While most news outlets are focused on the Canadian "Freedom Convoy" and the government's response to it, another story out of Ottawa with potentially bigger long-term consequences has gone underreported. That's the announcement that Canada has increased immigration targets for the next three years to their highest level in a century. This is big news for Canada, but it should also be closely studied by the United States, which faces analogous demographic and economic challenges.
Canada's fertility rate stands at an anemic 1.4 children per woman, far below the replacement rate of 2.1 — meaning that, if not for immigration, the Canadian population would be shrinking. That would put a heavy strain on the country's welfare state, with fewer workers available over time to pay into government programs that provide benefits and social services. Canada's economy is also suffering from pandemic-related labor shortages.
In response to both trends — as well as a need to clear a backlog of immigration applications — the Canadian government has decided to increase immigration targets over the next three years to levels that exceed 1 percent of the country's population each year. (For comparison, the United States in recent years has been granting lawful permanent resident status to well under one third of 1 percent of the American population.)
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The increase in immigration to Canada will also be heavily weighted toward immigrants admitted through economic categories (56 percent in 2022 and rising to 59 percent in 2024), with the share admitted because of family connections (24-25 percent) or for humanitarian reasons (20 percent in 2022 and dropping to 16 percent in 2024) significantly smaller. The relative share of each category has remained fairly steady over the past three decades, with the bulk of arrivals filling targeted economic needs, especially for skilled workers.
American policymakers should pay close attention to these developments north of the border. The U.S. also has a plummeting fertility rate, with the country's current rate of population growth the slowest since the nation's founding. We're also suffering from labor shortages. Both trends point toward the need for immigration reform along Canadian lines, with higher levels and more economically focused targets.
Can Washington pull it off? It doesn't seem likely. While just 24 percent of Americans want immigration decreased, these restrictionists are highly motivated by the issue and form a powerful bloc within the Republican Party. That's enough to keep the GOP from going along with an immigration reform package — and margins are likely too narrow in Congress to get it done without Republican buy-in. That gives the restrictionist minority an effective legislative veto.
That's a real shame — and just the latest sign of America's political dysfunction contributing to economic and demographic decline.
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