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Migrants finding open arms in Canada

By Jason Deparle (New York Times)
Updated: 2010-11-21 09:04
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 Migrants finding open arms in Canada

About 20 percent of Canadians are foreign born, and they quickly earn voting rights. Immigrants at the Palliser furniture factory. John Woods for The New York Times

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Rancorous debates over immigration have erupted from Australia to Sweden, but few nations take more immigrants per capita than Canada.

"I have yet to have people come up to me and say 'I want fewer immigrants,'" Jennifer Howard, Manitoba's minister of immigration, said. "But I hear, 'How can we bring in more?'"

As waves of immigrants from the developing world remade Canada a decade ago, the famously friendly people of Manitoba were irked by the newcomers' preference for Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver over the humble prairie province just north of the United States.

Migrants finding open arms in Canada

Demanding "our fair share," Manitoba won new power to bring foreigners in, handpicking ethnic and occupational groups. Winnipeg is now a hub of diversity.

Every province except Quebec now runs a provincial program.

This town now offers stocks of palm oil and pounded yams, four Filipino newspapers, a large Hindu Diwali festival and a mandatory course on Canadian life. About 600 newcomers a month learn that the Canadian charter ensures "the right to life, liberty and security" and that employers like cover letters in Times New Roman font. (A gentle note to Filipinos: resumes with photographs, popular in Manila, are frowned on in Manitoba.)

"From the moment we touched down at the airport, it was love all the way," said Olusegun Daodu, 34, a procurement professional from Nigeria. He marveled at the free medical care. "If we have any reason to go to the hospital now, we just walk in."

"The license plates say 'Friendly Manitoba,'" said his wife.

"It's true," Mr. Daodu said. "Do they ever get angry here?"

Canada, which has little illegal immigration, has long sought immigrants to populate the world's second largest land mass.

"The big difference between Canada and the U.S. is that we don't border Mexico," said Naomi Alboim, a former immigration official.

French and English from the start, Canada also has a more accommodating political culture. About 20 percent of Canadians are foreign born, and they are quick to acquire voting rights. "It's political suicide to be against immigration," said Leslie Seidle of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Montreal.

Some stirrings of discontent can be found. Canada's rapid immigrant growth has fueled complaints about congestion and housing costs. A foiled 2006 terrorist plot brought modest concern about radical Islam.

"There's considerably more concern among our people than is reflected in our policies," said Martin Collacott, a founder of the Center for Immigration Policy Reform.

He argues that high levels of immigration have increased the cost of the safety net, slowed economic growth and strained civic cohesion. But he concedes, "There's literally no one in Parliament willing to take up the cudgel."

The Manitoba program started in 1998 at employers' behest, and has grown rapidly. Most newcomers are required to bring savings, typically about $10,000. Unlike many migrant streams, the new Manitobans have backgrounds that are strikingly middle class.

"Back home was good �?not bad," said Nishkam Virdi, 32, from India, who makes $17 an hour at the Palliser furniture plant.

He said he was drawn less by wages than by the lure of health care and solid utilities. "The living standard is higher," he said.

The program has attracted about 50,000 people over the last decade, and surveys show a majority stayed.

"Because we are from the third world, I thought they might think they are superior," said Anne Simpao, a Filipino nurse who was offered a TV by a stranger.

Many immigrants do complain of the difficulty in transferring professional credentials.

Heredina Maranan, 45, a certified public accountant in Manila, has been stuck in a Manitoba factory job for a decade. She did not disguise her disappointment when relatives sought to follow her. "I did not encourage them," she said. "I think I deserved better." They came anyway.

"Of course I wanted to come here," said her nephew, Lordie Osena. "In the Philippines there are 60 children in one room."

With 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, Arthur DeFehr, chief executive officer of Palliser furniture, sees an opportunity for Manitoba. "I'm sure many of those people would make perfectly wonderful citizens of Canada," he said. "I think we should go and get them."

The New York Times

(China Daily 11/21/2010 page10)