Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s campaign to bring Polish migrant workers from the U.K. to Canada to fill labour shortages has got the English press wondering whether Canada is out to steal Britain’s immigrants.
According to the U.K.’s Independent, Kenney took time out from an international border security conference in London last month to convince members of the U.K.’s Polish immigrant community to keep heading farther west, all the way to Canada.
The Harper government prefers poaching immigrants from the U.K. as opposed to recruiting new immigrants directly from Poland because Poles living in the U.K. have already developed English language skills and would find it easier to adjust to life in Canada, the Times of London reported.
"I got a call from someone in the Canadian ministry who said they were trying to make it easier for people to come and work in Canada,” Włodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz, the head of the U.K. Federation of Poles, told the Independent. “He told me there is a large Polish community in Canada already and he's trying to make it easier for people to move. He's particularly keen on Polish people who have English skills.”
The Independent noted that the old xenophobic adage that “foreigners are stealing our jobs” may now have to be replaced with the expression that foreigners “are coming over here and stealing our immigrants.”
The U.K. experienced an enormous influx of Polish migrant workers after 2004, when Poland joined the EU and its borders were opened to other EU countries. From 2004 to 2010, the number of Poles working in the U.K. grew tenfold, to around 500,000.
However, the timing of Canada’s push to attract migrant workers for the oil, gas and construction industries may be off, as these sectors have been showing signs of weakness this autumn.
Thanks to weakening economies in Asia, commodity prices have been falling and Canada’s oil and gas sector is seeing reduced earnings as a result. In its most recent GDP report, StatsCan reported these sectors are now a drag on the economy, shrinking more rapidly than other economic sectors in August.
And the construction industry is also facing an uncertain short-term future, with home sales dropping in more than half of Canada’s housing markets. Building permits plunged more than 13 per cent in September, with weakness in commercial construction as well as residential.
While some observers argue Canada’s labour shortage is growing “desperate,” with a potential shortfall of nearly 500,000 workers in British Columbia alone, others say the situation is overblown, and may be attributed to faulty math.
Faced with increased competition for skilled immigrants, Canada has been targeting specific countries to coax workers into crossing the pond, as have individual provinces. Saskatchewan earlier this year campaigned to bring Irish immigrants to work in its natural resources sector.
The Harper government has been busily reforming Canada’s immigration system in piecemeal fashion, altering the rules and mix of immigrants to focus more on those seen as being economically beneficial.