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Monday, October 24, 2016

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 softie nation. But though Canada may be the land of government 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 to the wealthy on who gains entry, as well. For example, it recently suspended a program that issued special visas to rich foreign investors.

These were hardly your huddled masses. Applicants had to show a net worth of $1.6 million (Canadian) and supply a five-year interest-free loan to Canada of several hundred thousand.

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.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: tuchodi via Flickr

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  • Callsign Viper

    According to some estimates, $17 billion is wasted each year on educating anchor-baby offspring of illegal aliens.

    • JPHALL

      So you only have estimates? Where are your sources? Why are you so interested in Canadian immigration? Or is this a statement about America? And how do you equate wasted funds for educating children that are going to stay in the country? Please do not be like American right wingers who make statements they cannot provide proof for!

      • dtgraham

        I’m pretty sure he’s talking about America JP. There aren’t a lot of so-called anchor babies in Canada for a lot of reasons. If there were, $17 billion would be off the charts for a country of less than 35 million people. Agreed, educating the young to become productive American citizens one day is only a waste to a Republican. As a conservative, all Callsign has to do is pretend that education is another unnecessary war and he’ll feel better about the cost right away.

        • JPHALL

          You are so correct! I keep making the mistake of trying to get an obvious right winger to be straight forward and present evidence of his beliefs. I know it is a waste of time. But I spent years as a classroom teacher and it is hard to break the habits of a getting someone to present their ideas cogently. Subject: Re: New comment posted on Canada Can Be Tough On Immigration

          • dtgraham

            You want evidence and cogently presented ideas from a Republican? They don’t seem to operate that way. As a teacher it must be frustrating for you to hear conservatives blame everything on their arch nemesis: the facts. The Republicans have pretty much gone from evidence-based decision making to decision-based evidence making. I’ll say one thing for their attitude though. After watching the Republicans in action in recent years, I don’t think I believe in evolution any more either.

  • dtgraham

    Professor Niehaus mentioned that all Canadians were shocked at the decision. I believe that. They’ve been shocked at a number of things since they were naive enough to give the present Conservative government a majority in 2011. That’s why they’ve been steadily losing support over the last year and a half to the point where the latest Ekos poll has them in third place, in terms of projected parliamentary seats, behind the Liberals and New Democrats and ahead of only the fledgling Green party.

    While Canada may be a land of immigrants, there always was a point system that people have to navigate through in order to come to Canada to live. Admittedly, it isn’t Lady Liberty’s exhortation to give me your poor huddled masses yearning to be free. It’s a little bit more involved. You must accumulate 67 points based on various things like education, language ability, work experience and so on. Canada has the luxury of easy enforcement due to the good fortune of having the United States of America as it’s only neighbour. People aren’t sneaking across the border daily in either direction.

    It’s the Conservative’s Bill C-24 that changed things quite a lot. It’s now harder to become a citizen and easier to lose your citizenship. There’s a much longer waiting period now for permanent residency, for example, which is what happened to professor Niehaus. It doesn’t make any sense considering the immigration points that he would have, but little of what the Harper Conservatives have done makes any sense. C-24 is one of a number of bills and measures that will be repealed next year when the Cons are gone, according to the opposition parties.

    I can’t imagine that what happened to Mr. Niehaus would have ever happened pre-Harper. Everybody wanted to cover his son including the Province of BC. I’m really disappointed in BC. The Canada Health Act may not apply to people with no legal standing, but still. I guess the provinces are finally fed up with picking up more and more of the tab. For the first time ever, for instance, people waiting for refugee hearings don’t get their health care funded federally any more. Ottawa funds the Provinces heavily for all of their health care costs but suddenly won’t cover refugee claimants. So the Provinces have been doing it alone, but that’s a first. That’s Harper. There’s another thing that will change next year I hear.

    Canada has done a number of things since 2011 that are simply shameful.

  • Miss Terr

    According to some estimates, around $12 billion per year is wasted on educating illegal aliens in US schools.