FACED with rising public concern over historically high levels of immigration, Canada's Liberal government has moved to slow the nation's influx of ``family'' immigrants and favor instead ``economic'' immigrants who bring with them skills, money, and businesses.
The move is a reversal for the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose successful 1993 campaign promised to raise, not lower, immigration levels by 1 percent.
But with high unemployment, a huge budget deficit, and polls showing mounting public concern that immigrants do not contribute enough to the economy, the government reneged.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Sergio Marchi announced the government would lower the total number of immigrants Canada welcomes next year from this year's target of 230,000 (including refugees) to between 190,000 and 215,000 in 1995, at least a 6.5 percent drop.
Reaction was mostly critical both from those who see the shift away from reuniting families as unfair and also from groups that support curtailing immigration.
The western-based Reform Party is supporting the government move. But Reform Party immigration critic Art Hanger says the changes do not go far enough. His party advocates lowering total immigration to 150,000.
``We cannot take everyone who applies,'' he told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper. ``Canada has no moral burden to accept everyone.''
Most significant, though, was the shift in the type of those that Canada will still receive, analysts say. Mr. Marchi says the balance will be tilted toward immigrants who will add to the Canadian economy and away from immigrants' family members, who have traditionally been a strain on government coffers.
The share of economic immigrants will increase from 43 to 55 percent, while the family component will shift from 51 to 44 percent over the period of the plan from 1995-2000, Marchi said. Priority will still be given to reuniting spouses and their children. But unlike in the past, parents, grandparents, and siblings will not be on that same priority level.
To Mohamed Hassan, this change is bad news. The native Somali fled the civil war there in 1988 and ended up a citizen of ``the best country on earth.'' His wife soon joined him in Toronto.
Now he is trying desperately to retrieve the rest of his family - his parents, two brothers, three sisters, and their children - from a squalid refugee camp in Kenya near Mombasa. ``To me a family consists of father, mother, daughter, son,'' he says. ``Now they are putting these all aside. I'm not here to be an advocate for immigration. I just need to bring my mother here.''
Canada has one of the most generous social-safety nets in the world, providing unemployment insurance, universal health care, welfare, and English-language training. Last year the government spent $518 million ($700 million in Canadian dollars) providing services to immigrants. Still, only 14 percent of family-category immigrants use social assistance, compared with 16 percent for all other Canadians.
``The immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in services,'' says Don DeVoretz, an economist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. ``But the problem is that in the first five years they don't [pay more taxes]. What Canadians are saying is that we will no longer wait.''
Besides easing the way for ``economic'' immigrants, the government is also:
r Requiring immigrants to post a bond guaranteeing that newly arrived family members will not tap social assistance.
r Favoring immigration applicants who have a knowledge of English or French.
r Managing separately the refugee program, whose goal would be to allow 24,000 to 32,000 refugees into Canada next year.
Marie-Louise C, an immigration lawyer in Montreal, says the new plan tries to appear high-minded while catering to public worries of immigrants, inflamed by media reports of crimes involving illegals. ``Canadians feel we are being so generous already that we can afford to reduce our hospitality and still enjoy a good reputation,'' she says.