Opinion: We need to welcome our new Canadian neighbours

To fill the tens of thousands of jobs in agriculture, we must make the sector more attractive to immigrants

As agriculture faces acute shortages of people at every level, it is a good time to talk about the value in immigration.

The federal government has committed to increasing the number of immigrants to 350,000 annually by 2021. What does that mean for Canada?

The majority of immigrants currently come from three countries: China, India and the Philippines. They can apply for citizenship as a student, worker, visitor, permanent resident or refugee. Most (56 per cent) are in the economic immigrant class and so are bringing work or education skills with them. To qualify, they must have education, be adaptable, healthy, have some language proficiency, an occupation, and work experience or a job offer.

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Depending on the year, the United States is also a huge source of immigrants for Canada and in the past 10 years has been in the top five to seven sources of folks crossing the border. On average, more than 9,000 U.S. citizens immigrate to Canada and this is increasing, especially as the U.S. is closing the opportunity for students to apply for American citizenship after two years of study.

Americans in Canada, like others, send their money back home to their families.

In 2017, the total of remittances flowing out of Canada into other countries to support families back home was $24.6 billion (a small portion of the more than $600 billion that moves around the world each year from family to family). After China, India and the Philippines, it is immigrants from Britain, France, Hungary, Lebanon, Vietnam, Germany, Italy, and South Korea who send the most out of Canada, followed by those from the U.S. and a host of other countries.

In 2017, Canadian immigrants sent $622 million back to the United States and American immigrants from Canada sent back $879 million so the concern on remittances can be mute.

Of the seven million immigrants who have come to Canada between 2013 and 2017, there have been significant shifts from country of origin. Europeans dominated the immigration scene until 1971 when most immigrants were non-European and came from Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda and Chile (with a huge number of American draft dodgers in the mix).

At a recent immigration forum in which I participated, half my table were of European descent, which was the source of early immigrants. The other half were of Asian descent, the region that is the main source of current immigrants. It shows the shift in demographics that naturally follows the economics and opportunities presented globally.

Our major centres, such as Toronto and Vancouver, are now over 45 per cent foreign born. With Canadians rapidly aging and retirees expected to represent 25 per cent of the population in a few years, it is a critical time to get involved in welcoming new Canadians, specifically to agriculture.

In agriculture, we need 126,000 persons — from berry pickers to scientists — to continue to grow.

How can we attract folks to our industry and to stay in our community in a way that is helpful for them and to us?

As I listened to students and established immigrants in Canada, I was struck by the importance of sharing our need for people with them, as they simply did not know. As one young woman put it, “I never thought of agriculture. It is something no one talks about.”

So let’s talk about agriculture.

Getting involved in immigration discussions and initiatives, and supporting projects in this area is critical. They will not know who to accept as a priority unless they have a clear message.

Academia is focused on every other aspect of the economy, but few offer a global or national view of agriculture. To be fair, the background of academics that have extensive agricultural knowledge is limited. We need to encourage agricultural study and research.

A mentorship program in agriculture for those new to the country is really important.

How can communities, companies, and families involve those with experience with those wanting to learn?

One of the simplest and most resounding messages was in cooking. Students tell me they are often hungry because the food is different, they don’t know where to go, or how to prepare what is available to them. They do not know who to ask and are too shy or embarrassed to say that they have not eaten. Established families have the same issue and I see the importance of having cooking classes using Canadian ingredients in each community and on every campus.

Gardening together may not seem like an economic hot button — but it is. It gives neighbours a chance to talk, grow, and have a sense of pride (and enjoy a wee bit of food security). These activities are foundational for folks to integrate while preserving dignity and culture.

Above all, remember that all of us historically, with the exception of our First Nations peoples, came from somewhere and found Canada to be the land of the possible.

Although the demographic of those entering the country keeps changing, the opportunities within our borders remain limitless.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at www.brendaschoepp.com. All rights reserved.

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