Introduction on Immigration Article of the Day: Is the Future United States Immigration System Just North of the Border? by R. Reis Pagtakhan & Jessica Jensen

by Kit Johnson


Reis Pagtakhan and Jessica Jensen are Canadian immigration attorneys with the firm MLT Aikins. Check out their article Is the Future United States Immigration System Just North of the Border?: Why Canada's Economic Immigration System Should be Adopted by the United States, 9 Belmont Law Review 454 (2022). Here is their introduction:

In 1965, amendments to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act arguably created the basis of the United States immigration system that continues to be utilized for immigration to America. While there has been a number of changes to United States immigration laws in the intervening five decades, the framework created in 1965 changed the focus of the immigration system to a family-sponsored and employment-based immigration system.

According to the American Immigration Council ("AIC"), in the 2019 fiscal year, family-sponsored immigrants comprised 68.8% of new Lawful Permanent Residents to the United States. In comparison, employment-based preference immigrants made up only 13.5% of new Lawful Permanent Residents.

The Canadian system has similar categories for immigration: namely, “family class” immigration, which is roughly equivalent to the United States’s family-based sponsorship framework and the “economic class,” which is roughly equivalent to the United States’s employment- based sponsorship framework. As the names suggest, the family-based sponsorships in the United States and the family class stream in Canada offer a pathway to permanent residence for those who have an eligible family member who will anchor their application. The employment-based pathway in the United States and the economic class in Canada are used by employers and employees as a pathway to permanent residence for qualified workers.

Even with a similar basis for immigration in both countries, the immigration levels of Canada are dramatically different from those of the United States. According to Canada’s Department of Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada ("IRCC"), for the 2021 calendar year, slightly more than twenty-six percent of new Canadian permanent residents were family class immigrants (lower than that in the United States), while fifty-eight percent of new Canadian permanent residents were admitted through Canada’s economic classes (higher than that in the United States).

From the statistics above, Canada’s economic class seems to attract proportionately more applicants than the employer-based sponsorship model in the United States. In Canada’s immigration system, the vast majority of immigrants are economic immigrants, and significant power to select economic immigrants is devolved to local governments. Such a system stands in stark contrast to the United States system, where over two- thirds of new immigrants are family-based and the immigration selection system is centralized with the United States federal government. This Article argues that the reasons for this difference is likely due, in large part, to a distinguishing factor between the two systems: the involvement of the provincial and territorial governments in immigration in the Canadian economic class system.

Like in the United States, immigration to Canada is a federal program and is overseen by the IRCC, a federal department that facilitates the arrival of immigrants and offers programming to help newcomers to Canada. Under the IRCC’s federal system for immigration to Canada, the Canadian federal government has entered into agreements with twelve out of the thirteen provincial and territorial governments to cede power over the selection of economic immigrants to Canada. In 2019, slightly over forty- six percent of the economic immigrants to Canada were selected for Canadian permanent residency by Canadian provincial and territorial governments. This allows the provinces and territories the control to select permanent residents who will live and work in their jurisdictions and stimulate and/or benefit their local work forces.

As the United States moves through its third decade of the twenty- first century, we suggest that it is time for the United States to reduce its reliance on family reunification and to refocus its immigration programs to one that is more driven by economic immigrants and that considers local population and economic needs through a decentralization of its immigration system to its states and territories.

This post originally appeared on ImmigrationProf Blog Reprinted with permission.


About The Author


Kit Johnson is a Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.