The United States and Canada are the two main immigrant destinations in North America. Although similarities exist in terms of their reception of immigrants and immigration patterns, there are important differences both in the reasons that immigrants have chosen the United States or Canada and in immigration policies between the two countries.
Although both the United States and Canada had similar British colonial origins, there were differences in the national origins of those who settled each country. In terms of ethnic diversity among immigrants, Canada did not start to catch up to the heterogeneous United States until the latter part of the twentieth century. In the early twenty-first century, both Canada and the United States are important immigrant destinations for many of the same immigrant groups, but immigration policies and immigrant
The English began planting colonies in North America during the early seventeenth century, while the French established a small but influential presence in Canada. Thus, both English and French culture helped shape Canada, a dual heritage that sets Canada apart from the United States. Also, the British colonies of the future United States drew more immigrants than the British or French colonies in Canada. Many immigrants heard dismal things about Canada’s climate and the poor prospects for acquiring farmland, so they chose to go south instead, where there was good land and better weather.
The demand for labor was greater in the southern British colonies than in Canada, so more
With its defeat in the
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, both the United States and Canada had fairly open immigration policies, and the native-born populations of the countries were generally accepting of immigrants. As both countries expanded west, Canada continued to attract mainly immigrants from the British Isles. Often, immigrants chose to migrate to Canada because the ship passage from England or Ireland was cheaper than the passage to America. During the nineteenth century, thousands of
In the United States, the century of immigration began around 1820 with increasing numbers of British, Irish, German, and then Scandinavian immigrants entering the country. Many immigrants left their homelands because they wanted a better life in the United States and because certain factors–such as dissatisfaction with government, religious intolerance, poor job opportunities, or famine–pushed them out. Most chose the United States because they believed that they could earn higher wages, find better farmland, and more freely practice their religious or political beliefs there than anywhere else. The United States was rapidly expanding its territory and economy, and the perception that America was a land of freedom and opportunity was already widespread in many European communities. Canada did not have the same political appeal as the republican government of the United States, where numerous immigrants made a successful career in politics.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both the United States and Canada experienced increased diversity in the national origins of their immigrants, and both federal governments began to limit immigration. The first exclusion laws passed in the United States and Canada limited Chinese immigration. Starting in the 1850’s,
During the late nineteenth century, both countries, especially the United States, were receiving thousands of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. In the United States, Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, and Jews from Poland and Russia were filling industrial and unskilled jobs in the growing cities of the East and Midwest, while many others, such as Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans, continued to move west, claiming farmland and building small ethnic communities. Many of these immigrants were following
Refugees from Hungary’s failed 1957 revolution boarding a charter plane to Canada, which, like the United States, took in many Hungarian refugees.
As a result of this new immigration,
In the second half of the twentieth century, increased numbers of immigrants from developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America came to Canada and the United States. After World War II, the two North American countries received many refugees from war-torn European countries, but the United States admitted far more than Canada, whose citizens were still resistant to large-scale immigration from anywhere but Western Europe. The Canadian
The late twentieth century saw a shift in the origins of immigrants to the United States. Immigrants from Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, and India came to the United States, spreading out from their traditional area of concentration on the West Coast to the rest of the country. Immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, increased greatly during the second half of the twentieth century, as did emigration from Africa and the Middle East. Like previous immigrants, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American immigrants chose the United States for economic opportunities or because of family already living in the United States. For many, such as Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican immigrants, the United States was closer and easier to reach than Canada.
As late as the 1960’s, most immigrants to Canada came from Europe, especially Britain. Changes in immigration policy in 1967 introduced a points system to determine immigrant eligibility and removed all race restrictions on immigration. The 1976
Many British Commonwealth immigrants chose Canada because it is a fellow Commonwealth country, which facilitates entry into society and government and where established immigrant communities already existed. Haitians and French-speaking immigrants from West Africa came to Quebec because of commonalities in language. In contrast to the United States, Canada has had little immigration from
In general, the United States and Canada have had similar immigration policies during their histories, and both countries have accepted large and increasingly diverse numbers of immigrants. From the beginning, however, the United States had a much more diverse population in terms of ethnicity and race than Canada, and many more immigrants have chosen to settle in the United States than in Canada. While the ethnic makeup of the United States was changing drastically at the beginning of the twentieth century, Canada still had a rather homogeneous population made up of people of British and French origin. This was due in part to perceived greater opportunities in the United States and a Canadian government that encouraged farmers to immigrate but did not have a need for industrial laborers. Both countries experienced nativism and immigration restrictions, but the United States liberalized its immigration policies earlier, while Canadians clung to their western European heritage longer, resulting in a more sustained tide of immigration from the developing world to the United States. In the early twenty-first century, both countries are ethnically and racially diverse societies that continue to receive large numbers of immigrants looking for a better life.
Bumsted, J. M. Canada’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2003. A textbook-style introduction to immigration and ethnicity in Canada, from the earliest settlers to modern racial and ethnic issues. Burnet, Jean R., with Howard Palmer. Coming Canadians: An Introduction to a History of Canada’s Peoples. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989. A rather celebratory account of Canadian immigration, focusing especially on the social history of immigrant groups during the twentieth century. Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. Princeton, N.J.: Visual Education Corporation, 1990. A comprehensive summary of the major immigrant groups in the United States, emphasizing numbers, settlement patterns, and socioeconomics. _______. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882. New York: Hill & Wang, 2004. A good review of U.S. debates and laws on immigration policy and immigrant exclusion up to the early twenty-first century. Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1990. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992. An easy-to-understand survey of Canadian government policies and their effect on immigration and Canadian society.
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Immigration Act of 1924
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965