One of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) ’s central goals is to ensure a qualified workforce capable of performing in the evolving knowledge-based economy as stated by Policy Horizons Canada in 2013.
The overall slowing growth in the Canadian population, the retirement of a large number of baby boomers and the international competition for skilled workers are resulting in a local labor force shortage. Thus, CIC’s mission is to establish Canada as a destination for innovation and opportunity, and to enhance Canada’s social fabric in order to attract talent who would contribute to its prosperity.
With an estimate of $1,464,667,008, around 5,570 full-time trained employees and close partnerships with provincial and territorial governments, educational institutions, immigrant-serving organizations, panel physicians, and a large number of national and international organizations, the Canadian immigration system operates based on well defined and implemented policies and acts.
Through the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Official Languages Act, and the Employment Equity Act, among others, and programs such as the Refugee Protection Program, the Newcomer Settlement and Integration Program, the Multiculturalism for Newcomers and All Canadians Program and the Citizenship for Newcomers and All Canadians Program, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is committed to support the social, cultural and economical integration of newcomers including refugees, and to help them become fully-fledged productive citizens.
However, challenges remain.
People immigrate to reunite with family, to find employment or to flee an intolerable or insecure environmental or political situation in their country, the case of the Syrian refugees. They are driven by the inequality they perceive between their country of origin and the host country in human rights, living standards and job opportunities. They choose Canada because Canada promises them “common membership and equal opportunity”, and they yearn to belong.
The level of inclusiveness of the host society and newcomers’ personal characteristics are paramount in determining newcomers’ adaptation strategies and their degree of inclusion and sense of belonging.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada encourages the Canadian society to promote multiculturalism, linguistic duality and social inclusion and promises in return a higher quality of life and a prosperous economy. Yet a number of immigrants still are or feel excluded due to many factors at the societal and individual levels.
Some of the excluding factors at the societal level are:
- Unmet expectations. The host society expects newcomers to comply with its practices and to reevaluate their identities. Exclusion becomes a form a punishment imposed on newcomers in an attempt to enforce the society’s values.
- Perception of real or symbolic threat. According to the Integrated Threat Theory, both realistic and symbolic threats lead to negative attitudes towards immigrants. The majority group fears the weakening of its heritage and cultural and national identities and feels the urgency to protect them, thus reacts by being on the offensive. Secularism, for instance, becomes synonym of safety despite the fact that requesting it negates one of the fundamental freedoms recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Dominance of a reductive vision. A majority/minorities divide posit a misleading opposition between an assumed homogeneous majority and heterogeneous minorities, which leads to unnoticed similarities between groups.
- Old guards. They are longer-term members of the majority group, competent, well connected, influencers, resistant to any kind of change and protectors of the status quo. They see no value in altering the natural order of things.
- Need to maintain privilege. People will defend the privilege they have whenever they feel threatened of loosing it even if this leads to excluding their competitors.
- Lack of trust. The host society questions the intensions, plans and loyalty of newcomers who never cut loose from their connections in their country of origin.
- “Us/them” or “ours/theirs” constructs. These dichotomies dominate discourses on physical characteristics, values, rights, behavior, identity, space and control. While social identity and social categorization theories explain that categorization is a normal psychological process essential to making sense of others’ behaviors and to planning appropriately our own, it is still considered an excluding act when associated to, inter alia, stereotyping, racism, identity labeling and model minority.
- Dominative racism, aversive racism, and color-blind racism. Dominative racism is the traditional form of racism. Aversive racism is an unconscious bias that results from trying hard not to be racist despite the prejudice feelings one has. Color-blind racism is a form of subtle racism that results from ignoring racial differences which leads to racial inequalities.
- Worthy/unworthy and indispensable/unneeded constructs. Bourdieu (1984) explains “a class is defined as much by its being-perceived as by its being” (p.483). In the same line of thoughts, Margo (2009) states: “our challenge as Canadians is whether we see newcomers as a ‘benefit or cost’” (p.24). Thus, to be granted inclusion, conditions are applied: 1) newcomers should prove they are worthy through demonstrating their willingness to adhere to the society’s norms, 2) that they are indispensable, and the host society should view them as such.
- Ignorance of others’ culture and communication noise. When the host society lacks knowledge of newcomers’ culture and communication practices, misinterpretations and unintentional hurtful behaviors happen. In fact, the Contact Hypothesis claims that prejudice is eliminated and intergroup conflicts are resolved when individuals engage in positive contact and learn about each other.
Excluding factors at the individual level exist pre, trans and post immigration. Some of these factors are:
- Individual traits. Age when landing, gender, culture and religious background, language(s) proficiency, level of education, motive to migration, network and financial resources are central to the choice of acculturation strategy.
- Personality traits. Shyness, vulnerability, inability to trust, coping-efficacy, resistance to change, capacity to deal with loss or separation, and knowledge about and attitude towards the host culture and social practices could influence youth’s inclusion.
- Self-protection acts. Immigrant youth choose avoidance, withdrawal, self-exclusion or even distancing themselves from similar stigmatized others to protect themselves from any risk of being excluded by others. This mostly happens after they witness or are victims of exclusion. They anticipate events and live in a constant state of heightened alarm.
- Racialized habitus. Racialized habitus exists also within the racialized minority groups who strive to distinguish themselves from subgroups and to accentuate their association with the majority. Racialized habitus is illustrated by statements such as “I am Chinese but I am not THAT Chinese” and labels such as FOB (Fresh off the boat).
- From hiding a stigma to adopting it. Some newcomers decide to hide their invisible stigma to associate with the majority group. This keeps them far from their similar others and often leads to self-limiting behaviours. Others let themselves absorbed by the stigma to the extent of sabotaging any possible opportunity they might have.
- Self-fulfilling prophecy. Some newcomers react to societal stereotyping acts with stereotypical behavior, which confirms the host society’s initial preconceived perceptions about these groups.
- Self-categorization, perceived dissimilarity, homophily and loss of hope. Homophily could result from a conscious choice, or is self-imposed when individuals realize the little chance they have to belong to the majority group. They develop prejudice towards its members and distance themselves from them.
- Conditions for social mobility. Newcomers assess the worth of the other group before they attempt to join it while making sure no ramifications would result from their move.
- Duration of residency. In general, the longer immigrant youth live in Canada, the more they are included in the Canadian community.
- Convenience. Self-exclusion from the job market out of convenience is mostly noticed within groups of female immigrant who prioritize raising their children to being actively employed.
Unless Citizenship and Immigration Canada addresses these factors and issues when designing its strategies and policies, social inclusion will remain a great challenge to an important number of immigrants in general and refugees in particular.