Politics

Population share of immigrants, permanent residents hits 23% record: census

Almost a quarter of Canada's people were or are immigrants or permanent residents — who now account for their largest share of the population in the country's history, according to new census data from Statistics Canada.

Immigrants on track to account for up to 34% of population by 2041, StatsCan says in census release

A group of Filipino women smile and pose for a photograph. One woman holds a bouquet of flowers.
Erlinda Tan, fourth from the right, celebrates with friends from the Edmonton Filipino community after her citizenship ceremony at Canada Place in February 2015. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Almost a quarter of Canada's people were or are immigrants or permanent residents — who now account for their largest share of the population in the country's history, according to new census data from Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada reports that 8.3 million people, or 23 per cent of the population, fit into this category, topping the previous record of 22.3 per cent in 1921.

Immigrants and permanent residents now make up a larger share of Canada's population than they do in any other G7 country.

Canada's population grew by 5.4 per cent from 2016 to 2021. New immigrants accounted for 71.1 per cent of that growth. 

"If these trends continue, based on Statistics Canada's recent population projections, immigrants could represent from 29.1 per cent to 34 per cent of the population of Canada by 2041," the report said.

Between 2016 and 2021, 1.3 million new immigrants settled permanently in Canada. Almost 16 per cent of all immigrants in Canada came to the country recently.

Statistics Canada says that recent immigrants are younger on average than the rest of the Canadian population and have been critical to filling many jobs in the Canadian labour market. 

Just over 64 per cent of new immigrants fell into the core working age of 25 to 54, with only 3.6 per cent of new immigrants in the 55 to 64 age group. More than 17 per cent of new immigrants were younger than 15.

Importance to the labour force

From 2016 to 2021, immigrants accounted for four-fifths of Canada's labour force growth. A large share of recent immigrants were selected for their ability to contribute to Canada's economy.

Statistics Canada says more than half of recent immigrants — 748,120 of the 1.3 million admitted to Canada between 2016 and 2021 — entered Canada under the economic category.

Of these economic immigrants, almost 35 per cent came in though skilled worker programs, while just over a third came in through the provincial nominee program. 

The share of new immigrants who first came to Canada temporarily on work or study permits, or as asylum claimants, before becoming permanent residents also increased — from almost 18 per cent of new immigrants between 2001 and 2005 to 36.6 per cent in 2021.

Country of origin

Asian-born immigrants accounted for a record share of recent immigrants, rising from just 12.1 per cent in 1971 to 62 per cent in 2021. The number of new immigrants born in Europe, meanwhile, has continued its 50-year decline and fell to just 10.1 per cent in 2021 from a high of 61.1 per cent in 1971.

India was the leading source country for new Asian immigrants, contributing 18.6 per cent of the total number arriving in Canada between 2016 and 2021.

Devotees celebrate Diwali at the Gursikh Sabha Canada gurdwara in Scarborough, Ont., on Oct. 24. Asian-born immigrants accounted for a record share of recent immigrants, rising from just 12.1 per cent in 1971 to 62 per cent in 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"The last time that such a high proportion of immigrants came from a single place of birth was during the 1971 census, when 20.9 per cent of all recent immigrants came from the United Kingdom," Statistics Canada said. 

The next-largest Asian source countries for new immigrants were the Philippines, at 11.4 per cent, and China, at 8.9 per cent.

Between 2016 and 2021, 218,430 new refugees were admitted to Canada as permanent residents. More than one quarter of those, 61,000, came from Syria.

"Iraq, 15,505, Eritrea, 13,965, Afghanistan, 9,490, and Pakistan, 7,810, were the other most common countries of birth for new refugees from 2016 to 2021," the report said.

New immigrants and cities

The new census data showed that about 90 per cent of recent immigrants chose to settle in cities with more than 100,000 residents. Three cities attracted the largest shares of new immigrants between 2016 and 2021: Toronto (29.5 per cent of the total), Montreal (12.2 per cent) and Vancouver (11.7 per cent).

Overall, however, the share of new immigrants settling in these cities continued to decline as more and more opted to settle outside of Canada's three largest cities.

In 2016, the percentage of new immigrants settling in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver stood at 56 per cent. By 2021 that had fallen to 53.4 per cent. Montreal saw the biggest decline, dropping from 14.8 per cent of new immigrants in 2016 to just 12.2 per cent in 2021.

"The fact that recent immigrants are increasingly choosing to settle outside of the large urban centres of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver may partly reflect the higher shelter and housing costs and availability in these cities," Statistics Canada said.

New immigrants settled in other urban centres in increasing numbers. Ottawa-Gatineau saw its population share of new immigrants rise from 3.1 per cent in 2016 to 4.4 per cent in 2021, while Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo saw its population of new immigrants double from 1.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent of the total.

The census found that 21 per cent of immigrants spent at least 30 per cent of their income on housing, while just 13.2 per cent of the non-immigrant population did. The percentage of immigrants deemed in need of housing was 14.3 per cent, compared to just 6.4 per cent for those born in Canada.

Immigration and language

Although almost 70 per cent of recent immigrants said their mother tongue was neither English nor French, almost 93 per cent of the 1.3 million immigrants who entered Canada between 2016 and 2021 could hold a conversation in one of Canada's official languages. 

In 2021, nearly one in four new immigrants reported English as their mother tongue, while only 6.5 per cent of new immigrants said French was their language of birth. 

Of the new immigrants who said English was their mother tongue, 20.5 per cent came from India, 12.5 per cent came from the Philippines, 10.3 per cent came from the United States and 10.2 per cent came from Nigeria.

Of those who came to Canada with French as their language of birth, 30.3 per cent came from France, 11.5 per cent came from Cameroon, 8.4 per cent came from Côte d'Ivoire and 5.8 per cent came from Algeria. 

Highlights:

  • The share of recent immigrants settling in Atlantic Canada almost tripled in 15 years, rising from 1.2 per cent in 2006 to 3.5 per cent in 2021.
  • Asia, including the Middle East, remained the continent of birth for most recent immigrants at 62 per cent.
  • Almost one in five recent immigrants, or 18.6 per cent, were born in India, making it the leading country of birth for recent immigration to Canada.
  • The share of recent immigrants from Europe continued to decline, falling from 61.6 per cent in 1971 to 10.1 per cent in 2021.
  • The vast majority of recent immigrants, almost 93 per cent, are able to conduct a conversation in either English or French.
  • The share of children of immigrants, or second-generation Canadians, younger than 15 years with at least one foreign-born parent rose from 26.7 per cent in 2011 to 31.5 per cent in 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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