British Columbia

More newcomers in B.C. are choosing to live outside Metro Vancouver, latest census data shows

Metro Vancouver's share of recent newcomers in B.C. has dropped from 81 per cent in 2011-2016 to 78 per cent in 2016-2021.

Immigrants make up 29 per cent of B.C.'s population, higher than the national average of 23 per cent

Alan Gonzales came to Canada from the Philippines as a skilled immigrant via the Express Entry program in 2017. He is one of many who have chosen to live in B.C.'s Okanagan region. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

A growing number of new immigrants in B.C. are choosing to live outside of Metro Vancouver, according to 2021 census data from Statistics Canada.

One of them is Alan Gonzales, who came to Kelowna, B.C., five years ago as a Canadian permanent resident.

Gonzales, who is from the Philippines, received his permanent residency through the Express Entry program, a competitive point-based immigration program for skilled workers.

"One day I just decided to click on the government website to apply for Express Entry," said Gonzales, a marketing professional who currently works as a settlement services co-ordinator at the non-profit, KCR Community Resources, in Kelowna.

 

"It's not even a very high score, and then after three days, I received an email from the Government of Canada saying, 'congratulations,'" he said.

"At first I thought it was a scam. I didn't bother reading it and after two weeks, I just forwarded it to my sister who's staying here in Canada, and she said, 'that's your key to Canada!'"

A Kelowna outreach worker shares his thoughts on the latest census data on immigration which shows the increased diversity of BC

Immigrants now make up 29 per cent of B.C.'s population, higher than the national average of 23 per cent, according to census data released Wednesday.

While Metro Vancouver is still home to the largest number of immigrants in the province, its share of recent newcomers has dropped from 81 per cent in 2011-2016, to 78 per cent in 2016-2021, as many have chosen to live in other metropolitan areas.

Increases in the percentage of new immigrants to B.C. is seen in Victoria (0.72 per cent) and Nanaimo (0.42 per cent) on Vancouver Island, for example, as well as Kelowna (0.47 per cent) in the Interior.

There have also been slight increases in Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern B.C. 

New program helped draw newcomers to other regions

Smaller communities in the Southern Interior, such as Vernon and Nelson have also seen increases, thanks in part to the federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), an immigration program for skilled workers who want to work and live in a participating community. 

Daniela Bustos, who lives in Nelson and works at a leather goods store, became a Canadian permanent resident this January together with her family through the RNIP, which required that she live in the West Kootenay region and receive a job offer from a local employer.

Daniela Bustos and her husband Tiago, who came to Canada from Brazil in 2017, are pictured in their new hometown of Nelson, B.C. They received their permanent residency this January through the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program. (Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, West Kootenay Region)

Bustos, a former theatre producer, came to B.C. in 2017 with her husband, Tiago, who quit his water polo coaching job in Brazil to study social work at Selkirk College in Castlegar, with the intention of immigrating to Canada.

She says they left their hometown of São Paulo because they believed Canada provided a safer environment for their two teens.

"[Brazil] is not an easy place to live, especially living in São Paulo — we're talking about insecurity, about violence, about stress," she said.

Number of refugees also increased

The percentage of newcomers coming to the province as refugees has also increased by three per cent over the past five years.

A decade ago, Minab Yetbarek and his parents arrived in Canada from Uganda, where they lived as asylum seekers after fleeing Eritrea.

Minab Yetbarek is pictured with the Eritrean flag near his workplace, MOSAIC, a settlement services agency in Vancouver. Together with his parents, Yetbarek came to Canada as a refugee almost a decade ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The 27-year-old, who became a Canadian citizen two months ago, is currently an outreach worker with settlement services agency MOSAIC, leveraging his Tigrinya and Arabic language skills to help newcomers from countries in North Africa apply for jobs and government-issued documents.

 

Yetbarek says he continues to maintain ties to his culture by writing literature in Tigrinya — but he's also grateful for the people who helped him adapt to Canadian culture.

"They're like angelic spirits that have guided my way," he said. "I can safely say that I owe a lot to them."

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