The number of people receiving employment insurance benefits fell in July to a level not seen since before the start of the 2008 recession, Statistics Canada said Thursday.

The number of EI beneficiaries fell  2.1 per cent in July to 503,900 and was down 5.7 per cent from July 2012.

"This decline brings the number of beneficiaries to a level similar to that observed before the start of the labour-market downturn in 2008," Statistics Canada said.

Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador saw the biggest declines while Ontario and British Columbia saw little change in the number of people receiving benefits.

The largest drop in beneficiaries was in the trades, transport and equipment operation sectors, where the number fell by 7.9 per cent between June and July.

Men accounted for most of the July decline in beneficiaries, with a drop of 3.3 per cent, while the number of female beneficiaries stayed about the same.

While the number of people collecting EI went down in July, the number of people making new claims or renewing claims went up by 3.4 per cent to 237,300.

"Compared with July 2012, however, claims were virtually unchanged," Statistics Canada said.

Saskatchewan saw the biggest increase in people making EI claims, with a rise of 20.9 per cent in July over June, followed by Manitoba, which saw a seven per cent increase in claims.

The federal government tightened some of the regulations around employment insurance last year and the changes came into effect this January. The government expanded the definitions of what is considered "suitable work" and a "reasonable job search," in effect forcing some EI claimants who fall in the "frequent user" category to accept any work they are qualified to do — regardless of whether or not it is in their profession — and to accept wages starting at 70 per cent of their previous hourly wage.