How do we even begin to compare immigration policies of countries in the world? The lenses through which we view one another are as vastly different as our skin colors, cultural traditions, and histories. So, when attempting to write a comparison of immigration policies, it became immediately apparent the first challenge would be narrowing down the policy; and the second would be compiling a list of comparison countries.

Luckily, in April of this year, U.S. News and World Report released its 2021 Overall Best Countries Ranking, which made the job a little easier. The list took into consideration 76 country attributes, gauged in a survey of more than 17,000 people around the world. The report’s full methodology is available on U.S. News and World Report’s website.

The rankings list Germany as No. 3, Japan as No. 2, and Canada as the No. 1 best countries in the world overall. The United States is listed as No. 6.

Canada also topped the 2018 U.S. News analysis of Best Countries to Be an Immigrant.

The U.S. and Canada share a common history of Indigenous people, European colonization, and eventual independence from the United Kingdom – our total areas are similar (3.85 million square miles in Canada, 3.8 million in the U.S.); but our population and GDP (a common measurement of a country’s economic activity) are vastly different. According to 2021 International Monetary Fund data, the U.S. GDP is just shy of $23 trillion, while Canada’s is around $2.02 trillion. Even so, Canada is widely perceived as the nation that most closely mirrors the U.S., culturally.

With such common histories and cultures, what is putting Canada so far ahead of the U.S. in rankings? The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain: the inclusivity of the legal immigration system in Canada is one other countries, including the U.S., could learn from.

A cultivated outlook on welcoming foreigners
Much like the United States, Canada has a rich history of immigration and is built on citizens who relocated from other countries. Both countries have been significantly shaped by newcomers – refugees and immigrants who leave their home countries to establish in other areas.

But there is a fundamental difference in how they welcome foreigners, which is reflected in numbers from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – an independent, nonpartisan think tank. According to CFR, about 21 percent of Canada’s population is foreign-born, that’s one-fifth of its population. The U.S. pales in comparison with 15 percent of its (much larger) population.

This difference partially stems from Canada’s 1971 federal Multiculturism Policy that aimed to decrease rising tensions between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians. The policy embraced and encouraged multiculturalism in an open effort to increase, respect and celebrate cultural diversity across the country. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act became law in 1988. It was the first country in the world to adopt a multiculturism policy, which acknowledges that all cultures bring intrinsic value; and solidified the Canadian government as one that is committed to promoting a diverse and multicultural society.

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage” –Section 3 (1) of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act

Multiculturalism has faced opposition but is viewed favorably by most Canadians today, as evidenced by a 2019 poll in which only about one-third of Canadians felt immigration levels were too high. The same source found only two percent of Canadians think immigration is the most significant problem in the country (the leading responses were environment and climate change, at 24 percent, and the economy at 22 percent).

Canadian multiculturalism
Canada’s multiculturism policy promotes accommodation of cultural and religious diversity, which is mirrored in its immigration policies.

About 58 percent of new permanent residents in Canada in 2019 entered the country through its economic category – the largest of four immigration tracks. They apply through a point system that heavily supports federal high-skilled worker programs. The points give preference to younger, well-educated, and experienced workers who have language proficiency and job offers. To keep immigration flow consistent, every two weeks the government offers the highest-ranking individuals the opportunity to apply for permanent residency.

This system cultivates an appreciation for immigrants who will not only contribute to Canada’s multicultural diversity commitment but will also provide important support in the economic sector. This attitude of acceptance stemming from the nation’s policy has been effective in energizing diversity-positive thought across the country.

“…the Act presents multiculturalism as a positive instrument of change that aims to remove barriers that preclude the involvement, equity, and representation of all citizens in Canada's institutions, as well as their access to those institutions.” – ‘Canadian Multiculturalism’ published by the Parliament of Canada

But beyond simply encouraging skilled workers, multiculturalism as a political policy encourages increased minority participation. It puts the onus on government agencies to provide leadership encouraging diversity in their departments and strategize accordingly.

U.S. diversity visas
The U.S. also has a program that focuses on diversifying the immigrant population – but it produces only 4 percent of the nation’s green card visas. According to the Pew Research Institute, that’s the smallest piece of the U.S. Immigration pie. It’s smaller than Refugees (8 percent), Employment-based immigrants (14 percent) and family-sponsored immigrants (89 percent). The final 6 percent is made up of other humanitarian programs.

The Diversity Visa Program was created in 1990, as a pathway for immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates into the U.S. Similar to Canada, there is an economic component. Applicants from qualifying countries must prove they have a high school level education and two years of working in a job that requires at least two years of training or experience.

Historically, the Diversity Visa Program resulted in around 50,000 visas being allocated randomly through a lottery system every year. Changes made during 2020 drastically reduced that number and the program has seen a sluggish recovery, with less than 10,000 diversity visas issued through the State Department in 2021 so far.

Final takeaways
With its $23 trillion GDP and its 2.3 million armed personnel, the United States may boast one of the most dominant economic and military powers in the world. But this narrow comparison of its immigration system with Canada’s shows the values of multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity also have a place in creating a unified country.  

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