P.E.I. has worst immigration retention rates in the country

Fewer than one in five immigrants recently landed on P.E.I. are still on the Island after five years, according to a new study from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

'The [immigration] programs themselves were not structured in the best way'

These immigrants, at a citizenship ceremony on P.E.I., are a significant minority. (CBC)

Fewer than one in five immigrants recently landed on P.E.I. are still on the Island after five years, according to a new study from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

The study uses tax records to track whether immigrants remain in the province. The most recent records available are for 2016.

They show a retention rate for immigrants who landed in 2011 of just 16 per cent, the lowest in the country. The next lowest rate in Atlantic Canada is in New Brunswick at 48 per cent, triple the P.E.I. rate.

To look at that another way, in 2011 Statistics Canada recorded the arrival of 1,738 immigrants on P.E.I. These new numbers suggest just 278 stayed.

Immigration retention crashed significantly with the group that arrived in 2008, which was the start of a new wave of immigration to the province. Immigration grew rapidly from about 300 a year to peak at more than 2,600 in 2010-11.

Patrick Brannon, director of major projects for APEC, said part of the problem was the way the programs were designed.

"The programs themselves were not structured in the best way during a period there in P.E.I., five or six years ago," said Brannon.

"That may have been part of it."

Building community

Another factor could have been the makeup of the P.E.I. population 10 years ago. It was perhaps the least ethnically diverse province in the country, which may have prompted immigrants to move to other provinces that had established communities of people with their ethnic background.

"It does take time to build up the cluster of communities," said Brannon.

"It's a long-term process but I think there have been some positive moves over the last couple of years to improve the potential for retention."

In fact, there is some evidence the retention rate is turning around. While the five-year retention rate has bumped around the mid-teens for the last four years, the three-year retention rate suggests there may be a recovery on the way.

Only about one in five immigrants who landed from 2008-2011 stayed for three years, but that jumped to almost one in three for the 2012 group and close to 50 per cent for those landing in 2013, the most recent numbers available.

"More recently new programs have come along like the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and other programs that are looking to strengthen retention. We do anticipate that those numbers will improve," said Brannon.

The province describes the five-year retention rate as history, and says it has done much to improve immigration programs.

"In the last ten years we have made many changes to our programs aimed at improving our overall retention rate," the Department of Economic Development wrote in an emailed statement.

"Most recently we eliminated the escrow deposit stream of the PNP meaning immigrant entrepreneurs no longer receive permanent residency up front. We've also partnered with communities across the Island who are keen to welcome immigrants to their communities. We've made major improvements to settlement services and language training."

Brannon said while hard numbers are not yet available, conditions look good for the retention rate to improve. The aging labour force means more opportunities on the Island, and Statistics Canada shows improvements in net provincial migration.

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Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. Kevin has a specialty in data journalism, and how statistics relate to the changing lives of Islanders. He has a BSc and a BA from Dalhousie University, and studied journalism at Holland College in Charlottetown. You can reach him at