New tool could help immigrants decide where to live in Canada

Mohanad Moetaz
Published: March 25, 2021

Researchers are working on a new tool that will help newcomers identify which Canadian city they are most likely to be successful in.

Most immigrants end up choosing to live in one of Canada’s major cities. In fact, more than half of all immigrants and recent immigrants to Canada currently live in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, according to Statistics Canada.

However, there may be better opportunities for these immigrants elsewhere. Perhaps a film director or a tech worker may be suited to Toronto, but a petroleum engineer may not.

Since 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been working on a research project alongside the Immigration Policy Lab (IPL) at Stanford University that may pave the way for this tool, dubbed GeoMatch, to come to fruition.

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The project attempts to repurpose an algorithm that is used in resettlement efforts, to work for Canadian immigration. It uses historical data to help immigrants choose where they might thrive the most, IRCC spokesperson Isabelle Dubois told CIC News.

“The study suggested that prospective economic immigrants who followed the GeoMatch recommendation would be more likely to find a well-paying job after they arrived,” Dubois said in an email.

“Currently, newcomers tend to gravitate to cities they’ve heard of— which tend to be the largest. Yet such a tool could help change that by promoting different localities across Canada, beyond major urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver.”

According to their website, GeoMatch uses machine learning capabilities to make its predictions. It considers factors such as previous immigrants’ work history, education as well as personal characteristics. It then finds patterns in the data by focusing on how these factors were related to economic success in different locations.

GeoMatch may then be able to predict an immigrant’s likelihood of success in various locations across Canada.

“Research suggests that an immigrant’s initial arrival location plays a key role in shaping their economic success. Yet immigrants currently lack access to personalized information that would help them identify optimal destinations,” said a report published by the IPL.

The report reiterates that the approach is motivated by data that show an immigrant’s first landing location is influential in their outcomes.

“We find that for many economic immigrants the chosen [first] location is far from optimal in terms of expected income,” the report adds.

The report suggests that many economic immigrants choose Toronto simply because that is all they know of Canada, but they may be in “the wrong place" for their skillset. For example, Toronto is ranked number 20 out of 52 regions in terms of maximizing income in the year after arrival. This means that for many immigrants, there were 19 other regions where they would have likely made a higher income.

Immigrants may, of course, choose not to use the tool. However, it is worth mentioning that GeoMatch takes into consideration not just “data-driven predictions” but immigrants’ location preferences as well.

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