How Should Canada Address its own Diaspora?

Written by  July 7, 2011

How to address the millions of Canadians who live abroad? Should government policies support our diasporas, integrate them into Canadian society and encourage them to return one day? And should we be concerned about expatriates returning to Canada after their retirement and benefiting from a healthcare system that they haven't paid into sufficiently?

These are the questions in the air following a study by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. They found that although the majority of Canadians who move abroad are Canada-born, recent trends indicate that the rates of naturalized Canadians (immigrants who have received Canadian citizenship) are returning abroad at rates three times what they were 15 years ago. 

In a Globe and Mail piece, Joe Friesen says Canada needs to figure out how to deal with its emigrant population, which - amounting to 2.8 million people, or 9 percent of the p0pulation - is five times higher than the United States. Most of these people are young (between 21 and 25), Canada-born and end up moving to the States (more than 1,000,000) or Hong Kong (about 300,000). The study, however, focuses on the rising numbers of naturalized citizens moving abroad and the implications for Canada. Unlike the United States, for example, diasporians don't have to pay taxes on their worldwide income, which has raised concerns about returning later in life to reap the benefits of the healthcare system. 

The study also points out the disadvantages of Canadians taking their skills and earning power abroad during their peak working years, though it fails to address the potential advantages of these internationalized citizens returning to Canada. And that's the question, isn't it? When and if these Canadians return home, what are they bringing back with them? Or, more importantly, are they coming back at all? 

The CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation, Yuen Pau Woo, insists that Canada needs to reach out to Canadians living abroad and maligns the lack of support systems for encouraging those diasporians to return. "The trick to determining whether they're [Canadians abroad] assets or liabilities in the end has to do with government policies. There's a choice. We're trying to encourage the right choice." 

Check out the Globe and Mail piece to read more about his recommendations. Meanwhile, this post on Yahoo! News poses the question: should citizens who live abroad be allowed to vote or use the health-care system? Andy Radia paints a different picture of Canadians overseas mooching off Canada's resources and services while contributing little. 

It's a difficult question for sure. And, of course, the category of "Canadians living abroad" is incredibly diverse. But some of the suggestions Woo proposes don't sound too bad, including a government agency to coordinate services for diasporians. What I think we can agree on is that the issue can't be ignored if 9 percent of the population is living abroad, and it would be a shame to discourage Canadians from moving abroad for some amount of time. 

What do you think? Share your thoughts on Facebook or tweet us @VergeMagazine.

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Zalina Alvi

Zalina grew up in Toronto and began her career in journalism at the York University campus newspaper. Before joining Verge in 2010, she worked for a documentary festival, a non-profit organization and various magazines and newspapers. Zalina has had some eclectic travel experiences, including reporting for a newspaper on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.

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