Friday, May 11, 2012

The Immorality and Inefficiency of Immigration Restrictions

[This article was originally published on]

Ottawa types try to make themselves look busy with “immigration reform” every now and again, so as to convince the voting public that they look out for their safety, money and future. In the twelve years since I landed in Canada I can recall at least three or four such cycles of alleged attempts to remove application backlog and elevate the “quality” of immigrants by improving the selection process. Despite the tugging and rumbling, one thing never changes: the result. Presently we find ourselves in the midst of one of these non-events. Yet, the fact that immigration reform never brings authentic change should not deceive the reader into believing that there is nothing wrong with Canada’s immigration policy. The present article will attempt to point out but a few of these shortcomings and offer remedy. In fact, the immigration system is an immoral regime that only serves to perpetuate the Welfare State while keeping wages artificially high by barring potentially useful and cheaper labor to enter. The system provides a series of negative incentives which turn off the most desirable potential immigrants, while encouraging bureaucratically inclined, proponents of Statism.

The Immigration Process in a Nutshell

Non-Canadians are required to obtain residency and working permits through Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). This is a typical bureaucratic agency, thus, the immigration process is long, expensive and intrusive. The CIC regime is absolutely unnecessary, for “officialism is stupid,” wrote Herbert Spencer. Individuals can judge whether to immigrate or not based on their successes or failures, since,

[u]nder the natural course of things each citizen tends towards his fittest function. Those who are competent to the kind of work they undertake, succeed, and, in the average of cases, are advanced in proportion to their efficiency; while the incompetent, society soon finds out, ceases to employ, forces to try something easier, and eventually turns to use. (The Man Versus The State, p.138)

The nature of the process vis-à-vis the agency gives advantage to bureaucratically inclined, rather than people of initiative. In normal cases it takes two to three, and often up to five years from the filing of an application with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the approval of a Permanent Resident Visa, at which point candidates are allowed to land in Canada, having bestowed upon them the right to work, access to public education and healthcare, and every other social program. The application process is conducted over mail correspondence and through immigration lawyers based in Canada, which the applicants engage with from their home countries.

Most contemporary immigrants come from the less developed regions of Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, i.e. poor countries. As a result of Canada’s tough visa regimes with countries where immigrants come from, very few get an opportunity to visit Canada before making their decision to apply for immigrant visas. Persons visiting Canada on visitor visas are positively discouraged from indefinitely extending their stay if they find a career opportunity. Rather, they are forced to exit Canada and commence an application process from their home country. Thus, a large percentage of those who choose to immigrate do it either with only anecdotal knowledge of Canada or are the sort of persons who make rash decisions. Applicants are submitted to a series of health and language proficiency examinations, and asked very personal questions relating to income, wealth and family ties. In addition, and unbeknownst to them, applicants even get “checked out” by Embassy personnel hired by the Canadian government. Actually, this is standard procedure in any type of visa request.

The Canadian public is assured, however, that the army of bureaucrats employed in the CIC supplies them only with the best and most urgently needed “new Canadians.” In an earnest embodiment of bureaucratic hubris, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney often expresses his belief in his Ministry’s employees’ “ability to focus on new applicants with skills and talents that our economy needs today.” One is left befuddled as to how it is that bureaucrats far removed from the actual labor marketplace get to learn of its ever-changing needs so as to anticipate these needs through a process that lasts at least 24 months.

The CIC’s website boasts several different categories under which applicants can enter themselves. One of these categories—The Federal Skilled Worker Program—is at the center of the current “reform.”  A brief description explains that

skilled workers are selected as permanent residents based on their education, work experience, knowledge of English and/or French, and other criteria that have been shown to help them become economically established in Canada.

However, no indication is given as to how the CIC has come to reach its conclusions on which criteria produce the best immigrants, versus which qualities are undesirable. It is beyond doubt, however, that the skills and talents needed by our economy today are different than those which were needed yesterday, and very probably different than those that will be in need tomorrow. Any notion that bureaucrats can anticipate these needs years in advance is nothing more than a myth. If CIC personnel could indeed make the sort of forecasting that Minister Kenney claims that they do, these folks would not be staffing a government agency, instead they would be the most capable of entrepreneurs on the market.

