Sociologist Irene Bloemraad Speaks about Immigration in Canada

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Nour Aoude, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Recent changes to immigration law in Canada drew criticism from legal and human rights groups, reminding us that immigration policy is an ongoing and heated conversation in which we all have a stake. In order to engage in this conversation as effectively as possible, it is important to benefit from the opinion of expert researchers on Canadian immigration.

What are the unique strengths of Canada’s immigration policy? How do we stack up against the US and other immigrant-attracting countries? Is our system beginning to show cracks? These are the questions that Irene Bloemraad, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, tried to answer in her Big Thinking lecture on Parliament Hill, on April 3, 2014.

Inspired in part by her own experiences, professor Bloemraad’s lecture focuses on the multi-faceted success of Canadian immigration. But she is not fully satisfied with the claim that this success can be attributed to economic selection and isolated geography alone, and has decided to a hold up a sociological lens to the issue.

Her research found three factors that give Canada an edge over its competition in attracting, integrating, and retaining skilled immigrants. First, she praises widespread partnerships between federal, provincial, and municipal programs and community-based organizations in successfully settling immigrants in their new communities, and connecting them to economic opportunity. Second, Bloemraad highlights the way in which multiculturalism has been adopted as a positive value in Canada’s nation-building dialogue, helping to explain Canadians’ positive perception of immigration. Canada’s final strength has been in offering immigrants a sure path to citizenship and permanent settlement, inspiring confidence in the system among immigrants themselves, who are more likely to take up citizenship here than their counterparts in the US or Europe.

Nonetheless, she cautions that a rise in temporary foreign workers with no sure path to permanent residency may begin to erode this confidence. There are over half a million temporary foreign workers in Canada at the moment. Like those in the US and Western Europe, who were brought in during times of economic boom, many temporary Canadian workers may choose to stay indefinitely as undocumented residents if asked to leave. Extending pathways to permanent residency to these groups, as Canada has successfully done with international students, could help avoid this outcome.

Professor Bloemraad’s lecture is part of the Big Thinking lecture series, organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Big Thinking lectures help connect Canadian policymakers with leading research in the humanities and social sciences. Watch the full lecture here.


Big Thinking


Interculturalism and pluralismResearchFederal policyBig Thinking