The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) is a Europe-based ranking system that assigns favorable or unfavorable ratings for countries, based on their integration policies for immigrants across a broad range of differing environments. The most recent ranking has Canada at #3 and the United States at #9. It’s interesting to see how different countries are ranked on the index, the likely effects of cultural difference, and the “bigger picture” that’s not captured in indices such as this.
Immigration and the labor force are a hot-button issue in Canada right now, as 2011 is the year that the Canadian Baby Boom generation hits 65 years old, and begins to retire en masse. 2011 is supposed to be the peak of the number of Canadians actually engaged in the workforce, and any further gains in the active labor force are expected to be from immigration alone. There was actually a bigger baby boom in Canada (higher birth rate) than the US. And as 75% of Canada’s population resides within 100 miles of the US border due to weather and geography, there is not the same kind of space for demographic expansion that exists in the US. For these reasons, workforce reduction and immigration are generally seen as even more important issues in Canada than they are in the US.
So why does Canada do better on the MIPEX? Canada does better on the Access to Nationality, Long-Term Residence, Education, Family-Reunion for 3rd Country Nationals, and Labour Market Mobility scales. The US and Canada are in a dead heat on the Anti-Discrimination scale, and the US wins on the Political Participation Scale (as non-citizens can vote in the USA). Low cost, easy access to education and health care are also a huge pluses for immigrants moving to Canada.
On the other hand, in the US, university-educated immigrants do better for themselves and their families than in Canada, financially speaking. This is likely due to the fact that in the US many immigrants with degrees have pre-arranged jobs and/or have studied in the US, whereas most immigrants to Canada do not have pre-arranged employment. The US also has a more diverse job market, and a more favorable business climate for entrepreneurship, especially in technology.
I think cultural values probably play a role as well. While still individualistic when compared to some other countries, Canadians tend to be more collectivistic than Americans, as evidenced by their universal health care and education systems, the tax money they spend on new immigrants to try to help them achieve language proficiency and in general their support of civil and political institutions and collective decision making (more than Americans). In other words, regarding these issues the approach in Canada can be seen as - if we all help the group then we all benefit as individuals. In the U.S., the approach regarding these issues tends to be more – if everyone helps themselves, then the group as a whole will benefit. For example, language programs in the US with similar goals do exist, and may even be funded by the federal government (at least partially), but they’re likely to be delivered by individual NGOs, and there is likely a cost for the immigrant to pay. These NGOs generally also have to take personal responsibility for creating, managing and promoting these programs (individualism). Coincidentally there’s an organization in our building that provides such services.
Of course it’s not possible to reduce all immigration and integration issues to a few causes, but I think shared cultural values definitely play a role, which we can see reflected in the policies above. No country has really found a holistic solution to deal with the recent waves of immigration all over the world, and it will be interesting to see how these demographic shifts play out in the future.