03/21/2013 02:46 EDT | Updated 05/19/2013 05:12 EDT

America Should Give Immigrants a 'Canadian' Welcome

There are some things we'd like to change about ourselves, but they can't be changed. We can dye our hair, but it doesn't change our original hair colour. We can wear contact lenses to change the appearance of our eyes, but this is merely cosmetic. Some of us may even wish that they had been born somewhere else, dreaming of the life that could have been -- if only.

I wasn't born in Canada, but from early on in my life, I was determined to repair Mother Nature's "mishap." Spending my early and adolescent years in various places in Europe, as well as in Britain, and visiting Canada for schooling and pleasure as often as I could, I eventually took the plunge, filed my paperwork, and made Canada my home.

Not that I have any regrets about my formative years -- if it hadn't been for my "European adventure", I probably wouldn't be the person I am today: multilingual, and having the best job in the world (translator, interpreter). But neither do I regret my decision to leave the Old Continent behind and move to Canada.

With the tales of horror I had heard, about long queues and waiting for one's landing papers for years, I had mentally prepared myself to wait for a very long time before I could settle in Canada permanently. To my surprise, though, the whole "magic" was over and done with in seven months.

Canada's immigration system worked then, just as it works today. I scored top points in virtually every category of the application, passed my medical exams, and before I knew it, I was called in for the final interview, with a nice French Canadian lady. I may be mistaken, but I think she was personally thrilled to meet such a promising future Canadian.

I had filed as an "independent immigrant", meaning I didn't rely on a specific job offer, but instead opted to come to Canada as a self-employed translator. My case worker, I think, would have hugged me in a warm welcoming embrace at the end of the interview if doing so hadn't violated professional ethics.

There was not a single trace of apprehension in her demeanour that would have indicated any negative attitude towards immigrants -- along the lines of "Oh my God, another one who wants to come to my country!"

Years later, on a visit, I dropped by that Canadian embassy just to say hello, and she and I traded stories back and forth about how life had been treating each one of us. Even then, she was still genuinely thrilled for me and about my choice of becoming a Canadian.

I've told you this story to show you that the immigration process doesn't have to be a waterboarding experience -- like in the United States. In fact, it's not even necessary to file an application for immigration; just crossing the American border as a tourist will earn you a lot of dirty looks and prying questions while being held under a cloud of suspicion that, perhaps, you may harbour some sinister motives, say, of overstaying your welcome on American soil.

The problem with America's immigration system is that it's not as open and welcoming -- and, above all, based on common sense -- as Canada's. The same application filed with that Canadian embassy, for which, remember, I got top scores in almost all categories under the points system, would have been rejected by American authorities instantly.


Because my application would have lacked the two most crucial aspects for getting a Green Card: I did not have any relatives in the U.S. (at the time), and I did not have a firm job offer.

This is where America keeps shooting itself in the foot: a "lowly" freelancer like myself is rejected by Americans, even though I would contribute immensely to the general tax pot and to consumption. But Americans are short-sighted in this respect. They only open the door to people with a guaranteed job, which they may lose any time after landing in the U.S., but an independent entrepreneur who doesn't "steal" anyone's job, but instead brings his existing business and client base to America, gets the door slammed in his face.

Sure, there is a category for business investors, just as there is in Canada, but unless you have a few million dollars in your bank account and are willing to endure the headaches and hassles of starting an actual business with employees, there's not a chance in hell you'll be admitted to the United States without a job.

For someone in my position, that leaves only one possible choice: I'd have to look for a job, get that potential employer to file all the necessary paperwork on my behalf, and then obtain a Green Card on the condition of staying with that employer for a specific number of years. In the meantime, though, my own translation business would have died, and my clients would have run off. After two or so years in the U.S., I could then leave my gainful employment and strike out on my own again -- but I would have to start building my business from scratch again, and getting it to where it was before would take at least five years.

Naturally, I never considered that option, because not only does it go against common sense, but it would also be an extremely stupid thing to do. However, if I were determined to get into the U.S., as many people from around the world are, I, too, would perhaps consider the possibility of staying and working there illegally.

I believe that America wouldn't have such big problems with illegal immigrants if it had a system that allowed for immigration based, more or less, on common sense. If the U.S. adopted Canada's immigration system, or any variation thereof, more people would be able to get into the country legally and contribute to their new home -- despite its already immense size in terms of the population, right now America could do with a lot more consumers capable of spending money, thus propelling the economy forward.

Consider this finding from a survey, quoted in the recently published book The Big Shift by John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker:

"More than half (53 percent) of the people on this planet, given a choice of living where they are or moving to Canada, would come [to Canada]. Seventy-seven percent of Mexicans would, 71 percent of Indians, and 64 percent of Turks. Even 30 percent of Americans would rather live north of the forty-ninth parallel."

To me, this speaks volumes. The way we in Canada select immigrants, and how we welcome them, has made us a "better" country than the U.S. What is more, in light of demographic shifts, rejuvenating our population on a regular basis -- only possible through immigration, as birth rates keep dropping -- is vital to our prosperity now and in the future. Canada, while not in an ideal position, is, by all accounts, far ahead of most other countries on that front, and therefore well placed to meet the challenges of the future head-on.

On immigration, and a few other subjects, America does, indeed, have a lot to learn from its northern neighbour. For this to happen, though, Americans -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- need to open their minds and be willing to explore other (that is - gulp! - non-American) options.