Immoral Institution

As immigration barriers maintain a jurisdiction underpopulated, they serve the purpose of artificially keeping wages up. This is the reason why the labor unions were instrumental in the cessation of open immigration policies in North America in the peak of the Progressive Era. North America’s “working class” united in the ultimate act of hypocrisy in preventing their workers of the world brethren to join them in success. Those “on the inside” lack a moral right to prevent others from getting the same opportunity previously given them. If people seek to relocate into a different country, they only aim to pursue the best opportunities for their given set of skills. If a new person arrives in a country, he is not owed anything he will not earn with his labor or purchase for money previously earned.

Furthermore, as professor Ludwig von Mises concluded in Omnipotent Government, by preventing newcomers to enter our market, we only hamper the potential improvement of our own standard of living.

The free mobility of labor tends toward an equalization of the productivity of labor and thereby of wage rates all over the world. If the workers of the comparatively underpopulated countries seek to preserve their higher standard of living by immigration barriers, they cannot avoid hurting the interests of the workers of the comparatively overpopulated areas. (In the long run, moreover, they hurt their own interests also.) (p.284)

As Canadian companies are forced to pay higher wages due to underpopulation, they become less competitive on the market. In turn this leads to the lowering of Canadians’ standard of living.

The immorality of this system is further exposed in the manner the immigration process dehumanizes the applicants by treating them like inert objects whose entire beings can be put down on a few pages of standardized forms. Even animals in this country are seen as deserving of “human rights,” and of having personality characteristics; yet, actual human beings who were unfortunate enough to be born outside its borders are treated as having fewer human traits than do house pets. Furthermore, Adam Smith ascertained that “[t]he property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.” Thus, to prevent people from exploiting their own labor for the purpose of improving their own condition by means of imposing rules requiring work permits is surely as immoral as depriving them of their liberty—which in and of itself is equal to depriving a person of their life.

No person should have the sort of decision making power over the fate of another as that given to immigration officers the world over. The principles of liberty and equality in rights forbid such constructs. The absurdity of the immigration regime is all the greater when one realizes that the bureaucrat decides on the matter of who gets to enjoy that which he had no part in creating: the abundance of the market, which operates despite of him, not because of him! “[T]he socialist is no different from the millions of bureaucrats who now infest the social order; the bureaucrat is, like the socialist, a ruler by natural selection,” wrote Frank Chodorov. He went into detail, exposing the true nature of the opponent of the free market, the socialist in the official role of a bureaucrat, thereby explaining why bureaucratic processes are as they are:

I have never met a dedicated socialist who did not consider himself a leader—if not at the top of the revolution, then at least as commissar of toothpicks in the ninth ward. He is not a replaceable part of the thing called society but was destined, at birth, to be a regulator of this thing. This desire for power is quite common, even among nonsocialists, but while others seem willing to win their spurs according to the rules of the market place, the socialist claims the scepter because he has a mission. He is of the anointed.

Perpetuation of the Welfare State

The immigration system perpetuates the Welfare State in two elementary ways. One is the employment of vast armies of immigrations officers who are not needed by the market. In fact, they hamper the market threefold: (1) by consuming taxes; (2) by barring potentially necessary laborers to enter the country, thereby prohibiting the natural progression of the division of labor; and (3) by discouraging self-deportation, which leads to more consumption of taxes.

Government expenditures are a coerced transfer of resources from private producers to the uses preferred by government officials. It is customary to classify government spending into two categories: resource-using, and transfer. Resource-using expenditures frankly shift resources from private persons in society to the use of government: this may take the form of hiring bureaucrats to work for government—which shifts labor resources directly—or of buying products from business firms. … After all, when a bureaucrat receives his government salary, this payment is in the same sense a “transfer payment” from the taxpayers, and the bureaucrat is also free to decide how further to allocate the income at his command. In both cases, money and resources are shifted from producers to nonproducers, who consume or otherwise use them. (Man, Economy and The State p. 938-939)

The consumption of tax dollars by this system is formidable as the CIC alone employs approximately 5,000 personnel, who in addition to pay, need to be placed in offices, supplied with computers, internet and telephone connections, stationary etc. In addition, there is the never ending waste that goes into its paperwork, as well as the wasteful pomp of swearing-in ceremonies.

