The high incidence of Covid-19 cases in the immigrant communities is the direct result of Canada’s immigration policy. In other words, this was a crisis waiting to happen.
SETTING THE STAGE
Many news reports and opinion pieces in the media have focused on the fact that incidence of Covid-19 infection is disproportionately high in immigrant communities. Some analysts and others have pinned the blame on factors such as large family sizes (typically in multi-generational homes) and the supposedly less hygiene-sensitive lifestyles of immigrants. In my view, this is a pseudo-intellectual approach, and the real reason for this phenomenon is to be found in the way our immigration policy is designed and the way it functions on the ground.
In order to understand how the existing structure of our immigration policy, and the lack of a policy post-arrival of immigrants, systemically causes greater risk to immigrants’ health, let us identify the steps along the way.
- Our immigration policy is justified on the grounds that ‘Canada needs immigrants’. This need is, in turn, justified on claims of a ‘skills shortage’ in various fields of work.
- However, when many of the immigrants – having qualified for immigration based on credentials of education and work experience abroad – arrive in Canada, they are largely left to their own devices to find work in their field. There is no system at work that can place them, even at entry level, in their existing fields of work.
- Most of these occupations fall under ‘regulated profession’ (or similar), so the immigrants need to re-qualify by undergoing courses in their field. Some of them are forced to stray away from their field altogether; for example, it is common to see engineers taking a short course on insurance because it would get them in the workforce quicker. They never end up in the engineering field in Canada.
- There are significant barriers to entry in many professions, chiefly in the form of cost and time required to re-qualify. This fact deters immigrants from pursuing re-qualification in their original fields. The economic argument about this waste of human capital requires separate treatment, and is therefore not covered in this article.
- The net result of all the above is that most immigrants are forced to take menial, entry level jobs merely to survive and pay their bills. Typically, these jobs are via staffing agencies and offer no medical coverage or sick leave.
- The unlucky ones never get to secure employment in better-paying jobs for a long time. They are forced to continue in these dead-end jobs.
- In addition, with ever-increasing quotas for immigration, the focus is on quantity rather than quality (this point may be controversial among some readers; nevertheless, I consider it necessary to point out this uncomfortable fact). As a consequence, many immigrants lack adequate language skills (or even the base education) needed to get employed in better paying jobs. Their only options are either to get into the dead-end jobs that nobody else wants, or to get employed in the Ghetto Economy of their ethnic group (I have discussed the latter aspect in detail in an earlier article here). Needless to say, these jobs also do not provide any safety net on account of health issues.
- Another component of this vulnerable workforce is international students. Many of them take up jobs as truck drivers and other low-end jobs. While nobody will admit it, exploitation is widespread in this segment of the workforce, through ‘informal hiring’ and other means. Their living conditions are abhorrent; it is not uncommon to see 10 or even 15 international students sharing one basement. Here in Brampton, the going rate is around $ 260 per student per month. All that they get for that rent is mattress-space. So these unfortunate young people face the double whammy of dangerous work conditions (in relation to Covid-19) and cramped living quarters where risk of spread is greater. One wonders if, after forcing so many people of young age in such dire conditions, we can still claim to be an enlightened society.
Given the above conditions, the current high number of Covid-19 cases in our immigrant communities was a crisis waiting to happen. While the media reports and opinion pieces may carry on as if this was something unforeseen, from my vantage point, the surprise is that this is a surprise.
Some analysts and commenters have offered the view that this high rate of cases in immigrant communities is a result of systemic racism. I have a different view: that our immigration policy rests on the fact that the politicians are not accountable for the eventual results of their policy on immigration. Admitting a higher number of immigrants to Canada is projected as an achievement – and in some cases, proof of their virtuousness – even when the same politicians show scant care about how immigrants fare after immigrating to Canada. In my view, this callous disregard for the welfare of immigrants post-arrival is where systemic failure comes in – and politicians of every stripe are guilty of it. However, given that many of these politicians are themselves from immigrant communities, and also that most people exploiting immigrants are from their own ethnic group, we may need to modify the term as systemic apathy. The politicians’ message to immigrants is clear: We need you to make us feel and look good, but don’t expect us to so much as lift a finger to put in place a system that treats you like a human being.
WHERE THE ROAD ENDS
It is part of human nature that people persevere, face adversity, and (if they are lucky) survive. Sometimes, they pay a cost. It is also part of human nature to ignore the costs paid by others – unless those costs bounces off on to others, at which point those others pay attention.
At some point, the Covid crisis will end (one hopes). The people who paid a heavy price for the numerous failings of all our governments but survived will carry on their lives. If they are damaged, their future lives will have forever been damaged likewise. The only way to change the sad state of affairs in the immigrant communities is to make sure that the politicians (and other members of the political class in general) are also made to pay a price for their willful failures.