Census reveals immigrants nearly a quarter of Canada’s population, and fanning outside of the Big 3 cities

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By Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter Wed., Oct. 26, 2022
More than 1.3 million new permanent residents settled in Canada over the last five years, pushing the percentage of immigrants to almost a quarter of the country’s overall population, according to the latest census.

In 2021, more than 8.3 million people or 23 per cent of the population, were, or had been, a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada. It was the largest proportion since Confederation and the highest among G7 countries, Statistics Canada said Wednesday.

If these trends continue, based on the agency’s recent population projections, immigrants could represent from 29.1 per cent to 34 per cent of the population of Canada by 2041, up from 21.9 per cent in the previous census.
In 2021, nine in 10 recent immigrants lived in Canada’s 41 census metropolitan areas — large urban centres of over 100,000 residents.

Toronto’s metropolitan area remained the top destination for most newcomers, attracting 29.5 per cent of those arriving during the period, followed by Montreal, at 12.2 per cent, and Vancouver, at 11.7 per cent. However, their collective appeal has declined, falling from a combined 56 per cent in 2016 to 53.4 per cent in 2021.

“We’re really seeing trends that we knew were coming but are very pronounced now,” said professor Howard Ramos, chair of sociology at Western University. “What’s super-pronounced is the implications of what it means now to have the highest intake of newcomers of any period in the country’s history.

“This has profound impacts in terms of infrastructure needs and social needs, in terms of housing needs, in terms of the distribution of people across the country. We’re beginning to really see that in this census and they give us a good sense of where things are headed.”
The proportion of immigrants who first came to Canada temporarily on work or study permits or as asylum claimants was especially high among recent immigrants during the census period, accounting for 36.6 per cent of all new permanent residents. It doubled the rate among longer-term immigrants.
Asia, including the Middle East, remained the continent of birth for most recent immigrants, at 62 per cent. Almost one in five recent immigrants were born in India, making it the top country of birth for recent immigration to Canada, followed by the Philippines and China, at 11.4 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively.

In contrast, the share of recent immigrants from Europe continued to decline over the last five decades, falling from about 62 per cent in 1971 to 10.1 per cent in 2021.

The share of recent immigrants settling in Atlantic Canada almost tripled in 15 years, rising from 1.2 per cent in 2006 to 3.5 per cent in 2021.

“What the census shows is we’re doing well in terms of attraction and retention in large urban centres outside of the big three cities and in smaller communities,” said professor Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair on Migration and Integration at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly Ryerson University. “In terms of trying to distribute growth and resources and make the smaller places great places to live in, that’s very positive and important.”

From 2016 to 2021, immigrants accounted for four-fifths of labour force growth. Increasingly more immigrants have pre-admission experience in Canada, and a large share of recent immigrants were selected for their ability to contribute to Canada’s economy.

“With job vacancies in late 2021 hitting 80 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels, and the working population aging, immigration is even more critical to the labour market than ever before,” said the census report.

Over half of recent immigrants were admitted under the economic class. Of these 748,120 economic immigrants, more than a third (34.5 per cent) were selected through skilled worker programs and another one-third (33.6 per cent) were nominated by the provinces to meet local labour market needs.

Close to two-thirds of recent immigrants are of core working age: over 10.9 per cent of recent immigrants were youth and young adults aged 15 to 24, while 64.2 per cent were in the core working-age group of 25 to 54. Only 3.6 per cent were aged 55 to 64.

“In many ways, this is the kind of economic-driven migration decisions that the country makes,” said Western University’s Ramos. “Canada is greedy in the sense that as a country, Canada tends to try and grab people that are not going to cost much in terms of investing in early education but pay taxes for a good chunk of their career. “There’s some discussion of the high number of folks that have university degrees, but who are working below their skill level. If we’re trying to attract prime working-age newcomers who have high levels of skill, there’s distinction between the value proposition that we give to newcomers versus the reality they experience.”

With Ottawa set to release its multi-year immigration targets next week, Ramos said policymakers and Canadians need to begin to ask constructive questions about how sustainable it is to bring in large numbers of newcomers at such a fast pace — a “touchy subject” for all.

Triandafyllidou said there isn’t a golden number or percentage in terms of a sustainable immigration levels and the census is a tool to take the pulse of the society and make adjustments if needed.

“So it looks like 400,000 per year right now for Canadian society is good. That doesn’t mean that they will always be good. We could have more or we could have less,” she said.

“What we need to do is keep an eye on how we are doing. Are people finding jobs? Are people finding their place in society? Are their kids at schools? Are people happy with how our society is doing?”

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