Furthermore, Canada’s welfare system is world famous. Easy access to government doles makes immigration to Canada an attractive proposition to many in the underdeveloped world who lack work ethic, yet are well trained in subsiding on the State. This provides the other prong of the Welfare State perpetuation fork. I landed in Canada as an asylum seeker, and as such did not have all the privileges of residency available to me. However, I found it shocking that I became eligible for welfare payments, access to healthcare and education many months before I became eligible for work. Those who land in Canada with immigrant visas have access to every bit of the Welfare State from the minute they step on Canadian soil. In addition, there are in place settlement assistance agencies, funded by CIC, which list the following services:
  • Interpretation and translation of documents, or help to arrange these services
  • Help filling out forms and applications
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) classes
  • Help finding a job or training
  • Information about other community services, schools and health care
Since the CIC boasts that it selects candidates who meet “criteria that have been shown to help them become economically established in Canada” “based on their education, work experience, knowledge of English and/or French, and other criteria,” the existence of settlement assistance agencies which perform the listed services seem to suggest that either the CIC’s selections actually do not meet the criteria it claims that they do, or the settlement assistance agencies themselves are unnecessary.

In any case the process itself is misleading to the applicants. The CIC, by making the claim that it selects candidates “with skills and talents that our economy needs today” gives them the impression that little or no initiative is required from them once selected. Moreover, the “new Canadians” are led to believe that in Canada the economy works in something of an automatic fashion, whereby all that is necessary is the correct filling out of an application. Others still are incorrectly led to believe that their post secondary credentials earned overseas will be valued on par by Canadian employers, when in reality this is seldom the case. Likewise many experienced doctors find themselves disappointed to learn that the government granted monopoly to the provincial colleges of doctors bar them from practicing medicine. Finally those misled newcomers who were led to believe that they would quickly find employment because their skills are in demand, having come to realize that they were deceived by CIC turn to government subsidized re-education programs, and other forms of welfare.


The Fraser Institute recently produced a study which concluded that

in the fiscal year 2005/06 the immigrants on average received an excess of $6,051 in benefits over taxes paid. Depending on assumptions about the number of recent immigrants in Canada, the fiscal burden in that year is estimated to be between $23.6 billion and $16.3 billion. These estimates are not changed by the consideration of other alleged benefits brought by immigrants.

Therefore, the institute proposed that the selection process of candidates be improved.

To curtail this growing fiscal burden from immigration, the study proposes that temporary work visas be granted to applicants who have a valid offer for employment from employers, in occupations and at pay levels specified by the federal government and determined in cooperation with private-sector employers. Immediate dependents may accompany successful applicants.
The temporary visas are renewable and lead to landed immigrant status if certain specified employment criteria are met.

What the Fraser Institute proposes is more government intervention in an area where government intervention has already proven to be the root of the problem. There cannot be a “better selection process,” for, immigrants are people, and each person is a unique being. No truth concerning how a person will fare in future events can be extrapolated through a bureaucratic process, regardless of how much the selection process allegedly gets improved. For that matter no definite truth regarding how a person will act in an environment different from the one he has heretofore acted in, can be distilled out of applications, letters or even interviews. Since individuals interact with their surroundings, their accomplishments are to a degree—a degree which cannot be determined—a result of that interaction with their environment. Would, say, Bill Gates have created Microsoft had he been living in Turkmenistan? We can never know.

No bureaucratic system can be developed which will be able to forecast how a person will behave in an environment different than the one he hails from, no matter what their past credentials. Just as a scoop of vanilla ice-cream to be enjoyed at one’s home is not a homogenous good with an identical scoop of vanilla ice-cream in an ice-cream parlor down the street: so too a person in one environment cannot be considered homogenous to the same person in another environment. Any notion of a supposedly improved selection process is only bound to be more misleading to potential immigrants in reinforcing the false perception of automation of Canadian society. No scientific equation which will deduce how a person would turn out in an uncertain future, in an environment of nothing but variables can be produced. “In physics, an experimentally determined law may be assumed to be constant for other identical situations;” wrote Murray Rothbard in Man, Economy and The State (p.863) “in human action, historical situations are never the same, and therefore there are no quantitative constants! Conditions and valuations could change at any time, and the ‘stable’ relationship altered.” To believe otherwise is to believe in soothsaying. Yet fortunetelling is widely ridiculed as gobbledygook, except within governmental forecasting!

