Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Culture: Attractiveness to Migrants

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Somehow, I missed a Gallup poll released back in April on international immigration patterns. I don't recall attention to it in the Canadian media either, which is rather remarkable considering the fact that it reveals trends favorable to Canada as compared with its rival for attracting quality immigrants, the United States.

The United States and Canada are clearly the most attractive nations in the world to immigrants, if the Gallup poll is to be believed. 165 million people would like to move to the United States, while 45 million people would like to move to Canada (which, I would point out, is more people than live here presently). The fact that more people would like to move to the United States is not the most interesting part of the poll. Only the younger and less educated potential immigrants prefer the US--the older (25 and up) and more educated (high school and higher) prefer Canada.

At some level, this seems somewhat counter-intuitive. When North Americans think about the differences between the two countries, they consider Canada to be the more socialist country, the one with more social programs and safety nets. The older and more educated immigrants generally don't need these social programs nearly as much as the younger and less educated. One might think that the more educated would be attracted to the lower taxes of the United States, and the less educated to the programs that help the less privileged in Canada. Yet, that's not the case. In the most extreme demographic polled by Gallup, college graduates from Southeast Asia, Canada was preferred to the United States by a more than 3:1 margin!

What are people seeing? The poll doesn't directly address that, but I suspect a lot of the difference comes down to cultural reputations. For the past decade, the United States is increasingly known as an intolerant place where immigrants are not welcome, at least if they are in any way identifiable as a immigrant. In contrast, Canada's reputation for being multi-cultural is spreading. The educated around the world understand that in Canada they will be allowed to be bi-cultural--both Canadian and whatever they were before they migrated (this blog has addressed this idea before).

The poll mentions what likely is also a major factor--Canadian immigration policy clearly favors well-educated, skilled immigrants, whereas the mess that can barely be called a system in the United States mostly offers no such preference. If somebody knows they are desired, they tend to find that place more attractive.

Whatever the reason, this isn't good for the United States. If the best and brightest are starting to prefer Canada instead of the United States, the increasingly globalized economy will inevitably start to move to Canada's favor as the Canadian work force becomes more qualified relative to that in the United States.

The United States has many reasons to reform its immigration policies. The Gallup Poll is just yet another reason.

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