Crossroads of Culture 200 Years of Canadian Immigration (1800-2000)
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Historical Overview of Immigration to Canada

The Merit Point System

Given how powerful modern corporations and bureaucracies have become, it is easy to see how large movements of goods, services, money or people could not escape close scrutiny and control. Add to these administrative constraints our nation's huge legal apparatus and a democracy's sense of fair play, and it is no wonder that we now have a rigorous system directing immigration. By 2000, a highly refined quantitative method of assessing applicants' worth as workers, entrepreneurs, professionals or citizens was generally the norm. Government policy research and political decision making established the number who would be admitted in any given year. The immigration department can allow people into Canada under one or more classes, namely Family, Refugee, Business, Skilled Workers, and Other (retirees, live-in caregivers, etc.). Each of these classes is further divided into distinct categories, such as spouse, fiancé, son or daughter, parent or grandparent, in the case of the Family class; or entrepreneur, self-employed and investor, in the Business class. In fact, there are 25 categories among the five main classes of applicants.

To help immigration officials select who enters and who does not, there is a merit point system that awards actual numbers or values to qualities like education, skills, health (or lack of it), wealth and so on. Each category has its own threshold for admission, but overall it is out of 100 points per applicant. The details of this system are far too extensive and complex to pursue in this short essay. Suffice it to say that it is a proven and very tightly administered and audited procedure. Moreover, there are various levels of appeal available to those who are refused at various stages of the immigration process. What kind of Canada is taking shape as a result of the existing merit-based system? In 2000, 227,207 people were admitted as immigrants. Here is the breakdown by class:

Skilled Workers















Traditionally, the top two classes were the only ones recognized, but after the Second World War, and with Canada's support, if not leadership, in the United Nations as that organization endeavoured to handle refugees worldwide, our country opened its doors time and again to people fleeing war zones, oppressive regimes or environmental disaster. Among the most notable were a hundred thousand displaced persons from Europe (1940s-1950s), followed by tens of thousands of refugees from the failed Hungarian Uprising (1956). Ugandans and Somalis fleeing political oppression or armed conflict in East Africa arrived by the thousands, while tens of thousands of boat people from Southeast Asia came to Canada after the Vietnam War. Since then, there have been refugees from Yugoslavia, Iran, Afghanistan and Central America. Canadian churches and humanitarian groups, coupled with ethnic communities and individual families, carried the bulk of the task in resettling these refugees, normally by sponsorship and other charitable means.

As important have been the business-class immigrants. In the 1980s, Canada turned more conservative, and many more of its political decisions, particularly on the economic front, aimed to encourage private enterprise rather than public spending. Hence, the idea of attracting immigrants with either considerable wealth or a record of entrepreneurship became a clarion call. Asians benefited considerably from this new direction in immigration policy. Among them were the Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwanese and Koreans, whose own economies were booming, but who feared Communist China's takeover of historic territories.