Last Friday, the state of Arizona enacted one of the toughest laws in the nation against illegal immigration, requiring local law enforcement to determine a person's immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. How this new requirement will be implemented has generated a tremendous amount of controversy and concern.
In contrast, on Monday, the Canadian province of Ontario announced an initiative allowing for foreign students who have earned PhDs at a university in Ontario to be fast-tracked for permanent residence status, part of a larger “Open Ontario” plan to increase foreign student enrollment in the province by 50 percent by 2015. This follows on the heels of a similar initiative announced earlier this year by the province of Quebec offering any foreign student who graduates from university in Quebec – be it with a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree – expedited Canadian citizenship. Other provinces, such as New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Alberta, are actively seeking to attract foreign talent to their universities as well.
Granted, this comparison is not quite fair, as immigration policy is handled differently by our neighbors to the north – the right to legislate on immigration is shared equally between the Canadian and provincial governments, a source of much head scratching down here in “the States,” where immigration policy rests in the hands of the federal government. Yet each scenario illustrates the power a state or province has in enacting its own policies and influencing political debate.
States (and provinces) have their own unique concerns on a wide range of public policy issues. For U.S. states along the border with Mexico, the issue of undocumented immigration is a particularly serious one; one made even more serious the longer the U.S. government fails to act on immigration reform. However, while Canada is not immune from illegal immigration issues, Ontario, Quebec, and the other Canadian provinces instead are choosing to pursue policies that recognize the important economic and cultural contributions of foreign students to their province's strength and well-being.
In the 2008/2009 academic year, nearly 11,000 foreign students studied at colleges and universities in Arizona, contributing more than $225 million to the state's economy . Arizona's decision to implement this new requirement has the potential not only to damage Arizona's global image but also reduce the flow of foreign talent and revenue to the state, as foreign students opt to study and conduct research in a place more welcoming…like Ontario.