again. As countless people flee the nation as it descends into civil war, what will happen when the war is over? Will all those who fled the war return to Syria? I seriously doubt it. Obviously some will, but many would prefer to settle into a more stable part of the world and start over.

So where does that leave Syria? War-ravaged, leaderless, lacking financial resources, lacking educated, lacking skilled, lacking the human resources to rebuild the nation. Even if “peace” can be found, how long with that last? Without the appropriate human resources to rebuild the nation, I predict that the peace will be short-lived. In the face of extreme poverty, people resort to all kinds of socially destabilizing practices and we’re back where we began.

Our immigration policies have plausibly caused, or worsened, these situations, but it would be unacceptable to reject any immigrants. How to address the situation? I have some suggestions.

First, if people land here as refugees because their country is suffering from war, perhaps we could welcome them with open arms with the large caveat that they are expected to return home once the fighting stops. We will absolutely protect them, feed them and care for them during the fighting – finding them temporary jobs and homes to live in – but they are far better equipped to rebuild their nation than we would be, and leaving the nation tattered and broken does nobody any good in the long term.

They must go back, but with our support. If Canada is going to accept refugees then Canada should be under a moral obligation to play a significant role in ending the fighting. And when we help the refugees return to their homeland, we send with them resources, educators, not-for-profits and other tools to help them rebuild their nation so that the likelihood of civil war is reduced.

Don’t just kick them out, but also don’t let them stay or else we’ll just have another influx of refugees when the permanently destabilized country descends into yet another civil war because Canada (and other similar nations) now have all the human resources necessary to prevent that.

If people want to immigrate for reasons that are not immediately life-threatening then Canada should ask some hard questions about the country from which they came. Why do people want to leave? Are they leaving in disproportionately large numbers? And if there are systemic issues with government corruption, poverty, disease or other similar problems, then perhaps Canada will only accept those immigrants on two conditions:

  1. Canada will actively work to improve the situation in those broken countries.
  2. Those who immigrate to Canada must demonstrate a personal investment to contribute to the development of their home country as long as they live in Canada.

If Canada is going to skim off the cream of the crop from another nation, we owe it to that nation to help them reach a point where the cream of their crop no longer want to leave. We need to help heal the broken nation if we are going to take the healthiest and strongest from that nation.

But we can hardly do it without help and guidance from those who have left. Thus the immigrants who come to our country must demonstrate that they are actively working to improve the situation “back home” while they are here in Canada. I’ll be honest that I’m not sure exactly what that would look like, but something to that effect should be a necessarily condition to their relocation here. Perhaps something as simple as a demonstration that 5% of their income in Canada is invested in their country of origin (business investment, not-for-profit donations, etc). They could get a tax credit for that.

Alternatively, Canada could commit to redirecting the income tax (or some portion thereof) from all immigrants into international development agencies that work in those nations. That would serve two purposes. First, it would provide significant financial aid to those agencies to help address the reasons why people leave in the first place. Secondly, it would make it clear that Canada is not unjustly benefiting from these immigrants at the expense of the nations from which they came.

We don’t like the idea that our Nike shoes are manufactured by children in sweat shops in Vietnam, and I also don’t like the idea that our economy is growing through skilled immigrants while the nations from which they came suffer. Something needs to be changed.


Lots of people are concerned about the impact of immigration on the nations into which the immigrants are moving, and those are concerns worth addressing. I hope I’ve given you reason to also consider the negative impact of immigration not on Canada, but on the countries from which these immigrants come to us.

Personally, I’m willing to welcome hard-working, skilled, educated people into Canada to grow with us in our Canadian vision. Just as I would gladly welcome on board my ship any good swimmer who swam all the way from some other ship. But it seems to me that we have a moral duty to start asking some hard questions about why there is some guy in the ocean swimming away from one ship, asking to board another ship.

And perhaps there are some on the other ship that cannot escape. Do we not have a moral duty to do something about the Titanic?