Alberta sees dip in immigration but immigrants make up greater proportion of population, census shows

Almost a quarter of people who call Alberta home have been an immigrant or a permanent resident, new census data shows.

Almost a quarter of Albertans are immigrants, StatsCan says

Nearly one in four Alberta residents are immigrants, 2021 census data shows. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Immigrants now make up a greater proportion of Alberta's population than they did five years ago, new census data shows.

Statistics Canada released more 2021 census of population data Wednesday. The latest round relates to immigration; place of birth and citizenship; ethnocultural and religious diversity; and mobility and migration.

About 23 per cent of Alberta residents were or had been an immigrant or a permanent resident, increasing by two per cent from 2016.

"It's a great thing," said Sarosh Rizvi, executive director of the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies.

"It'll definitely come with some challenges, but it really speaks to the beauty of Canada that there are so many cultures and it kind of adds to that overall landscape and the richness of society as a whole."

The provincial numbers align with the national data, which was record-setting.

Across Canada, 8.3 million people, or 23 per cent of the population, are immigrants — the largest share of the population in over 150 years.

The Calgary area has the third-highest proportion of immigrants among the country's urban areas. Nearly one in three people living in the Calgary census metropolitan area is an immigrant, data shows.

Meanwhile, more than one in four people living in the Edmonton census metropolitan area is an immigrant — the fifth-highest proportion of Canada's large urban centres.

In Alberta, immigration overall waned in recent years, however.

Census data shows 193,175 people immigrated to Alberta from 2016 to 2021, down about 14,600 from the nearly 207,800 people who arrived in Alberta from 2011 to 2016.

"[The COVID-19 pandemic] had an impact on it, but I think it's bigger than COVID," Rizvi said. "We were seeing that trend pre-COVID, where the relative numbers in Alberta were decreasing compared to where they were."

The decrease in immigration over the last five years likely had to do with slower economic recovery in Alberta, as newcomers were less likely to find work, he explained.

In 2021, more than three in five recent immigrants — those who arrived in Alberta within the last five years — came from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India.

About 47,600 people came to Alberta from the Philippines since 2016, making up about one quarter of recent immigrants.

More than 31,800 people immigrated to the province from India in the last five years. They made up about 16 per cent of recent immigrants.

The trends in terms of where people are coming from align with what the immigration sector is seeing, Rizvi said.

But he noted that the data, which is as of May 2021, doesn't yet capture immigration caused by events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The number of first-generation Canadians in Alberta is now over 1.07 million, an increase of about 135,600 from 2016.

Four groups make up most people of colour in Alberta

More than one in four Albertans are persons of colour, data shows.

About 1.16 million people identified as a person of colour in Alberta in 2021, an increase of around 228,300 people — or nearly 25 per cent — since 2016.

About three in four people of colour in the province are South Asian (which includes countries such as India and Afghanistan), Filipino, Black, or Chinese.

The number of South Asian people increased the most since 2016 compared to other groups, growing by nearly 67,000 people to about 297,700 in 2021.

Christians decrease but still most common religion

Christianity is still the most common religion in Alberta but there are far fewer Christians than there were a decade ago.

StatsCan asks Canadians about their religious affiliation every 10 years, instead of every five years.

Nearly 2.01 million Albertans living in private households — or about 48 per cent of the population — were of Christian faith in 2021, a decrease of about 142,400 from the roughly 2.15 million Christians in 2011.

Most Christian denominations saw decreases in members in Alberta over the last 10 years, except for the Christian Orthodox church.

In 2021, nearly 63,800 Albertans are Christian Orthodox, an increase of more than 12,000 in 10 years.

Hindu, Sikh practitioners double

Meanwhile, the number of Hindus and Sikhs in Alberta each doubled over the past decade.

Statistics Canada only asks questions about religion every 10 years, unlike other questions such as gender, which are asked every five years.

People who practise Hinduism numbered about 78,500 in 2021, up from about 36,800 in 2011. Those who practice Sikhism increased from about 52,300 to 103,600 over the past decade.

The number of Muslims in Alberta nearly doubled since 2011, growing by about 89,000 to over 202,500 people in 2021.

"That has to do with increased diversity, in terms of who's moving here — both internally within Canada, and those immigrating here," said Jenny Godley, a University of Calgary associate professor of sociology.

The increase signals that society needs to be welcoming to people of other faiths, and ensure that they feel comfortable and safe to practise openly, Godley said. 

A greater proportion of Albertans have no religious affiliation now compared to a decade ago, data shows.

About 1.68 million Albertans — about 40 per cent — had no religious affiliation in 2021.

In 2011, about 1.13 million Albertans — about 32 per cent of the population — had no religious affiliation.


Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at nick.frew@cbc.ca.