Furthermore, the Fraser Institute’s proposals have the preservation of the Welfare State in mind, for they do not address the essential cause; rather they aim to aggrandize it. Immigrants are only a “fiscal burden” due to the existence of extensive social security programs. To that point, the question is how much of a fiscal burden “the average Canadian”?

Restricted movement of population is not a trait of a free society, while the lack of freedom stifles economic and intellectual development. Similarly calls to prohibit parents of immigrants from entering Canada are shortsighted, as many newcomers, in a display of division of labor, use their parents as caretakers for their children and homes. In such a way newcomers enable themselves to spend more hours in income producing work. Thus, newcomers are not the problem, the Welfare State is. Therefore, the solution to Canada’s immigration problem is twofold: (1) abolition of the Welfare State; and (2) abolition of immigration barriers. For as Herbert Spencer recognized that there are

general truths which the citizen, and still more the legislator, ought to contemplate until they become wrought into his intellectual fabric, are disclosed when we ask how social activities are produced; and when we recognize the obvious answer that they are the aggregate results of the desires of individuals who are severally seeking satisfactions, and ordinarily pursuing the ways which, with their preexisting habits and thoughts, seem the easiest-following the lines of least resistance: the truths of political economy being so many sequences. … And that the right interpretation of social phenomena is to be found in the co-operation of these factors from generation to generation, follows inevitably. Such an interpretation soon brings us to the inference that among men’s desires seeking gratifications, those which have prompted their private activities and their spontaneous co-operations, have done much more towards social development than those which have worked through governmental agencies. That abundant crops now grow where once only wild berries could be gathered, is due to the pursuit of individual satisfactions through many centuries. (p.102, The Man Versus The State; The Sins of Legislators)

Having an immigrations system in place only works toward producing a stationary society. Potential new laborers, entrepreneurs and investors are either held back for a given time or barred permanently from moving into Canada’s market based on decisions made by bureaucrats. The decision makers in this process have only paperwork to go by when passing judgment on real people, who have unique personalities and traits that cannot be expressed in an application. Furthermore, each country is unique, and different regions and cities within any given country give rise to all sorts of variables in upbringing, customs, work ethic etc. The bureaucrat passes judgment on whether a person they have never met would fit in well within any one Canada’s ten Provinces, hundreds of Regional Municipalities and thousands of towns, among over 30 million other people. Surely the folly of this system now becomes obvious.

People seeking to immigrate to Canada are only hampered or misled by the actions of government bureaucrats. And when they are indeed misled, and Canada does not present them with the opportunity they envisioned, having spent the two, three or five years of their lives, and thousands of dollars in fees in obtaining the permanent residency and work permit, they find it too expensive and impractical to reverse the course. In the absence of the restrictionist and expensive immigration regime, they would have the flexibility to move to Canada years sooner, when perhaps whatever opportunity that attracted them to Canada is still available. Likewise, rather than become “burdens on the system,” leaving Canada, for “greener pastures” in an act of self-deportation, would be all the more attractive were they not to suffer the psychic loss related to the obtaining of the immigrant visa.

To be sure one cannot be a “burden on the system” if there is no system to burden. Thus, the removal of the “safety net” provided by the Welfare State would serve to ensure that only the most work ready immigrate; while the abolition of the CIC would ensure that the needs of the market are satisfied timely. A practice of open immigration would be sure to match the most compatible persons with the work they are most inclined to. The assumption that government can produce a successful policy through intervention fails to understand the essential difference between human action which is hampered by intervention and that which is the result of the decisions of free persons acting reasonably. Rothbard understood that

intervention will have direct, immediate consequences on the utilities of those participating. On the one hand, when the society is free and there is no intervention, everyone will always act in the way that he believes will maximize his utility, i.e., will raise him to the highest possible position on his value scale. In short, everyone’s utility ex ante will be “maximized” (provided we take care not to interpret “utility” in a cardinal manner). Any exchange on the free market, indeed any action in the free society, occurs because it is expected to benefit each party concerned. If we may use the term “society” to depict the pattern, the array, of all individual exchanges, then we may say that the free market maximizes social utility, since everyone gains in utility from his free actions. (Man, Economy and The State, p. 878)

There is only one thing the Canadian government can do to improve the immigrant selection process: it can get out of the business of immigration and let the natural processes of the free market make their choices. 

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