Two years ago, Jeffrey Niehaus was a popular teacher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. An American, Niehaus had applied for permanent residency in Canada. But Canada turned him down. The reason? The psychology professor’s 4-year-old son, Kurt, had autism. Treating autism would have been too costly for the government’s health care system.
Americans often think of Canada as a softy nation. But though Canada may be the land of government’s picking up your medical bills, it’s also the land of rules that must be followed. When it comes to immigration, Canada doesn’t mess around.
“Every single Canadian that I talked to was shocked that that was the decision,” Niehaus told me.
The university hired an immigration lawyer for him. British Columbia provided a letter asserting that covering the Niehauses would be fair exchange for their economic contribution. (In Canada, the provinces run their own health care systems.) A member of Parliament in Ottawa called Niehaus offering her help.
Local reporters wanted to take the story national, but Niehaus said no. The family had options back home in America. “We decided to go ahead and land soft,” he said. “We were really OK.”
Niehaus now teaches at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. And Kurt is getting treatment for autism – though at greater expense to the family than would have been in Victoria.
Canada’s bureaucratic strictness on who gets in and its generous social safety net are not a contradiction but sides of the same coin. As conservative economist Milton Friedman once put it, “you cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”
Niehaus is not unsympathetic to the argument. “I understand that a country that is so dedicated to providing these basic needs to their citizens needs a say on who those citizens are,” Niehaus said. He does feel, however, that Canada’s rigid formula failed to consider that the economic value he and his wife would have brought to the country well exceeded the cost of treating their son.
Canada applies stern accounting on who gains entry to the wealthy, as well. For example, it recently suspended a program that issued special visas to rich foreign investors.
Why did Canada halt the program? The government believed that immigrant investors tended to pay less in taxes – that is, they cheated on taxes – than did other immigrants, and they didn’t integrate as well. There was also a feeling that the value of permanent residency in Canada had been priced too low.
More than a thousand applicants – mostly from mainland China but also from Turkey, South Africa, India and Britain – are suing Canada for not having processed their applications in time to avoid the program’s cutoff.
Way down the income scale is the case of Michael Mvogo. The United Nations human rights monitor has rebuked Canada for keeping the native of Cameroon in jail for eight years. Found in a Toronto homeless shelter, Mvogo had arrived in Canada on a fake U.S. passport. Canada said that it has detained him for so long because his “true identity” has yet to be determined. There was no thought of freeing him, just of arranging for his deportation.
In the United States, warriors for tightening immigration and weakening the social safety net are often one and the same. But here’s what they don’t get: The more economic security a country gives its people, the more assurance it needs that the newcomers will become exemplary taxpayers.
And that’s why Canada’s immigration program is largely a model of law and order.