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On-line version ISSN 2448-7228Print version ISSN 1870-3550

Norteamérica vol.6 n.1 México Jan./Jun. 2011


Reflexiones: Entrevistas


Dossier: Mexican Migration to Canada Statistical Data and Interview With Chona Iturralde, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)


Camelia Tigau*


* Researcher at CISAN, UNAM,



Canada was built on immigration, and one of every six Canadian residents was born outside the country (McCrank, 2010). Canada's immigration may be compared to the United States' due to geographical proximity and similar historical conditions, and to Australia's, because of similar geographic conditions (huge resources and territories, but small populations). Canada, the U.S., and Australia are all principal receiving countries in international migration that accepted a large number of displaced persons and refugees for permanent settlement after World War II.

Nevertheless, the rate of immigration per capita to Canada is higher than the one to the U.S. (Green, 1995). Canada also has a stricter policy for selecting candidates, especially since the introduction of the points system (the Skilled Worker Programme) in 1967 that evaluates migrants according to their education, language skills, work experience, age, arranged employment, and adaptability. Canada currently receives more than 300 000 applications a year (Cerna, 2010), but only accepts about 250 000 immigrants and 175 000 foreign temporary workers annually (McCrank, 2010).

Even during the 2008 recession, Canada did not restrict entry of new migrants. The Canadian government's rationale was that, given the demographic changes expected over the next 20 years, "developed countries need to attract talent, reduce skills gaps and project the skills shortage for the next few years. This is the time to attract the best skills instead of reducing the intake of immigrants" (Mittal, 2008). Minister for Immigration Jason Kenney stated that the country "would maintain its current policy of encouraging immigration in order to meet identified labor shortages in key areas despite the financial crisis." He added that "attracting different types of skills and talent [is] necessary for developed countries to compete in the global economy. Canada's strategy of encouraging people to move there is the best way to prepare to exit the crisis" (Mittal, 2008).

Despite this historical background, there have also been opinions favoring changes in Canada's immigration system. For instance, it appears that more foreign workers are needed in the labor market than the number of entry visas issued every year (Yalnizyan, 2011). According to declarations by the Center for Immigration Policy Reform, Canadian politicians are too concerned about winning the votes of new Canadians to admit that the system is broken and that the flow of immigrants is overwhelming its labor markets, with the unemployment rate now at about 7 percent (McCrank, 2010).

From this perspective, it is appropriate to ask: what is the situation of Mexican professionals in this country? Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) does a census every five years, counting the number of entries of skilled foreign workers. The situation of Mexican skilled workers may be analyzed through this institution's statistics included in this dossier. An interview with Chona Iturralde also explains some key issues for the Canadian migration policy. Her views may be considered a broad interpretation of the statistical data provided by the graphs.



Chona Iturralde is from the Philippines. She has been working with Migration Canada since 2001, but she has been in her current position since 2006. She came to Canada in 1992 to study and later found work. She thought she didn't mind staying. She is hardly familiar with Mexico, having only been on short visits; nevertheless, her work concerns Mexican migrants.

In a paper she wrote with DeVoretz (2001), Iturralde, now a Canadian official, questioned brain drain in Canada and asked under what conditions highly educated Canadians would stay in Canada given the substantial returns for moving to the United States. The authors found that the probability of staying in Canada is convex to age, and depends on marital status, previous mobility history and the expected income gain from moving. Given the new ease of movement and high returns, why do so few highly trained Canadians leave for the United States? Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien offered one potential answer to this question by citing the fact that Canada is ranked number one on the Human Development Index (HDI). This dossier offers an update on Chona Iturralde's experience with Canadian immigration, this time not only as a scholar but also as an official.

Recently the French government acknowledged that their migration policy was inspired by Canada's, in the sense that the country chooses the people, and not the people, the country. Is that true of Canadian migration policy?

CI: Canada is a very important work force country and many people who come to Canada are well–treated. We make sure that before they come here they know what to expect and we assure their welfare. I guess that's what makes Canada a good place to go, because of the way we treat both permanent and temporary residents. I don't know of any country in particular who follows that policy.

Does Canada choose people who wish to immigrate to specific regions?

CI: We have different categories for choosing people; we have the permanent and temporary immigrants. Under the permanent stream, we have different subcategories [see tables] under which we allow individuals to become permanent residents because of their skills. That's the skilled workers, the PMPS (performance management plans) that have to show their skills before coming to Canada in order to participate in the labor market. On the other side, we also have immigration plans where we allow people for humanitarian reasons, for example people who are seeking asylum, and we then provide assistance to them. We don't actually pick one country over another, even though some countries have had visas imposed, such as in the case of Mexico. This may have an impact on their emigration flows to Canada. People should qualify under the requirements of the general program. We have also recently implemented the Canadian Experience Class site, for people who want to transform their temporary stay in Canada into permanent residence.

What kinds of skills are most appreciated in Canada?

CI: At a federal level, we usually try to select highly skilled individuals, with skill levels 0 (managers), A (professionals) and B (skilled and technical), people we sometimes call "the brightest ones." The need for certain occupations depends on the province. We also have the Provincial Nominees Programme where each province can choose the occupations they need. Briefly put, skilled workers are permanent residents and the unskilled are temporary. And we also have another stream, which is the temporary, like all the agricultural workers coming from Mexico. And lately we have the low skilled program –actually there is a significant flow from Mexico as well– so that's also another route for people to come to Canada.

Do you prioritize skilled workers over temporary ones?

