Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

18.10.2013 | Von:
Jennifer Elrick

Development of Immigration and Immigration Policy since the 19th Century

Canada’s first Immigration Act was passed in 1869, two years after the country’s founding. The law was intended to counteract emigration to the United States and to help settle the country’s western territories.

Galizische Einwanderer im Jahr 1911 auf dem Bahnhof von Quebec City.Galician immigrant family in Quebec station in 1911. (© picture alliance / empics)

Immigration policy in the late 19th century

It did not place a great number of controls on the entry of newcomers, giving the federal government the power to prevent the entry of poor, sick and disabled persons. However, this laissez-faire approach soon gave way to successive laws that sought to attract persons deemed suitable for settlement, both in economic and ethnic/racial [1] terms.

The late nineteenth century saw the introduction of a mass-immigration program designed to populate Canada’s west. To this end, aggressive information and recruitment campaigns were mounted in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and other northern European countries. Once it became clear that the traditional source countries – particularly the United Kingdom – would not yield enough would-be immigrants, attention was turned to Central and Eastern Europe. These campaigns resulted in the first large influx of new arrivals from continental Europe, notably Ukrainians [2], Germans, Italians and Russians. [3] The policy aimed to attract farmers and farm laborers. Artisans, clerks, common laborers and other city inhabitants, on the other hand, were considered ill-suited for settlement.

Definitions of who was well-suited for settlement were also influenced by the notion that Canada was a "British settler society" and that, as such, only certain national or ethnic groups could be assimilated without altering the fundamental character of the emerging nation. This belief led early on to the introduction of a series of formal and informal entry restrictions based on ethnicity and race, directed mainly at Chinese, Japanese and Indian migrants.

The 1952 Immigration Act

Entry restrictions designed to minimize cultural, ethnical and ideological diversity were maintained until well after the Second World War. In 1947, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in an oft-quoted speech, maintained that immigration should not be allowed to "make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population." [4] The 1952 Immigration Act gave significant powers to the government to restrict or prevent the admission of persons on the basis of nationality, citizenship, ethnic group, class, geographical area of origin, occupation, lifestyle, unsuitability with regard to Canada’s climate and "probable inability to become readily assimilated" into Canadian society. [5] Regulations that went into effect along with the law established a list of preferred countries of origin.

Abolition of racist immigration policies and introduction of the point system

Canada’s racist immigration policy was mostly abandoned [6] in 1962, when a regulation came into force allowing immigrants with the necessary education, skills or other qualifications to enter the country, irrespective of color, race or national origin. In 1967, the point system was introduced, allowing immigration officers to assign points up to a fixed maximum in categories such as education, language abilities and employment opportunities. Although the categories in which points are awarded and the sum needed to pass have changed over the years, this system remains a key component of Canadian immigration policy.

Six Selection Factors for Federal Skilled Workers
Selection factorMaximum points
English and/or French skills28
Arranged employment in Canada10
Pass mark: 67 out of 100 points
Source: www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/apply-factors.asp (accessed: 7-16-2013)

The Immigration Act of 1976 set up four basic categories of individuals who could qualify as landed immigrants. It also required the government to set yearly targets for immigration numbers and to consult with the provinces regarding the planning and management of immigration. The Act is considered the cornerstone of present-day immigration policy in Canada.

The 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Immigration to Canada is currently regulated by the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and its amendments. Under the IRPA, individuals can apply to become permanent residents in one of three so-called landing classes: economic class (i.e. skilled workers, business immigrants and their immediate family members), family class (e.g. spouses, partners, children, and other relatives of Canadian citizens or permanent residents) and protected persons/refugees. In addition to these classes, it is possible to be granted permanent residency under Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) provisions, at the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). Once a person has been accepted as a permanent resident, s/he enjoys rights similar to those of citizens, including unlimited access to the labor market and social services.

Contrary to popular belief, only a very small proportion of individuals seeking to enter Canada as permanent residents are subject to selection using the point system. This process applies only to principal applicants in the economic class, like Federal Skilled Workers. In 2011, 16 percent of incoming permanent residents were assessed under the point system.


The term ‘racial’ is used here because ‘race’ is still used in official definitions of ‘visible minorities’ as found in the Canadian Census Dictionary and the Employment Equity Act.
Ukrainian’ was the collective name applied to Slavs from regions of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires in Eastern and Southern Europe. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000).
The Russians arriving during this time were primarily Doukhobors, members of a peasant sect marked by pacifism and a communal lifestyle which had been persecuted under the czarist regime in Russia.
Cited in Kelley and Trebilcock (2010).
Kelley and Trebilcock (2010).
Immigrants from Europe and the Americas were still permitted to sponsor a wider range of relatives. This, too, was abandoned in 1967. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000).
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