A DECADE after Slovakia became a member of the EU, Canada continues to remind us that Western integration was not solely about buttressing democracy and security in Eastern Europe. It was at least partly about securing new pools of talented, educated and easily-vetted labour to grow the world’s richest economies and rejuvenate their ageing societies.
In January Canada introduced “Express Entry”, which provides a fast track to young immigrants with exceptional skills. Rather than having to wait their turn in line behind, say, a persecuted Somali refugee or a love-struck Peruvian with a Canadian wife, economically desirable immigrants are now earmarked by a computer programme and invited to become residents within six months or less.
To borrow an analogy from hockey, Canada’s right-wing government is now treating the rest of the world like NHL teams use their farm clubs – as backwaters where talent is developed and then called up if the need arises. Which is convenient for Canada but less so for feeder countries like Slovakia, which must build a future despite a steady exodus of their most promising youth. Unlike hockey, where NHL teams financially support their farm clubs, with immigration it is Slovakia who pays the costs of developing the talent, and Canada that reaps the reward for doing no more than opening the door.
Moreover, despite Canada’s claim that choice immigrants will be matched with employers, in reality the process is all about meeting numbers and quotas, and newcomers often find themselves over-qualified in a labour market with few high-end jobs. That Pakistani nuclear scientist driving a cab in Toronto? He’s not an urban myth but the miserable result of an immigration policy designed to meet Canada’s needs above all others.
This is the reality of the integration Slovaks signed up for in 2004, so it’s pointless to complain. But one can’t help imagine that if those thousands of Slovak emigrants had been forced to stay, fuming at the lack of opportunity in sleepy Bratislava, their frustration would have driven the changes that still elude us.