The threats to move to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president started appearing long ago, but they’ve increased in volume and intensity over the past few months. After Trump’s big wins on Super Tuesday, thousands took to Twitter in panic and outrage. Canada’s immigration website experienced delays, presumably from a surge in traffic. Cape Breton, a Canadian island with an aging population, responded by welcoming Americans and received thousands of inquiries, many of them serious. Moving to Canada became easy fodder for comedians and late-night hosts.
Now that Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, more celebrities are likely to follow in Lena Dunham’s footsteps with vows to emigrate north if he wins in November. Already, companies have begun to capitalize on liberal Americans’ anxieties: Spotify’s “Moving to Canada” playlist, which includes The Weeknd and Justin Bieber (but, oddly, not Drake), is being advertised in the New York City subway, and a Canadian advertising firm has set up a webpage called Trump Clause that includes legal clauses for people or businesses choosing to migrate north. Meanwhile, for the image-minded would-be expat, a roundup of “Canadian Clothing Brands to Familiarize Yourself With Before You Move to Canada” is just a click away. Let liberal America’s colonization of Canada begin!
But wardrobe questions aside, what would it actually require for an American to move north? According to Peter Edelmann of Vancouver immigration law firm Edelmann & Co., the process is relatively easy if you’re an American doctor, lawyer or architect looking to relocate temporarily and you have a Canadian job offer in hand. (This is thanks to a NAFTA visa for certain types of professionals.) However, for other Americans, permanently settling in Canada is a little more difficult: Most would need sponsorship by an immediate family member — like a spouse, parent or dependent child — or to be a skilled worker in a category that’s in short supply in Canada. In other words, maybe it’s time to make amends with that Canadian ex-boyfriend, or to consider changing careers to ice-road trucker. But even then, waiting times for permanent residency average about two years through family sponsorship, and many years longer for live-in caregivers applying as workers, while competition among applicants remains steep — the backlog for live-in caregivers alone is currently 38,000-people deep.
This should come as little surprise to Americans, given how difficult it is to immigrate to the United States. In fact, the Brussels-based Migrant Integration Policy index ranks Canada higher than the U.S. in its treatment of immigrants, based on criteria like the ease with which families can reunify, migrants can attain permanent resident status, and workers can switch jobs or maintain their immigration status if they become unemployed. Relatively speaking, educated Americans who want to immigrate to Canada don’t have it so bad, especially compared with low-wage Central American or Chinese workers. If anything, it’s telling that American citizens living in Canada are usually considered “expats” instead of “migrants” — expats occupy a position of social and economic class privilege within their new country.
Nevertheless, the threat to move to Canada surfaces so predictably among liberal Americans every four years that the two countries’ heads of state joked about it on Justin Trudeau’s last visit to America.
A mass migration north would not be unprecedented: Roughly 100,000 American loyalists left because of the American Revolution; thousands of black Americans headed north fleeing slavery; 300,000 American pioneers settled in the Canadian prairies in the early 20th century; and some 240,000 American draft-dodgers and war resisters arrived during the Vietnam War. Carolyn Egan, a firebrand with a mane of white hair, is one such Vietnam War resister who arrived with her draft-dodging boyfriend in 1970; she applied for permanent resident status at the border crossing and was granted status within months. A member of Toronto’s War Resisters Campaign, Egan is now engaged in efforts to support her contemporary counterparts: U.S. soldiers protesting the Iraq War. An estimated 200 Iraq War resisters have taken refuge north since the war began in 2004, 45 of whom sought refugee status, but 12 years later, those who have not returned to the U.S. or been deported are still maneuvering the legal system; the group estimates there are 20 or so in such a predicament. One of them, a quiet man in his 30s who enlisted after 9/11, fled the U.S. in 2006 after his enlistment term ended and he was stop-lossed — the practice, which John Kerry described as a “backdoor draft,” by which the army unilaterally extends a soldier’s term. (He requested anonymity because he is now fighting a deportation order.) Since then, he’s been vocal in his opposition to the war and sought permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds — the other main option for immigrants to Canada — but remains in limbo. “Sure, I miss home. I’ve missed a lot of things,” he says. “But I still know I made the right choice.”
Could a Trump presidency transform society so drastically that other Americans could also qualify for Canadian permanent residency on humanitarian grounds? “Things would have to change significantly,” says Peter Edelmann, noting that most people applying for Canadian refugee status today hail from Syria and Iraq. (Incidentally, their migrations are the direct result of the war that the War Resisters are protesting.) Edelmann says refugee claims need to have specific bases, such as the threat of being tortured in Guantanamo, or being punished for speaking out — just what the war resister is afraid could land him a harsher sentence by a court martial, in the event of his deportation. “Canada considers the U.S. to be a safe country,” says Edelmann. “American citizens don’t seem to be the target.”
