Immigrating to Canada vs. the United States

Julia Hornstein
Published: June 9, 2023

The United States has been seen as the land of opportunity for decades and is an extremely popular destination for newcomers to live, work, study and settle permanently. About 45 million foreign-born people currently live in the US, making up about 14% of the population.

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Canada has also become an extremely popular immigration destination. In 2021, more than 8.3 million foreign born people were living in Canada, making up almost a quarter (23%) of the population.

This article will compare the immigration policies of both countries and contrast the different options available to immigrants who are still deciding between the two countries.

Immigration policy in Canada

Each year, Canada releases an Immigration Levels Plan that acts a guideline for how many immigrants will be welcomed into the country. It includes the breakdown of immigrants in the economic, family and humanitarian class programs over the next three years.

In its Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025, Canada announced that it will be increasing its immigration targets and plans to welcome 460,000 in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. The plan focuses on attracting skilled workers to address labour shortages, recognizing the importance of family reunification, and helping vulnerable populations from around the world through refugee resettlement efforts.

In 2022, IRCC welcomed more than 437,000 immigrants to Canada. 56% of new immigrants arrived under the economic pathways such as Express Entry and Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP), while family class immigrants made up 24% of admissions.

The most common countries of origin for Canadian permanent resident immigrants are India, China, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Philippines, and France (in descending order).

Immigration policy in the United States

In 2016, the US admitted over 1,100,000 lawful permanent residents (LPR’s) to the country. However, in recent years, the number of LPR’s admitted to the US significantly declined to just over 700,000 in 2020 and 740,000 in 2021, which is due to government policies, processing delays and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that in relative terms, Canada welcomes three times more immigrants per capita than the United States.

The body of law that governs the US immigration policy is called the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA allows the US to grant up to 675,000 permanent immigrant visas each year across the various visa categories. On top of those 675,000, the INA sets no limits on the annual admission of US citizen’s spouses, parents and children under the age of 21. Each year, a certain number of refugees get admitted to the country through the US Refugee Admissions Program.

The US provides various ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the country on a permanent or temporary basis. There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary non-immigrant workers. Regarding permanent employed based programs, the US limits this number to 140,000 immigrants per year.

An unlimited number of visas are available every year for the immediate relatives of US citizens, if they meet the eligibility criteria. However, a limited number of visas are available every year under the family preference system, which generally encompasses adult children, brothers and sisters of US citizens and spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents.

The most common countries of origin for US permanent resident immigrants are Mexico, China, India, Philippines, Dominican Republic and Cuba (in descending order).

How to get permanent residence in the United States

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the US are authorized to live permanently in the US. They may accept an offer an employment without special restrictions, own property, receive financial assistance and join the Armed Forces.

There are several ways to obtain permanent residency in the US, including:

  • An employer sponsored green card application, based on a specific, permanent full-time job offer. There are five preference categories, abbreviated as EB-1, EB-2, etc.
  • A self-sponsored employment based green card application without the need for a specific job offer. This is usually filed under the EB-1 Extraordinary Ability (EB-1A) or EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW)
  • Marriage to a US citizen
  • Sponsorship by a close relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident
  • The US Department of State diversity lottery program

How to get permanent residence in Canada

A permanent resident can live, work or study in Canada and has the right to most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive, including health care coverage and the ability to apply for Canadian citizenship.

There are several ways to qualify for Canadian permanent residency. The most popular ways for skilled immigrants to come to Canada are:

  • Express Entry
  • Provincial Nominee Programs
  • Sponsorship

Express Entry is the main application management system used by the Canadian government to provide permanent residence to skilled workers in the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP). Eligible candidates are entered into the Express Entry pool and are ranked on many factors according to the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The Canadian government issues Invitations to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence to the highest scoring candidates in the pool.

Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) are operated by almost every province and territory (except Quebec and Nunavut). The PNP allows the provinces and territories to nominate individuals who wish to immigrate to Canada and who are interested in settling in a particular province.

Canada also offers immigration programs that give Canadian citizens and permanent residents the opportunity to bring their family members to the country. Spouses, children and grandchildren of a permanent resident or citizen may be eligible for family sponsorship.

Looking ahead

There have been ongoing changes to several key immigration policies in the US reflecting actions by the US government and court rulings. Many of these changes are directed toward border enforcement, unlawful migration and include expanding current legal pathways to ensure safe and orderly migration.

Family sponsored and employment-based immigration visa numbers fluctuate as unused visa numbers from previous years may be allocated to the next year. To illustrate, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website states that the Department of State currently estimates that the 2023 employment-based annual limit will be approximately 197,000, due to approximately 57,000 unused family-sponsored visa numbers from 2022 being added to the employment-based limit for 2023.

Canada is continuing to increase its immigration targets over the next few years, aiming to welcome 500,000 newcomers by 2025. In addition, the provinces are going to receive more authority in nominating immigrants through the PNP, as PNP targets will continue to increase.

Canada’s immigration ministers recently agreed to a multi-year PNP allocation plan. Moving forward, the PNP allocation targets will be set on a three-year basis, in the same way permanent residence targets are determined over a three-year period.

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