MEXICO CITY—As the United States fortifies its border with Mexico, Canadian companies are reaching out to immigrants who are frustrated by U.S. restrictions and tempted by dreams of a better life in Canada.
The Canadian government has been relaxing its immigration rules in an effort to attract students and skilled workers from all over the world. That, and the push by companies promising jobs and visas, is attracting Mexican professionals turned off by the Minuteman Project, new border walls, tougher U.S. entry requirements and laws like Proposition 200 in Arizona.
“Live in Canada!” says a Mexico City newspaper ad placed by a Canadian labor recruiter, as a photo of the Toronto skyline beckons. “Voted the No. 1 country in the world for living four years in a row,” an immigration counseling company boasts on its Web site.
“Canada has its arms open to immigrants, and the United States has its arms closed. It’s as simple as that,” accountant Marcos Ramírez Posadas said as he stood in line with other visa applicants outside the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.
The reason, immigration experts say, is that Canada needs more people.
“Our population is shrinking and getting older,” said David Rosenblatt, a Canadian immigration lawyer whose firm advertises in Mexico. “Canada, in order to survive and grow, needs to get more skilled workers.”
Mexicans are eager to fill the need. Last week, the Canadian Embassy’s switchboard was swamped after local television aired a commercial from an immigration law firm about moving to Canada, embassy spokesman Luis Archundia said. None of the recent ads has been placed by the Canadian government itself, he said.
Mexicans can enter Canada just by showing a passport, much easier than the long, expensive process of getting U.S. visas. Canada also has a widely praised farmworker program and is aggressively courting foreign students.
The country also has an easy-to-follow process for getting work permits that assigns points based on certain skills. The U.S. system is more subjective, with consular officials wielding the power to approve or reject applications without explanation.
The number of legal, temporary workers in Canada from Mexico rose 68 percent, to 22,344 from 13,261, from 1998 to 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available. By comparison, there were 110,075 legal, temporary workers admitted to the United States from Mexico in 1998, and 130, 327 in 2003, an 18 percent rise.
“Overall, it’s been a really dramatic rise in Canada,” said Richard Mueller, an economist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, who just completed a study of Mexican immigrants.
But the true immigration rate could be much higher.
Thousands of Mexicans get into the country just by flashing a passport. Many probably just disappear and work illegally, immigration experts said.