The threats to move to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president started appearing long ago, but they’ve increased in volume and intensity over the past few months. After Trump’s big wins on Super Tuesday, thousands took to Twitter in panic and outrage. Canada’s immigration website experienced delays, presumably from a surge in traffic. Cape Breton, a Canadian island with an aging population, responded by welcoming Americans and received thousands of inquiries, many of them serious. Moving to Canada became easy fodder for comedians and late-night hosts.
Now that Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, more celebrities are likely to follow in Lena Dunham’s footsteps with vows to emigrate north if he wins in November. Already, companies have begun to capitalize on liberal Americans’ anxieties: Spotify’s “Moving to Canada” playlist, which includes The Weeknd and Justin Bieber (but, oddly, not Drake), is being advertised in the New York City subway, and a Canadian advertising firm has set up a webpage called Trump Clause that includes legal clauses for people or businesses choosing to migrate north. Meanwhile, for the image-minded would-be expat, a roundup of “Canadian Clothing Brands to Familiarize Yourself With Before You Move to Canada” is just a click away. Let liberal America’s colonization of Canada begin!
But wardrobe questions aside, what would it actually require for an American to move north? According to Peter Edelmann of Vancouver immigration law firm Edelmann & Co., the process is relatively easy if you’re an American doctor, lawyer or architect looking to relocate temporarily and you have a Canadian job offer in hand. (This is thanks to a NAFTA visa for certain types of professionals.) However, for other Americans, permanently settling in Canada is a little more difficult: Most would need sponsorship by an immediate family member — like a spouse, parent or dependent child — or to be a skilled worker in a category that’s in short supply in Canada. In other words, maybe it’s time to make amends with that Canadian ex-boyfriend, or to consider changing careers to ice-road trucker. But even then, waiting times for permanent residency average about two years through family sponsorship, and many years longer for live-in caregivers applying as workers, while competition among applicants remains steep — the backlog for live-in caregivers alone is currently 38,000-people deep.
This should come as little surprise to Americans, given how difficult it is to immigrate to the United States. In fact, the Brussels-based Migrant Integration Policy index ranks Canada higher than the U.S. in its treatment of immigrants, based on criteria like the ease with which families can reunify, migrants can attain permanent resident status, and workers can switch jobs or maintain their immigration status if they become unemployed. Relatively speaking, educated Americans who want to immigrate to Canada don’t have it so bad, especially compared with low-wage Central American or Chinese workers. If anything, it’s telling that American citizens living in Canada are usually considered “expats” instead of “migrants” — expats occupy a position of social and economic class privilege within their new country.
Nevertheless, the threat to move to Canada surfaces so predictably among liberal Americans every four years that the two countries’ heads of state joked about it on Justin Trudeau’s last visit to America.
A mass migration north would not be unprecedented: Roughly 100,000 American loyalists left because of the American Revolution; thousands of black Americans headed north fleeing slavery; 300,000 American pioneers settled in the Canadian prairies in the early 20th century; and some 240,000 American draft-dodgers and war resisters arrived during the Vietnam War. Carolyn Egan, a firebrand with a mane of white hair, is one such Vietnam War resister who arrived with her draft-dodging boyfriend in 1970; she applied for permanent resident status at the border crossing and was granted status within months. A member of Toronto’s War Resisters Campaign, Egan is now engaged in efforts to support her contemporary counterparts: U.S. soldiers protesting the Iraq War. An estimated 200 Iraq War resisters have taken refuge north since the war began in 2004, 45 of whom sought refugee status, but 12 years later, those who have not returned to the U.S. or been deported are still maneuvering the legal system; the group estimates there are 20 or so in such a predicament. One of them, a quiet man in his 30s who enlisted after 9/11, fled the U.S. in 2006 after his enlistment term ended and he was stop-lossed — the practice, which John Kerry described as a “backdoor draft,” by which the army unilaterally extends a soldier’s term. (He requested anonymity because he is now fighting a deportation order.) Since then, he’s been vocal in his opposition to the war and sought permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds — the other main option for immigrants to Canada — but remains in limbo. “Sure, I miss home. I’ve missed a lot of things,” he says. “But I still know I made the right choice.”
Could a Trump presidency transform society so drastically that other Americans could also qualify for Canadian permanent residency on humanitarian grounds? “Things would have to change significantly,” says Peter Edelmann, noting that most people applying for Canadian refugee status today hail from Syria and Iraq. (Incidentally, their migrations are the direct result of the war that the War Resisters are protesting.) Edelmann says refugee claims need to have specific bases, such as the threat of being tortured in Guantanamo, or being punished for speaking out — just what the war resister is afraid could land him a harsher sentence by a court martial, in the event of his deportation. “Canada considers the U.S. to be a safe country,” says Edelmann. “American citizens don’t seem to be the target.”
However, the vast majority of Canada’s growing number of immigrants aren’t refugees. Most have arrived in recent decades, as skilled workers or through family ties, after race-based immigration criteria were finally abolished in the Sixties, ending preferential treatment for white, European immigrants. Many of today’s immigrants hail from global South countries like China and India, where a growing and increasingly educated middle-class is now producing workers just as qualified to work in Canada as many Canadians. And they’re also just as qualified to perform jobs that Americans once held, which has stoked fears among many poor, white Americans of being left behind in the global race to prosperity.
These are precisely the fears Trump has capitalized on to propel himself into the Republican nomination, outsourcing blame for high unemployment onto poor Chinese and Bangladeshi workers, who get all the jobs because their employers — the contractors manufacturing H&M and Apple products for Americans — are less hemmed-in by pesky labor and environmental regulations overseas. But American liberals moving to Canada won’t change this reality. They would simply be leaving the hard work of political change to those with fewer economic resources, social capital and mobility. Maybe, instead, they should stay home and get their own house in order.