While the drop in immigration to Canada was felt across the country in 2020, early signs suggest that most provinces will see their intakes recover by the end of this year.
The coronavirus pandemic caused immigration to Canada to fall to the lowest level since 1998 last year. As a result, Canada welcomed just over 184,000 new immigrants, well short of the 341,000 newcomers it was seeking to welcome in 2020.
Canada got off to a strong start in 2020 before travel restrictions and other COVID-19 disruptions caused newcomer flows to fall beginning in March.
The decline affected each province and territory. However, immigrant settlement patterns were largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Immigration to Canada’s largest province, Ontario, fell by almost half to nearly 83,000 newcomers in 2020. Ontario’s share of all immigration to Canada remained unchanged compared to 2019, with the province welcoming 45 per cent of the country’s newcomers.
British Columbia remained the second leading province for newcomers, as it welcomed just under 30,000 immigrants, or 15 per cent of the national total.
Quebec moved into third place, ahead of Alberta, as it welcomed over 25,000 immigrants in 2020. Quebec’s share increased to 14 per cent, compared with 12 per cent the previous year. One reason for this is Quebec welcomes a higher share of family and refugee class immigrants than most provinces, and its newcomer intake under certain categories did not fall as significantly (e.g., sponsored spouses and partners) as the drop in skilled workers seen across the country.
Alberta’s national share of newcomers fell slightly from nearly 13 per cent in 2019 to 12.4 per cent in 2020. Manitoba and Saskatchewan also saw their shares decline. Manitoba’s share fell from 5.5 per cent in 2019 to 4.7 per cent in 2020, while Saskatchewan’s fell from 4.6 per cent to 4 per cent.
The four Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador) also experienced a slight dip from 5.2 per cent in 2019 to 4.7 per cent in 2020.
Looking ahead: Which provinces are set to see their immigration levels recover in 2021?
In October of last year, Canada announced it would target the arrival of 401,000 immigrants in 2021. It is currently looking to transition as many temporary residents currently into the country as permanent residents. Canada took a major step towards this goal by holding a historic Express Entry draw on February 13th. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) invited 27,332 candidates to apply for permanent residence. All of these candidates fell under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) and IRCC estimates 90 per cent of them currently reside in the country.
In a new interview with Bloomberg, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino revealed that Canada welcomed 26,600 new immigrants in January. He also stated that immigration levels are nearly 10 per cent higher compared with the same time in 2020, and that Canada is 40 per cent ahead of schedule in terms of the pace it needs to maintain to achieve its 401,000 target this year.
What remains an open question is whether the recovery will be enjoyed across Canada. Express Entry is the main way that Canada welcomes skilled workers. According to IRCC’s most recent annual report on Express Entry, 92 per cent of Express Entry immigrants settle in Ontario, BC, and Alberta.
In 2019, 62 per cent of Express Entry immigrants indicated they would settle in Ontario. A variety of factors suggest that Ontario should see a significant recovery in its permanent residence landings this year. In addition to a large pool of temporary residents who will obtain permanent residence through Express Entry and the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) in 2021, Ontario can also count on family class immigrant landings to support its recovery. Ontario welcomes the most family class immigrants in the country, and family class immigrants are exempt from Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.
British Columbia is also set for a strong recovery this year for the same reasons as Ontario. Of note, the province holds weekly Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) draws which invite a large number of those residing in the province to transition to permanent residence.
While Alberta can expect a bump in immigration through Express Entry, it has chosen to reduce its Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) intake this year while its economy recovers.
Of less certainty is whether Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Atlantic provinces will see their share of Canadian immigration recover this year. All 6 provinces rely on their PNP streams to attract immigrants more so than the aforementioned provinces, and hence, they are currently unable to count on PNP arrivals from abroad. While this PNP challenge also exists for Ontario, BC, and Alberta, those provinces can compensate for shortfalls with Express Entry.
However, there is a strong possibility Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Atlantic provinces will also enjoy solid recoveries this year. They too stand to benefit from IRCC transitioning more temporary residents to permanent residence since they each host significant international student populations. IRCC has indicated it will look for more measures beyond Express Entry to achieve its national immigration target this year, and these forthcoming measures could help to give these smaller provinces a boost. In addition, these 6 provinces can work with IRCC to transition as many temporary residents currently living in their provinces to immigration status through their respective PNP streams as well as through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
Finally, Quebec will also need to adapt its approach to reach its 44,500 newcomer target for 2021. While travel restrictions will create an obstacle in terms of welcoming newcomers through the Quebec Skilled Worker Program, the province’s can achieve its targets through its aforementioned high family class intake, as well as by facilitating permanent residence transitions for skilled workers through pathways such as the Quebec Experience Program. The new pathway for “guardian angels” will also help given the large number of asylum seekers in the province who are on the front lines combatting COVID.
It is important to stress that IRCC and the provinces are looking more inward during the pandemic to compensate for the decline in newcomers arriving from overseas. This is a temporary policy adjustment, and IRCC recently stated it looks forward to inviting and welcoming more immigrants from abroad when travel restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, those overseas can continue to submit immigration applications, and those with approvals in hand can expect to eventually be welcomed into Canada once the pandemic situation improves.
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