The Effect of National Identity on Immigration Perspectives

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Immigration trends worldwide have experienced a significant rise over the past years. There are many explanations for this growth, including but not exclusive to political instability from home country, economic incentives and better standard of living. The top three countries that have the highest influx rates of immigrants are: the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Canada is part of the top ten countries that receive the most immigrants in the world, with 7.6 million[1]. Canada is the second largest country in the world, however its population is 37.5 million; as a result immigration policies were adopted in order to expand the local economy. In fact, in 1971, Canada was the first country to embrace multiculturalism as part of a policy[2].

Historical Background

In order to explore Canada’s immigration discourse, it is important to acknowledge the marginalization of both the Indigenous peoples and the immigrant people who did not fit the “euro-decent” caucasian classification.  The settler colonialism process that occurred in Canada, promoted the norm of oppression of marginalized groups since they were deemed as of less value. Soon after the arrival of the British and French, the displacement of the Indigenous community began, however, was not limited to the community.

National Identity

National identity can be defined as a nation's culture, values and language that create a sense of belonging. National identity is considered part of nationalism, and the way citizens feel about their countries has an effect on what they perceive to be good or bad for their nation. Canada is known to be a liberal democracy however, its political structure tends to shift the nation to being decentralized[3]. Citizens of provinces such as Albertans, Ontarians or Quebecois relate more to their provincial governments rather than the federal government[3]. Canada is composed of a “threefold relationship between Francophones, Anglophones and Aboriginals”[3]. As a result, it is hard to measure national identity as a whole due to the diverse composition of the country. According to the results of the General Social Survey on Canadian Identity in 2013, symbols that were believed to be more important to national identity were the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms with 93% and the national flag with 91%”[4]. Attitudes towards different national symbols varied across provinces, which can be explained to the diversity of people that make up Canada. However, Canadians mostly identify with their flag, the national anthem, the RCMP, hockey and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Immigration Policies in Canada

Immigration policies in Canada have a complex history, that can be traced back to the American Revolution[2]. Once the land now known as Canada, officially became the British North America; influx of immigrants came from both the United States and the UK. The highest influx of immigrants occurred between 1841-1851, when the population doubled from 455, 688 to 952, 004. However, it is important to point out that other ethnic groups moved to Canada, such as the Chinese. A summary of immigration laws during the 20th century made immigration mostly exclusive to english-speaking countries; with some exceptions. Canada created legal policies which limited the entry of “undesirable categories of race into the country”[2]. In 1910, the parliament passed an immigration act which allowed the government to have the power of selecting and prohibiting immigrants that were considered incompatible to the “climate or requirements of Canada”, thus limiting immigrants to countries located in the northern hemisphere. These countries tended to be primarily composed of caucasian people, thus, the exclusion was not for geographical purposes but also race. After World War II, immigration policies had a significant change, since it was the first time refugee policies were put in place. This change allowed Canada to allow more immigrants to the country due to the new views on human rights and the incentive for economic growth[2]. This shift in perspective saw immigrants as an opportunity to expand the economy instead of viewing them as a threat.

Immigration Trends In Vancouver, BC

Immigration rates in the city of Vancouver, BC have dramatically increased throughout the past 20 years. According to Statistics Canada’s census of 2016; total immigration count was 1,292,675 people[5]. The most common nationalities for these immigrants included, Chinese (199,990 or 15% of total immigrant population), India (162,645 or 12.6%). When recent immigrant trends were monitored between 2011 to 2016, China accounted for 38,105 people, and India with 27,460 people. Other nationalities with high immigration influx included: Philippines, Iran, South Korea, UK, US and Mexico.

Immigration Perspectives in Vancouver, BC

National identity is a sense of belonging to ones country which include sense of value, language and traditional cultures. Canada is known to be a "nation of immigrants", therefore the country's national identity is influenced by the different identities immigrants carry. However, evidence in surveys show how immigrants believe in Canadian values almost more than non-immigrant citizens[4]. This can be explained through the idea that immigrants want to adapt to their host country and therefore they adopt the countries values to prove that they are Canadian citizens rather than immigrants. Regardless, immigrants still tend to maintain their own culture, values, traditions and own national identity; perhaps not openly.

Attitudes regarding immigration in Canada have varied throughout the years, historically immigration was viewed as a threat to national safety and loss of national identity[2]. However, soon after the Second World War, immigration was seen as an opportunity for economic expansion, thus the process was viewed with a more positive lens. Despite this, perspectives on immigration in Canada have predominantly been negative throughout history, and these attitudes carry on to this day. Thousands of immigrants experience discrimination due to their physical appearance and lack of english speaking skills[2]. This is evident in cities such as Vancouver, BC, who have large influx of immigrants due to its geographical location. In Vancouver, the most common nationality for immigration were Chinese. Due to their racial difference, they were seen as a minority and as a result experienced hardships that other immigrants did not, such as having to pay a head tax[6]. The systematic and legislated discrimination that Chinese immigrants had to experience by the Canadian government, was part of the historical views regarding what races were categorized as minorities of less value. This kind of treatment was not only limited to Chinese but also Black and Indian immigrants, ultimately showing the disparities between Caucasian immigrants and non-caucasian. Therefore, attitudes towards immigration have been shaped by the history of Canada in negative and positive ways; although throughout history immigration was not always deemed as a negative thing if immigrants came from desired english-speaking countries.

  1. "Which countries have the most immigrants?". World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Hogarth and Fletcher, Kathy and Wendy L. (2018). A Space for Race “Decoding Racism, Multiculturalism, and Post-Colonialism in the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond”. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. pp. 1 to 40. ISBN 9780190858919. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Madison, Fairfield, Harris, G.B, Paul, Ingrid (2000). “Is there a Canadian Philosophy? Reflections on the Canadian Identity”. Canada: University of Ottawa Press. ISBN 9780776605142. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sinha, Maire (2015). "Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey Canadian Identity, 2013" (PDF). Statistics Canada. 
  5. "Population by immigrant status and period of immigration, British Columbia and Canada, 2016". Statistics Canada. 2016. 
  6. "History of Wrongs Towards B.C.'s Chinese Canadians". British Columbia.