Exploring the reasons behind immigrant departures from Canada

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: February 12, 2024

Canada is among the most sought-after countries to immigrate to, due to the country’s exceptional quality of life, robust healthcare and education system, and liberal ethic of multiculturalism.

However, Canada is not always the last stop on an immigrant’s journey. A new study released by Statistics Canada has found that more than 15% of immigrants left Canada within 20 years of landing.

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Using longitudinal data spanning from 1982 to 2017, the study found that 17.5% of immigrants left Canada within 20 years of landing but looking at the data another way, this means more than 80% of immigrants who landed in Canada over the same period chose to stay.

A smaller proportion (5.1% of immigrants) left Canada just five years after landing. However, several factors influenced whether an immigrant decided to leave Canada or not.

Note: for the purposes of this study, the words “immigrant” and “landing” are technical terms used by Statistics Canada. “Immigrant” refers to newcomers who have received permanent residence (PR) status. Meanwhile “landing” refers to an immigrants first arrival in Canada after receiving their status, or to a virtual landing (if newcomers were already in Canada upon receiving PR).

What factors determined whether an immigrant left Canada or not?

Emigration, which is the act of leaving one’s home country (in this case Canada) to live and settle somewhere else occurred most often three to seven years after immigrants landed in Canada.

Common traits among immigrants who left Canada were:

  • Those born in Taiwan, the United States, France, Hong Kong, or Lebanon were to most likely over the study period to emigrate. Conversely those born in the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, or Jamaica were the least likely to leave;
  • Those who never had children in their tax family were more likely to emigrate than those who did; and
  • Those admitted under investor and entrepreneur categories are more likely to emigrate, while immigrants admitted under refugee or caregiver categories were less likely to do so.

The study also concluded that emigration seemed to follow a clear “gradient” based on education level: that is to say, immigrants who were more educated were far more likely to leave Canada than those who had lower levels of education.

Lastly the study noted that immigrants who held a temporary status (i.e.: worker or student) in Canada, before receiving PR were especially likely to leave after landing; however, this could further be attributed to other characteristics already discussed (such as a higher level of education).

Why might these immigrants be leaving Canada?

Though Canada is one of the most immigrant-friendly nations in the world, there may be certain reasons why these newcomers are choosing to leave the country after being granted PR.

One well-documented reason is problems integrating in the Canadian labour market.

Other reasons may include problems adjusting to Canadian culture or languages, Canada’s harsh winter weather, and personal reasons for immigrants (like the death of a loved one, or a unique employment opportunity abroad). Older immigrants may also emigrate from Canada to retire in their country of origin.

Yet another reason may be that these newcomers always planned to leave. The study takes the specific example of immigrants from Hong Kong, many of whom may have taken advantage of new transportation and communication technologies to maintain a dual presence—essentially capitalising on Hong Kong’s economic opportunity, while also benefitting from Canada’s excellent quality of life.

Still, even considering these factors, most immigrants choose to stay in Canada, and even obtain Canadian citizenship. Canada’s multiculturalism continues to provide fertile ground for immigrants from all walks of life to settle in the country. In addition, with rising immigration levels in coming years, the country has doubled down on accreditation procedures to help new immigrants integrate better into the workforce—while also increasing investment into settlement services, to ensure that newcomers are supported by the government in their quest to integrate into Canada’s economy, culture, and wider society.

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