An estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens live abroad, with naturalized Canadians leaving the country at a rate three times higher than those born here, according to a report released Thursday.

Released by the Canadians Abroad Project of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the report said the emigration rate for the naturalized portion of the Canadian population from 1996 to 2006 was 4.5 per cent.

For the Canadian-born population, the exit rate was estimated at 1.33 per cent, which translates into 500,000 Canadian-born leavers over the 10-year period.

"While it is interesting in itself to know how many Canadians live overseas, the data gathered on these citizens who have an absolute right of return to Canada can be used to examine the possible future impact of return migration on Canada's social programs and labour force," said Dr. Don DeVoretz, research director of the Canadians Abroad Project.

A member of the Canadian "diaspora" was defined as a Canadian citizen who has lived abroad for one year or more. The study's authors said that eliminates the possibility of including foreign nationals who have no inherent right of return to Canada.

The reports findings also state that:

  • 57 per cent of all overseas Canadians live in the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom or Australia.
  • Young Canadians — those between 21and 25 year old — left Canada at twice the overall average rate.
  • Of Canadian-born citizens living abroad, men have a higher exit rate (1.6 per cent) than women (1.05 per cent).

Freelance writer Ellen Stanard, 38, is one of those Canadians who now call the U.K. home. She has been there since 2002 and lives in London with her husband and two daughters, age 2 and 11 months, respectively.

She said her family plans to spend at least another year or two living in the U.K., and then they will likely move to Toronto, where she grew up.

The situation is complicated somewhat by the fact her daughters were born in the U.K.

"At the moment, they're British and American," Stanard said in an email. "It takes more than a year to apply for Canadian citizenship for children born abroad. And we have a complicated circumstance, as I was born in the U.S., and my husband is American. So, I waited till the second kid was born, and the applications are in Halifax being processed."

The report found that immigrants from wealthy countries tend to have high exit rates following a brief stay, whereas people from less wealthy countries or countries with political stress tend to leave after five or more years of residency in Canada.

Foreign-born Canadian emigrants from Taiwan had the highest rate of return to their country of origin, at 30 per cent, followed by emigrants from Hong Kong at 24 per cent.

The study noted that a time of political tensions in those regions was followed by a period of a "quiescence" that may have contributed to the higher exit rate.

At the other end of scale were India and Vietnam.

Immigration from those regions outweighed the rate of return, with DeVoretz singling out India because the family class of immigrants to Canada from that country substantially outweighed the departure of earlier Indian immigrants during this period.

Canada's present population is 33.8 million, according to Statistics Canada.

Corrections

  • In an earlier version of this story, the figures for men and women were inadvertently transposed. Men actually have a higher exit rate (1.6 per cent) than women (1.05 per cent).
    Oct 29, 2009 8:50 AM ET