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Insights 2019

Dr. A. Didar Singh India, Canada and the Global Compact on Immigration

In December 2018, Canada joined more than 160 United Nations member states at Marrakesh in adopting a new negotiated agreement on international migration – the non-binding United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration which sets out 23 objectives for improving international cooperation on all forms of migration, from refugees to skilled workers.

Canada (along with Australia) is among the world’s most generous nations for immigrants and has one of the highest per capita admission rates. (A 2014 sociological study concluded that "Australia and Canada are the most receptive to immigration among western nations"). Since 1947 in Canada, domestic immigration law and policy went through major changes, most notably with the Immigration Act, 1976, and the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from 2002, which have made the policy most forward looking. In November 2017, the Canadian Immigration Minister announced that Canada would admit nearly 1 million permanent residents to Canada over the following three years, rising from 0.7% to 1% of its population by 2020. This increase was motivated by the economic needs of the country facing an aging demographic, with the number of senior citizens expected to double by 2036 alongside a decline in the proportion of working-age adults. This recognition of the reality of an ageing population is what prompted many countries to re-examine their migration policies.

Back in 2016, 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York declaration for refugees and migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees and migrants, help them resettle and ensure they had access to education and jobs. This ‘New York Declaration on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrantssaw the launching of a two-year process to develop a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, or as it is better known, the Global Compact on Migration.

There are in fact two different types of migration: what could be referred to as  “discretionary” and “non-discretionary” migration. Non-discretionary refers to the fact that there are certain forms of even legal migration over which governments do not have much discretionary authority. Amongst the reasons is that governments have signed international treaties committing them to do certain things. One example is the treaty of Rome in the European Union, which gives EU workers the right of free movement within the EU. Another is the Geneva Convention for handling requests for asylum. A third example is the US H1B Visa which comes from the commitment under GATS that the US gave at WTO. Discretionary of course is when countries decide who they will allow in. The Global Compact was expected to find guidelines for ‘managing’ migration.

The migration issue has been on and off the global table for years and it looked like finally there was some ‘movement’ on it. The reality is that the issue of mobility is here to stay. Globalisation demands it. So do corporates. It brings the best of human resource from around the world to ensure sustainability and competitiveness for the economy. And yet migration continues to be seen through the filter of border control and internal security. This may suit political positions of domestic protectionism but continues to be a short-term response to the larger demands of the 21st century knowledge economy. Many countries don’t get it – mainly because they don’t want to. Many do, because they have to. That is the reality of migration.

Interestingly, in December 2017 at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico was concluded a three day global stocktaking conference on the ‘global compact’ and after due negotiations under the umbrella of the United Nations, the draft agreement was brought before the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact on Migration, held in December 2018 at Marrakesh, Morocco. The compact was approved by the 164 nations that attended (including Canada and India). Several backed out – besides the US, so did Hungary, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Bulgaria, Slovenia, Australia, Switzerland and Israel.

The question on everybody’s lips (especially the Media) was whether this global compact was in fact ‘global’? Now that several countries have backed out, does it have global consensus? Let us remember that in any case this is a non-binding agreement. It’s more of a signal of a 21st century reality. Migration is and will continue to happen. So, these 10 or so countries backing off doesn’t really matter –on the migration stage. They will ultimately be compelled to accept human resource mobility if they too want to remain competitive. Canada by accepting this compact has shown its ahead of the curve.

Indian emigration to Canada started in the late 19th century and today is the cornerstone of a strong India-Canada partnership built upon shared traditions of democracy, pluralism and strong interpersonal connections. It is believed that, people who first come into a community are likely to have fewer associational ties and fewer political contacts, and fewer emotional and material stakes in the group tensions that express themselves in politics. This changes over time as emigrants get more and more integrated into the local society and realise the importance of political positions in a democratic society. Such realisation and progress of Indian immigrants resulted in a situation where today there are several Indo-Canadian MPs (19 Indo-Canadian MPs were elected in 2015, and four of these become a part of the Cabinet of Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.)

Besides politics, the growing importance of Indian origin Canadian businessmen also finds expression in the establishment and involvement in business bodies including the India Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) and Canada India Foundation (CIF) along with other chambers and associations. The relationship including the migration benefits will only blossom.

This paper is by Dr A. Didar Singh, former Secretary Government of India in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and ex-Secretary General of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry).

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