Canada poised to remain a major destination for immigrants if it can maintain its advantage

Edana Robitaille
Published: March 7, 2023

Canada’s level of support for immigrants is unique in the world according to a new report, Public Opinion and Immigration: Maintaining Canada’s Advantage, released by the Century Initiative.

The national, non-partisan charity advocates for the economic and societal benefits of increasing Canada’s population to one hundred million people by 2100. They say immigration is a principal factor in achieving this milestone and the new report says Canada holds an advantage over other countries, due to the overwhelming support Canadians have for immigration.

Support for immigration in Canada has grown steadily since the late 1990s and did not see any significant decrease due to the global recession in 2008 or the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The report says support has grown simultaneously alongside “growth in Canadian’s multicultural identity” with 64% of Canadians agreeing that multiculturalism is a symbol of Canada’s identity. This is a notable jump from data taken 25 years ago when only 37% of Canadians agreed.

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The report surmises that one of the major factors in support is that nearly a quarter of Canada’s total population are immigrants. The 2021 census shows 1.3 million new permanent residents settled in Canada between 2016 and 2021 and Statistics Canada forecasts the country’s immigrant population will continue to rise, as high as 34% by 2041.

Canadians recognize immigration is a strength

According to the report, maintaining this positive attitude among Canadians is crucial for Canada’s immigration strategy. At present, Canada hopes to welcome 500,000 new immigrants per year by 2025.

The Century Initiative report cites a recent Focus Canada study done by the Environics Institute, a research group that collects public opinion in Canada on the issues that shape the country. The data from that study shows that seven in ten Canadians are supportive of current immigration levels. This is the largest level of support since the Environics Institute began keeping track 45 years ago. It says Canadians recognize that immigration is important to strengthening the national economy and growing Canada’s population.

There is also growing support for bringing more refugees and migrants into Canada. The report shows that 76% of Canadians think Canada should accept more immigrants from places experiencing major conflicts. Again, this is a large jump from 34% in 1993.

One of the main factors in Canada’s ability to attract immigrants is, what the report describes as,  Canada’s “International Brand.” Internationally, Canada is perceived as a country that offers a high quality of life in terms of healthcare, education, housing, safety, and tolerance. This means Canada is well-positioned to attract and retain newcomers.

Risk factors

The combination of how Canada is perceived and Canadian’s support for immigration makes it likely that it will continue to see large numbers of immigrants.

Still, the report highlights the importance of maintaining favourable conditions for newcomers. The Century Initiative completed a risk-factor analysis in December 2022 and identified four possible emerging risks that could negatively impact immigration:

  • Access to affordable housing
  • Public infrastructure and services
  • Economic challenges
  • Political rhetoric

Affordable housing is a concern for all Canadians, including newcomers. The report says that between 2005 and 2020, Canada recorded one of the largest increases in housing prices among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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The current average price of a home in Canada is $612,204 according to the most recent data from the Canadian Real Estate Association. However, the average price of a home in Ontario, where over 40% of newcomers choose to settle, is $798,835. Canada also recently introduced a law that prohibits anyone who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident from buying a residential property. Exceptions exist but there are still significant challenges for temporary residents.

Public infrastructure and services also pose a challenge. Canada needs immigrants to close urgent gaps in the labour force and keep the economy strong but they are less likely to choose Canada if they cannot access high-quality education or healthcare services. For example, there is currently a shortage of workers in Canada’s healthcare sector. Statistics Canada data from December said the healthcare sector accounted for 17.7% of all vacancies.

Globally, Canada’s economy is strong and the Bank of Canada (BoC) says it is unlikely Canada will see a major recession in 2023. Still, the current rate of inflation is high at 6.9% as of last January and the BoC raised interest rates to slow the economy by disincentivizing borrowing and spending. It is expected that GDP growth will slow and decrease from 3.6% in 2022 to just 1% through 2023.

Finally, the report cites that political rhetoric can have a damaging effect on how newcomers view Canada. Political leaders sometimes credit negative impacts on wages and employment to increased immigration. The report specifically mentions that People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier and Quebec Premier Francois Legault have “shared anti-immigrant political rhetoric, but such discourse remains rare in Canadian politics.” Canada's three major political parties, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP (New Democratic Party) all say that Canada needs more immigrants and support the high targets in the Immigration Levels Plan.

Recommendations

The report contains the Century Initiative’s recommendations for remaining a top destination for immigrants. For example, the report says Canada should support and strengthen business attraction of immigrants through programs such as the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot and the Global Skills Strategy.

It also says there should be more investment in proactive incentives to attract skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs. It says that Canada’s current Start-Up Visa Program is very modest – representing 0.1% of new arrivals and with a processing time approaching 3 years.

One of the major challenges for newcomers is getting the necessary accreditation to work in their profession and it can lead to some immigrants working in jobs that they are overqualified for. The report says, “providing quality work for immigrants is possible if employers and regulatory bodies can improve recognition of international experience and credentials and build improved hiring practices to eliminate criteria and rules that are implicitly biased.”

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