Canada sees all-time record for immigration, blowing away historic flows

Mar 30 2022, 11:20 pm

Newly released population estimates by Statistics Canada for the fourth quarter of 2021 show an all-time record for immigration for any quarter and year since records began post-war in 1946.

A total of 405,750 immigrants were recorded throughout 2021, with 138,182 in the fourth quarter alone. Immigration flows grew throughout the year, with 70,467 in the first quarter, 74,353 in the second quarter, and 122,748 in the third quarter, the second highest quarter ever.

The record volumes for the first and second quarters of 2021 beat the previous quarterly record of 119,956 in the second quarter of 1957, when Canada accepted tens of thousands of refugees during Hungary’s revolution against Soviet Union governance.

The final three months of the year typically see lower levels of movements than other periods of the year, with immigration and emigration usually highest in the second and third quarters. But that was not the case for 2021.

In contrast, there were 333,090 immigrants in 2019, including 65,957 in the first quarter, 94,281 in the second quarter, 103,719 in the third quarter, and 69,133 in the fourth quarter. Canada as a whole recorded 184,586 immigrants in 2020, the lowest in decades, due to the pandemic’s impact on movements across borders.

British Columbia was the destination of 17% of immigrants to Canada in 2021, with the province recording a total of 69,326 — entailing 10,280 in the first quarter, 12,717 in the second quarter, 23,048 in the third quarter, and 23,281 in the fourth quarter.

This was both an all-time quarterly and annual record for BC, exceeding previous quarterly high for BC set in 2019 when 15,900 immigrants were recorded in the third quarter. Prior to 2019, the previous quarterly and annual immigration records to BC were set in the early-to-mid 1990s from the spike in immigration from Hong Kong in reaction to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and in advance of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China.

More people immigrated to BC in 2021 than to the significantly larger province of Quebec, where 50,301 immigrants were recorded. Quebec’s quarterly immigration high in 2021 was also in the fourth quarter, when it saw 16,091 immigrants.

Alberta saw 40,053 immigrants in 2021, with the quarterly high of 14,363 immigrants in the fourth quarter.

Nearly half (49%) of Canada’s immigrants in 2021 headed to Ontario, which saw 198,530 — up from 153,413 in 2021. This includes 66,691 in the fourth quarter of 2021, creating a new quarterly record for Ontario, and 58,548 in the third quarter, 38,307 in the second quarter, and 34,984 in the first quarter.

The federal government in 2020 announced a strategy to allow 1.2 million immigrants into the country over three years between 2021 and 2023.

Preliminary statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shows the trend continued into the new year, with 35,260 immigrants arriving in Canada in January 2022 — up by 43% compared to January 2021. The federal government is targeting about 432,000 immigrants for 2022, marking another new all-time record.

As well, Canada approved about 450,000 new international student study permits that began in 2021, which represents an increase of about 50% compared to 2015.

Pent-up demand to immigrate to Canada, coupled with the federal government’s aggressive strategy to process backlogged applications during the pandemic and attract immigration to propel economic growth, are the driving forces of the new immigration trend.

Increased immigration and the return of international students are expected to help address Canada’s severe labour shortage across multiple industries and sectors. Statistics Canada reported earlier this month that employers were looking to fill 915,500 job vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2021 — 80% more than in 2019, and 63.4% more than in 2020.

The labour shortage is particularly apparent in the retail, restaurant, entertainment, tourism, hospitality, and transportation sectors, which has resulted in an upward pressure in salaries and wages to retain and attract employees. The costs are then passed on to consumers, effectively contributing to the inflating cost of goods and services.

But increased immigration is also contributing to escalating housing prices nation-wide, especially in the urban markets of Vancouver and Toronto. The federal government’s immigration strategy is generally not aligned with the housing supply strategies of provincial and municipal governments.

The findings of the new survey by Leger, commissioned by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, found that 30% of new Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 are likely to move to another country over the next two years. As well, 23% of immigrants with a university education also plan to leave during the same period.

Statistics Canada’s emigration statistics show atypical permanent outflows in the fourth quarter of 2021, when 16,901 people permanently left the country. This is higher than the 11,391 emigrants in the second quarter and 9,214 in the first quarter, but lower than the 18,429 in the third quarter.

While there have been higher emigration total volumes for other quarters over the decades, 2021’s fourth quarter was the largest national total emigration for the fourth quarter of any year since the 1970s.

In British Columbia, 3,759 emigrants were recorded in the fourth quarter of 2021. This is more than the 3,481 emigrants in the third quarter, 2,176 in the second quarter, and 1,864 in the first quarter.

More residents in BC permanently left for another country in 2021’s fourth quarter than any quarter of the year since at least 1951.

Ontario saw a similar trend, with 2021’s fourth quarter seeing 7,362 emigrants — more than 5,160 in the second quarter and 4,335 in the first quarter, but more than the 8,251 in the third quarter. The fourth quarter’s emigration was the largest for the period of the year since the late 1970s for the province.

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