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IMMIGRANT INTEGRATION IN VANCOUVER: FROM MULTICULTURALISM TO COSMOPOLITANISM
It is useful to first put forward a three point framework regarding the position of cities of advanced economy countries relative to global migration flows in order to contextualize the case of immigrant immigration policies and strategies in Vancouver. First, these are the societies which have largely completed their demographic transitions, that is, that they now have less than replacement rates of natural population growth, and therefore an economic “need” for external (“foreign” or immigrant) labour inputs in order to maintain economic productivity and viable dependency ratios (the ratio of working to non-working population) as pre-existing, native-born populations become increasingly older. This has implications for the economic underpinnings of policy-setting as a counter to locally prevalent political discourses derived from notions of local or national identity.
And second, these countries have predominantly urban populations (a characteristic also related to their demographic transitions), meaning that international migration is overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon, with municipal government initiatives for addressing migration issues becoming increasingly salient, especially under conditions of increasing decentralization or devolution of government powers and responsibilities to lower levels. So, we might better think about immigration issues as being “translocal,” or point-to-point, rather than purely “international,” a point that relates to the somewhat different sets of immigration flows in the major receiving zones in Canada, the three major metropolitan areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which in recent years (over the course of the 1990s) have taken in 73% of all new international immigrants to Canada, though with quite different characteristics in each city. It should therefore be pointed out that the idea of analysis emphasizing translocalism also has implications for understanding the relationships between national and local policy-setting.
The overarching questions of how national governments in advanced economy countries respond to the economic necessity of immigration, and what aspects of policy are devolved down to local levels raises a third important issue for thinking about increasing immigration and immigrant integration: the nature of national and local politics and political debates regarding the ethno-cultural make-up of the nation and the city. In this, one can perceive the central policy tension as being between immigration trends driven by economic necessity and policy contexts shaped by the sometimes antagonistic politics of identity – at both national and local levels. In general, there is a tendency which might be characterized as conscious (or cautious) approaches of “selective migration” – that is, opening the door to a greater or lesser extent in the interest of addressing economic needs while trying not to excessively challenge prevailing notions of national (and local) identity. In this respect, the Canadian case differs somewhat from the European ones in terms of national identity, in that Canada, being historically an immigrant society (and one with intrinsically a bi-cultural, if not multicultural, identity) has been more malleable in terms of the politics related to shifting notions of national identity.
In the case of Canada, therefore, we see a proactive approach to selective migration, with a conscious shift, beginning in the 1960s, to replace race- or ethnicity-based criteria for immigration with explicit categories of economic need, derived from analysis of national and local economies and considerations of economic development overall – a response derived first from labour shortages in the post-war economic boom, and then later, as part of a conscious strategy to internationalize (or globalize) the Canadian economy, by attempting to facilitate foreign investment through business migrant programs. The outcome in the case of Vancouver has been a very rapid shift since the 1980s from a city of European (and largely British) immigrant culture to become what is now seen as Canada’s most “Asian” metropolis. Such underlying factors as Canada’s place in the “the North American migration system” - which has long dominated global systems as the principal destination for international permanent migrants - its history as a “new world” or historically immigrant-based culture, and the particular politics of balancing a bilingual, or bicultural society (and this tendency toward an official discourse of multiculturalism, one could point out, are coloured as well by official policies toward First Nations ethnic communities in recent decades as well).
Turning to the question of policy approaches toward immigrant integration and settlement as seen in the case of Vancouver, a few summary points can be put forward here. One point is with regard to public perceptions of immigrants and immigrant cultures, and the role that the media play in shaping popular discourse and, by extension, local politics surrounding immigrant integration and local policy setting. Certainly analyses of such phenomena as “monster housing” and “astronaut families” and how these are dealt with in popular media influence mainstream perceptions of migrants, and in many instances may obscure the complexity of immigrant experiences. For example, one may see a bifurcation between immigrant groups in Vancouver, not between particular ethnics groups, but between poorer and richer economic groups, as indicated in part by the different immigrant categories, with business immigrants (10% of the total of recent flows) being the wealthiest, and live-in caregivers (2%) and refugees (7%) among the poorest, while the fortunes of skilled workers (53%) may be very uneven.
As for specific local policy approaches, the critical importance of language should be emphasized, both with regard to language training for new immigrants as the single most effective means to facilitate integration and settlement, and local government language policy as a means of outreach and information delivery to new ethnic communities. Also of great importance are policies regarding access to housing, jobs, and other social services, and in this we can see important differences between the Vancouver case and those of other advanced economy cities, which have undertaken much more “territorial” or neighbourhood-based strategies when specific immigrant groups are concentrated (or segregated) into distinct areas of the city. The much more dispersed patterns of immigrant settlement in Vancouver have therefore led to an “ethnic network” approach of linking into new immigrant communities.
The main lessons derived from an examination of Vancouver’s situation stress the need for close collaboration between local state agencies and community-based groups, especially those rooted within immigrant communities. There is therefore a need to think beyond “policies” in order to identify “strategies” for state-society engagement in support of immigrant integration. In addition to the importance of collaboration in developing effective strategies, a key emphasis should also be placed upon mainstreaming as a critical means to ensure that immigrant issues do not remain marginal to the concerns of urban society overall. Specific areas for policy attention include media policy, language policy, and policies to address the spatial distribution and accessibility of services in support of immigrant integration, with each of these areas of concern to be addressed both in terms of the immediate needs of new immigrants and in regard to their eventual full involvement in urban society. The ultimate goal of such strategies should be to move beyond simple multiculturalism and its emphasis on respecting cultural difference, and work to encourage a form of cosmopolitanism that is supportive of close interaction between residents from differing cultural backgrounds.