CI: No, we need them both. There is a demand. For permanent residents, there are different streams. It's very different on who the people are that come here, for example considering the number of family members. The demand for certain occupations certainly has an impact on immigration tendencies. But I would say the numbers of those who come to Canada do not give us information on the importance of certain immigration groups over others. There are other factors that affect the flows.

What is migrants' contribution to Canadian society?

CI: There is really not a lot of literature on this, but the debate on their contribution has been going on for quite a while now. We know for sure that they have an impact. This is an exchange: we contribute to them, and they contribute to us on the social and cultural level. I actually wrote a small piece on that. On the one hand, in terms of consumption expenditure, housing goes up; the more they come here, the higher the demand for housing, so government expenditure increases as well, and our expenditures for social benefits increases. On the other hand, we get to know the cultures of other countries and their different languages, which is really great. They also have a demographic impact, an impact on the labor market and on the population's aging. This has to be analyzed in terms of benefits, but also of costs.

There have been predictions that the Canadian economy will depend almost entirely on foreign workforce in 10 years.

CI: No, that is not true. Migration just has an impact on the net labor force growth. When using statistical data, we also advise not to use a single year. On the forecast, there are a lot of assumptions. It uses data for graduates from Canadian institutions, but we also have assumptions about the flows. The affirmation that migrants could or should be the main workforce in Canada is incorrect.

Do you think the brain drain to Canada is a problem for sending countries?

CI: I think migration is a personal decision, and if Canada doesn't get them, some other country will. Countries compete. It also depends on the skill level. I really don't have any opinion about brain drain. The problem is why they leave. You also have to consider that there is return migration. That question corresponds to the country they come from. There are some problems at the institutional level, if the government of the country of origin has spent money on them. Then we speak of costs, of an investment. But if you think that the person may return money to his country of origin –and sometimes the sums are huge– we go back to the question of how to measure this phenomenon.

How representative are Mexicans among the skilled–worker community in Canada? Not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of image.

CI: Generally if we are talking about Mexicans who actually live in Canada, it is a relatively small number. They tend to be educated and have an upper social status. These are Canadian Mexicans, actually living in Canada. At the same time, the temporary flow of immigrants under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme is mainly associated with Mexicans, not with other Latin American populations. But Mexicans do not enjoy high visibility in Canada. Actually, when we look at the census data, the numbers are small. The flow of Mexicans to Canada, especially the temporary flow, benefits Mexico because of remittances.

What is the cooperation between Mexico and Canada on migration issues like?

CI: The relationship with Mexico has flowed especially after NAFTA because we are now strategic partners, and we also have more agreements and political consultations. These are observations prior to the imposition of visas. It was emphasized that the visa imposition will not have any impact on relations between Canada and Mexico.

How do Canadians perceive this visa imposition?

CI: The reason for this decision is really justified. Almost a third of refugee applications came from Mexico, even though most of them were being rejected. I guess there is a very good reason for this visa imposition. The action at the individual level –applying for a visa the same way the U.S. imposed a visa– always provokes some resentment. At the governmental level I would say relations are the same. There was no flow in the temporary agricultural workers. I don't know if it's too early to estimate if flows between Canada and Mexico have been affected, because visas were imposed in July 2009. When we look at the figures in the first two quarters of 2009, there was no significant change in flows other than seasonal agricultural workers.

Is there a special department for Mexicans at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)?

CI: They are distributed in the work of all the departments. For the data that we provide, we have different administrative systems inside and outside the organization that allow us to put them together and come up with a data base.

How does CIC cooperate with other state institutions such as the j Ministry of Education? For example scholarships for foreigners involve both education and migration.

CI: CIC works closely with any governmental institution at the provincial, ministerial or governmental level. We have, for example, the Canadian Immigration Financial Assistance (CIFA), which offers scholarships to for–eign students. If you are CIFA scholar, you're not supposed to apply for a worker's program. We have a legal labor market opinion (LMO) application, available on the internet. We want to make sure that the labor market requirements have been met, and we provide the necessary documents. In order to know if a person qualifies for a work permit, we have to work with provinces and they notify us. In the case of students, we want them to have some experience with the labor market in Canada, to see how great this country is! [Laughs.]



Cerna, Lucie. 2010. "Policies and Practices of Highly Skilled Migration in Times of the Economic Crisis," prepared under the ilo project on "Effective Action for Labor Migration Policies and Practice," supported by the Department of International Development (DFID), United Kingdom, International Labor Office.         [ Links ]

DeVoretz, Don and Chona Iturralde. 2001. "Probability of Staying in Canada," paper presented at the European Summer Symposium in Labor Economics (ESSLE), Ammersee, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), April 24–28, 2001.         [ Links ]

Green, Alan G. 1995. "A Comparison of Canadian and U.S. Immigration Policy in the Twentieth Century," in Don J. DeVoretz and C. D. Howe, Diminishing Returns: The Economics of Canada's Recent Immigration Policy, Toronto, C.D. Howe Institute, The Laurier Institution, pp. 31–64.         [ Links ]

McCrank, John. 2010. "Canada Immigration Policy Critics Call for Overhaul," Reuters, September 28, 2010, Immigration Watch Canada,–immigration–policy–critics–call–for–overhaul/, accessed April 5, 2011.         [ Links ]

Mittal, Anup. 2008. "Canada Encourages Migration Even in Current Financial Crisis," Canada Update Blog, 28 November 2008,–9241.html, accessed April 7, 2011.         [ Links ]

Yalnizyan, Armine. 2011. "Canada's Immigration Policy: Who Is on the Guest List?" Globe and Mail blog,, February 18, accessed April 4, 2011.         [ Links ]


Statistical Data on Mexican Migration To Canada Provided by the CIC after the Last Update On Foreign Immigration

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