Canada welcomed 184,000 new immigrants in 2020

Kareem El-Assal
Published: February 11, 2021

New Canadian government data shows the country welcomed 184,370 new permanent residents in 2020 as newcomer flows fell due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the lowest level of immigration to Canada since 1998 when it welcomed just over 174,000 immigrants that year.

In March 2020, Canada's Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced Canada would seek to welcome 341,000 new immigrants, the same level as in 2019. Days later, however, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was compelled to impose new travel restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Data released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) shows that immigration to the country fell around the same time the travel restrictions took effect and the country's newcomer flows have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, Canada is maintaining a steadfast commitment to welcoming high levels of immigrants to support its post-COVID economic recovery.

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Since the start of the pandemic, IRCC and provinces and territories across the country have continued to process new and existing immigration applications. This is to complete the processing of as many applications as possible so that those eligible to obtain permanent or temporary status now can do so while travel restrictions and other pandemic disruptions persist. The second reason why Canada's governments are processing applications now is to enable the country's immigration system to recover as quickly as possible following the pandemic.

In late October 2020, Mendicino announced the most ambitious immigration targets in Canadian history. Under the 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Canada aims to welcome at least 401,000 new immigrants per year.

In a recent TV interview, Mendicino said he was confident that the targets were realistic even during the pandemic. The reasons for this include IRCC inviting more immigration candidates living in Canada right now to apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry system. Provinces and territories are employing a similar approach through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and in Quebec.

In addition, the travel restrictions contain a number of exemptions which allow certain individuals such as the close family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to immigrate to Canada during the pandemic.

Immigration to Canada between 1860 and 2020

Canada had been welcoming around 300,000 new immigrants annually in the years leading up to the pandemic. The country's immigration rate stood at about 0.9 per cent, which represents three times as many new immigrants per capita as the United States. Canada's immigration rate fell to 0.5 per cent in 2020 as the country welcomed under 200,000 immigrants for just the second time since 1989 (the only other time was in 1998).

Looking ahead, Canada's immigration levels are likely to exceed 200,000 newcomers in 2021 as IRCC has since adapted to the pandemic. A major reason why immigration failed to break the 200,000 newcomer barrier last year was that Canada's permanent residence landings plummeted between the middle of March and May 2020 as federal government officials were affected by lockdowns and other pandemic measures. As Mendicino indicated in his recent TV interview, IRCC has since expanded its operations to incorporate remote working and more online application processing. These measures should help it avoid unexpected disruptions to its ability to support the recovery of immigration levels.

The pandemic will continue to have an impact on Canada's Immigration Levels Plan, but we can expect levels to surpass 401,000 annually once COVID-19 has been contained globally. In the meantime, IRCC and provinces and territories continue to issue new immigration invitations. IRCC held an Express Entry draw yesterday and is expected to hold another one this week.

Find out if you’re eligible for Canadian immigration

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