However, the vast majority of Canada’s growing number of immigrants aren’t refugees. Most have arrived in recent decades, as skilled workers or through family ties, after race-based immigration criteria were finally abolished in the Sixties, ending preferential treatment for white, European immigrants. Many of today’s immigrants hail from global South countries like China and India, where a growing and increasingly educated middle-class is now producing workers just as qualified to work in Canada as many Canadians. And they’re also just as qualified to perform jobs that Americans once held, which has stoked fears among many poor, white Americans of being left behind in the global race to prosperity.
These are precisely the fears Trump has capitalized on to propel himself into the Republican nomination, outsourcing blame for high unemployment onto poor Chinese and Bangladeshi workers, who get all the jobs because their employers — the contractors manufacturing H&M and Apple products for Americans — are less hemmed-in by pesky labor and environmental regulations overseas. But American liberals moving to Canada won’t change this reality. They would simply be leaving the hard work of political change to those with fewer economic resources, social capital and mobility. Maybe, instead, they should stay home and get their own house in order.
MONTREAL — An ever-declining birthrate in Quebec as well as an aging population are putting the spotlight on the province’s immigration levels against the backdrop of issues such as the economy, identity, culture and language.
The province’s statistics bureau said the 2015 rate was 1.6 children per woman, down one per cent from 2014 and marking the sixth consecutive year it had edged lower.
While that figure may not appear abnormally low, the province also has a rapidly aging population and a growing shortage of skilled workers.
Quebec estimates 1.1 million people will retire between 2013 and 2022 and a recent document published for the Immigration Department said “this situation underscores the need to reassert immigration’s role and its contribution to Quebec.”
Immigrants, however, are not spread out evenly across the province, and Statistics Canada estimates visible minority groups will represent 31 per cent of Montreal’s population by 2031 — but no more than five per cent everywhere else in Quebec.
Universite de Montreal demographer Marc Termote said he’s “very, very worried” about the growing cultural and linguistic divisions between Montreal and other cities.
“What’s happening is a profound break between Montreal and the rest of Quebec,” he said.
For example, he explained, there are more immigrants in one of Montreal’s suburbs, Brossard, than in all of Quebec City, the capital and second-largest city in the province.
Furthermore, Termote said it’s a widely publicized myth that increasing immigration will help labour shortages or the economy.
“All the studies show immigration creates a neutral benefit to the economy,” he said. “And we will need to welcome many, many more people than we do now for it to affect our aging population figures or fix labour shortages.”
Montreal is having trouble integrating the immigrants it already has, with unemployment rates for those born outside Canada at 11 per cent in the city compared to seven per cent for non-immigrants.
Quebec has more control over its immigration policy than other provinces and selects newcomers largely based on language; between 2010 and 2014, 61.3 per cent of immigrants were francophone.
The policy helps preserve Quebec’s linguistic distinctiveness, but it also creates tensions, Termote said.
“The pool of French immigrants is not France or Belgium or Switzerland,” he said. “It’s French Africa, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan, and there are cultural and economic implications to this.”
There are also political implications, explains Daniel Weinstock, director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.
Weinstock said Quebec is witnessing a “hollowing out” of the moderate, nationalist position on immigration and diversity that has characterized politics in the province since the 1960s and the time of Rene Levesque, said Weinstock.
Debate is being polarized between the Liberal government, which wants to increase immigration to 60,000 people a year and welcome them based on their economic potential, and an opposition wary of the province’s ability to properly integrate them.
“There was a kind of consensus, largely the idea that Quebec is an immigrant society and a francophone society and being a full-fledged Quebec citizen means accepting that social contract,” Weinstock said.
That is changing, he said, as many in the province are beginning to think it’s not just about protecting the French language “but protecting all other aspects of Quebec culture which certain immigrants, even when they do speak French, may not share.”
An example of the new thinking was the values charter the Parti Quebecois government introduced in 2013 that would have prohibited public-sector workers from wearing conspicuous religious symbols on the job. The charter was never adopted as the PQ was defeated in the 2014 election.
The Liberal government quickly backtracked on its proposal to welcome more immigrants after receiving criticism, stating it was planning on keeping immigration levels constant — at 50,000 people a year — for the time being.
When the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, a right-of-centre party that is the third largest political party in the province, questioned the merits of increasing the number of immigrants, Couillard accused its leader, Francois Legault, of “fanning the flames of intolerance.”
“With 50,000-60,000 immigrants a year we are going to change the cultural face of Quebec and the challenges of a francophone society that is culturally distinct will increase,” Weinstock said.
“How that will play out politically is anyone’s guess.”
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press