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Canada - Trends and characteristics of the Canadian migration policy since the late twentieth century to the present

As mentioned above, in the late 19th century, Canada began to adopt policy measures to manage immigration. A host of Orders-in-Council and acts formalised a restrictive immigration system open mainly to those who could trace their ethnic origins to Europe.

It was not until 1962, when regulatory changes were introduced, that the most discriminatory dimensions of Canadian policy were overturned. By the 1970s, the federal government undertook a broad review of immigration, commissioning a study to provide factual background on policy issues and to furnish new policy options. During this study, the provinces and other stakeholders were invited to submit briefs. The result was a 1975 Green Paper on immigration, which proposed to move away from the practices developed under the 1952 Immigration Act and the White Paper of 1966. Generally speaking, the Green Paper welcomed ethnic diversity and continued to emphasize immigration as a tool that could help Canada meet its labour needs. Instead of focusing simply on skilled immigration, however, the Green Paper further recognized the need to draw immigrants willing to settle in more remote, less populated areas. Following the release of the Green Paper, a Special Joint Senate-House of Commons Committee was established to stage public hearings on immigration policy and to provide recommendations on new legislation.

In 1976, the federal government subsequently introduced a new Immigration Act, which involved broad reforms and set the basic framework for Canada’s contemporary immigration policy. A key element of the new Act was the requirement for greater planning and provincial consultation in immigration policy. Under the Act, the federal government was required to set targets for the number of immigrants it would admit each year, and to consult with the provinces regarding planning and management of provincial immigration.

Another important innovation was the introduction of new categories of immigrants. These included: independent class (landed-immigrant status on their own initiative), humanitarian class, family class, and assisted relatives class. The 1976 Act was constructed around three pillars of admission: independent applicants assessed on the basis of points awarded for employment skills, education, and language abilities.

In the 1980s, the Immigration Act was further amended to include a fifth immigration category: the business class. Under this classification, individuals could immigrate if they were willing to bring significant financial capital to Canada to start a business or invest in the domestic economy. This new means of immigration has been used extensively by immigrants of Chinese origin, particularly during the period leading up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. Between 1983 and 1996, approximately 700,000 Chinese business people, mainly from Hong Kong, immigrated to Canada, bringing billions in investment funds.

In 2001, the federal government introduced the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, replacing the previous Immigration Act of 1976. This new legislation retained much of the previous policy framework, including the basic family, refugee, and economic classes of immigrants. Nonetheless, it represents a shift away from an occupation based model for determining admissibility among certain applicants to one that emphasizes education, language, and the flexibility and transferability of skill sets.

The Act, however, did tighten eligibility requirements for refugees, skilled immigrants, and business immigrants. Importantly, it extended family entitlements to same-sex and common-law relationships, allowing individuals united under such relationships to bring their partners to Canada.

The 2001 legislation also provided the government with new powers to deal with terrorism following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This included broadened powers to arrest, detain, and deport landed immigrants on the suspicion they might be, or could become, a security threat.

In response to humanitarian crises, Canada has accepted refugees since the end of World War II. Although Canada participated in three major refugee movements between 1945 and 1970 (displaced persons in the years immediately following the war, Hungarian refugees (1956-1957) and Czech refugees (1968)) and did admit refugees on an individual, ad hoc basis, it did not accede to either the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees until 1969.

Canada formally organized its refugee policies and management structures in the 1976 Act, thereby institutionalizing an ongoing commitment to fulfill legal obligations toward refugees. The 2001 Act continues this practice by placing an even stronger emphasis on the need for protection and less on an applicant's ability to settle in Canada. The current system is characterized by its flexibility, enabling settlement by the refugee claimant.

In 2002, the issue of security led to the Canada-United States “Safe Third Country Agreement,” with important implications for refugees and asylum seekers. Previously, refugees seeking to immigrate to Canada could enter the United States on a travel visa and subsequently claim refugee status at the US border (and vice versa for refugees seeking to immigrate to Canada). Under the new agreement, however, refugees are only permitted to make refugee claims to the country of initial entry. The purpose of this legislation is to prevent individuals in the U.S. from leaving, possibly escaping American authorities, by making a refugee claim in Canada (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2009). Other key forms of Canadian-American cooperation in the area of security and immigration include ensuring the compatibility of immigration databases of both countries and creating joint immigration processing facilities.

In regards to policies to combat crimes related to migration, the Government of Canada has developed important tools in combating migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (2002) and the Criminal Code (2005). The strategy is based on the prevention of trafficking in persons, protection of victims, prosecution of traffickers and collaboration with key partners.

With regard to the crime of trafficking in persons, the first law that criminalised the offense was adopted in 2002. It was not until 2005, however, that Canada adopted amendments to cover all forms of trafficking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police created the National Coordinating Centre for Human Trafficking and the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons to facilitate government coordination in combating this crime.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada tabled the 2010 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration on November 1, 2010. The immigration levels plan for 2011 reflects Canada’s long-term vision for immigration and recognises the importance of immigration to Canada’s economic growth and prosperity. In addition, the plan fulfils the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to reunite families and reflects Canada’s increased international commitments and humanitarian obligations.

This year’s plan indicates the number of skilled immigrants being selected (principal applicants) and the estimated number of spouses and dependants they would bring. Additionally, because provinces and territories are increasingly involved with the selection of economic immigrants, this year’s plan identifies economic immigrants according to the government responsible for their selection or nomination: the Government of Canada or provinces and territories.