These highly skilled workers, and their families, made up 60 percent of the 247,000 immigrants allowed into Canada last year as permanent residents, which means they're on a path to citizenship. The rest were refugees or families reunited with permanent residents already here.
The immigration criteria flatly prohibits anyone categorized as a "low-skilled" worker from coming to settle - in other words, the kinds of working class laborers who literally built the country in the past are no longer wanted. Yet the labor market desperately needs them.
The result has been an explosion in the number of "guest workers" to Canada since 2002. Last year, 192,000 people came to Canada on temporary work permits, more than half of them in jobs the government categorizes as low-skilled.
They come to drive trucks, clean hotels, pour coffee, flip burgers, pick vegetables on farms, slaughter pigs in meatpacking plants, take care of babies or the elderly and to perform a host of other jobs Canadians increasingly don't want to do - at least not at the low wages employers pay.
They come with work permits of no more than three years. They're let in only after they have a signed contract with an employer, and they're expected to leave the country at the end of their work permit.
Highly skilled migrant workers can eventually apply to become permanent residents. But the federal government bars most low-skilled ones from doing so.
"The attitude is, ‘We don't want none of them riff-raff here,'" said Yessy Byl, a lawyer with the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The guest worker program has been widely criticized as a form of cheap labor, for being poorly monitored and for leaving migrants vulnerable to abuse from employers.
An investigative series of stories I recently wrote for the Toronto Star found examples of migrant workers having their passports seized by employers while earning lower wages and working longer hours than promised in their contracts.
Migrants are often charged up to $5,000 by agents who recruit them for jobs in Canada. But when they arrive, some find they've paid for jobs that don't exist.
Abused guest workers feel trapped. Their temporary work permits allow them to work solely for the employer who received government permission to bring them into the country. If they complain and get fired - or if they're laid off due to the recession, as many have been - they can't work for anyone else. They're expected to leave, but the government doesn't keep track of how many do.
Not surprisingly, Canada's undocumented population is on the rise. Its national police force, the RCMP, estimates the number of people underground at up to 500,000. Observers believe it's far higher. Canada is going the way of Germany and the U.S., where past guest worker programs created large, marginalized populations.
On Nov. 3, Canada's Auditor-General Sheila Fraser released a scathing report on the guest worker program, describing it as rife with fraud and abuse. The federal government, she noted, doesn't even try to ensure that labor laws are respected.
So this is Canada today: A country that has turned its back on its immigrant heritage. It bans people desperate for a better life from becoming permanent residents. Instead, it brings them in on a temporary basis, under a program where they're vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
One day, this reality will burst all remnants of a myth that portrays the country as welcoming to immigration. That day, many Canadians won't recognize what they've allowed the country to become.