On June 23, GMF and the Canadian Consulate of New York held a panel discussion entitled “Policies that Shape Perceptions,” featuring Zsolt Nyiri, GMF’s Director of Transatlantic Trends, Sandra Harder, Director General of the Immigration Branch of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Rebecca Carson, Chief of Citizenship for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The panel was welcomed by the Deputy Consul General, John McNab, and moderated by Delancey Gustin of GMF’s Immigration and Integration program.
The panel began with a presentation by Dr. Nyiri of GMF’s Transatlantic Trends: Immigration public opinion survey results, which revealed a gap in the way that immigration is perceived by Canadians and Americans. On the whole, Canadians are very optimistic about immigration and see it as an opportunity for their country, whereas Americans are more ambivalent: they see immigrants as benefiting culture and assisting in job creation, but they also fear that immigrants take Americans’ jobs and lower their wages.
Ms. Harder from Citizenship and Immigration Canada used the survey results as a starting point for discussing Canadian optimism about immigration. She indicated that it is likely due to its model and philosophy: emphasis is placed on admitting migrants who will benefit the Canadian economy or who wish to reunite with family members. The Canadian government has a policy of encouraging multiculturalism, while also aiding immigrants to integrate into Canadian society. For example, Canada provides newcomers with free language courses in English or French and helps them with cultural orientation and employment services. Most new Canadians become citizens after only four years. Overall, Canada has a small population, but its economy is dynamic and immigration is seen as an opportunity for continued growth.
Ms. Carson followed by giving remarks about developments within her office at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Until recently, the agency was funded almost entirely through visa and naturalization fees paid by immigrants to the United States, meaning that taxpayer dollars were not used to manage the immigration system. This is changing, however, as Congress has now appropriated funds for the purpose of funding immigrant integration programs throughout the country. In 2009, the amount given out was $1.2 million, which has been increased to $7.4 million in 2010. While these funds seem modest when compared to other federal budgets, they represent a symbolic shift in American policy toward immigrant integration. For the first time, integration is seen as a public good to which taxpayer dollars should be directed. With the support of Congress, USCIS intends to continue and expand this program by funding organizations working on English acquisition, health services, and citizenship promotion among immigrant populations in the United States.
The event was attended by around 40 New York-based immigration experts, members of business and advocacy organizations, and UN representatives.