Canadian Official Touts Two-Pronged Approach to Immigration Policy During Humphrey School Visit
Canada and Minnesota have a special connection. We share a border. Our residents visit each other. We share a tradition of cold weather.
The two also share an attitude of openness and inclusion, a place of welcome for people who arrive from other places, said Canada’s immigration minister in a recent visit to Minnesota.
Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, emphasized those connections when he spoke to a capacity crowd at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs December 8.
Hussen himself represents another connection to Minnesota—he was born in Somalia and moved to Canada as a teenager. He’s a popular figure within Minnesota’s Somali community, which is one of the largest diasporas outside of Somalia.
Hussen was the first Somali-Canadian to be elected to Canada’s Parliament, and he was named to his current post earlier this year.
“Whenever I speak of immigration and immigration policy I am informed by my own experience. I vividly remember the struggles I had in a new country—even getting used to the Canadian winters,” he said. “But I also experienced the welcome that you get when the local community embraces you. The long-term opportunities in a new country far outweigh the challenges that newcomers face.”
Canada is taking a two-pronged approach to its immigration policies, Hussen said. The first goal is to bring more skilled workers into the country to address Canada’s looming labor shortage.
Its recently adopted immigration plan will bring about 1 million new immigrants to the country over the next three years, and the majority of those slots will be reserved for people with transferable work skills.
The second goal is to help new arrivals settle into Canadian life more quickly. Hussen praised his country’s private sponsorship program, which helps local groups sponsor refugees for up to a year. The program has been around for decades, he said, but remains popular as a way to break down barriers between different communities.
“This year, two thirds of all refugees entering Canada are privately sponsored,” Hussen said. “This works really well because once people sponsor a refugee, spend time side by side with them, they become the biggest advocates for refugees. The personal interaction makes a difference.”
Canada’s reputation as a country that welcomes immigrants is built on practical considerations, too. As Hussen pointed out, the country faces a labor shortage due to lower birth rates and an aging population, so is deliberately attracting more immigrants to the workforce.
A similar scenario is playing out in Minnesota; a recent study by Humphrey School researchers concludes that the state’s future economic growth depends in large part on more immigrant workers in the state.
The Humphrey School’s diplomat-in-residence, Mary Curtin, who moderated the audience discussion with Hussen, said the large crowd is an indication of the School’s interest in immigration policy and how the United States and Canada are addressing that issue.
“Despite the news about our differences over issues like NAFTA, we feel a close affinity to Canada, especially here in Minnesota,” Curtin said. “We are happy to have you here to talk with us about this important issue.”
Hussen's appearance at the Humphrey School was co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis and Global Minnesota. His visit to Minnesota also included meetings with Governor Mark Dayton, resettlement agencies, and members of the local Somali community.