Canada is expected to welcome up to 305,000 immigrants this year.
The last time Canada admitted that many newcomers was in 1913, when a staggering 401,000 immigrants arrived in the country.
With immigration minister John McCallum recently announcing that Canada intends to have a three-year immigration plan by November, it is worth exploring what the ‘right’ level might be for Canada.
Historically, Canada’s immigration levels have been determined by:
- public policy
- demographic and economic factors
- Canada’s ability to absorb newcomers
- trends in international migration
- Canada’s capacity to process immigrant applications
- public support for immigration
Factors in play
Demographic and economic considerations are at the heart of Canada’s immigration decisions. Sustained economic growth and prosperity are only possible with a healthy population size.
This means having enough people to meet Canada’s current and future labour force needs, and the needs of the provinces and territories, and industry.
Public policy, namely Canada’s objectives of admitting immigrants for a range of purposes, including non-economic factors, also influences annual immigration levels. These include reuniting families, providing protection to those in need, and ensuring Canada reaps social and cultural benefits from immigration, such as by admitting Francophones.
Canada must also assess its ability to absorb new immigrants.
This requires allocating enough settlement and integration supports for immigrants, such as language training and employment services. Other essentials such as good housing and health care services must also be available to Canadians and newcomers.
It also entails ensuring that enough good jobs are available for newcomers and that our labour market information systems are strong so that they can find the jobs.
The push and pull factors that influence global flows of migrants also impact Canada’s immigration levels, as shown, for example, by the country’s recent response to the events in Syria. As a member of the global community, Canada acts when others need help.
Ensuring immigrants meet Canada’s eligibility requirements requires time, money and effort, which affects how many applications can be processed and how many newcomers can be admitted each year.
Finally, public confidence in Canada’s immigration system is crucial, since Canadian governments are expected to respond to the will of the people.
So, what is the ‘right’ level?
Canada achieves the right level of immigration when it balances the aforementioned considerations prudently. Arguably, Canada does a pretty good job of that already.
In spite of the country regularly welcoming over 200,000 immigrants each year, Canadians are becoming increasingly supportive of immigration, according to polling evidence. An annual Environics survey, for instance, shows that Canadian support for immigration has grown since the 1990s.
According to the Conference Board’s Long-Term Economic Forecast, Canada will need to bump its immigration levels up to one per cent of its population within the next two decades (it is currently around 0.80 per cent) in order to sustain a healthy level of economic growth across the country.
While higher levels of immigration will not offset Canada’s aging population trend, it will help keep the country’s population growing by 0.9 per cent annually and add capacity for the productivity and innovation gains that we so badly need.
Of course, higher levels of immigration will mean that more supports will be needed to ensure both Canadians and newcomers are able to find good jobs and continue to access good services. This will help keep Canadians supportive.
Canada can only admit hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year if the public is on board. The evidence suggests that they are.
Canada at 150
Next year, Canada turns 150. Canada admitted all of 11,000 immigrants in its year of confederation.
In 2017, Canada will welcome that same number of immigrants every two weeks. Not bad, eh?
This October, the Conference Board hosts Minister John McCallum at a major meeting in Toronto to discuss the future of Canada’s immigration system.
In December 2016, the Conference Board hosts Canada’s first ever Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit in Toronto. This national two-day event is discussing the value of business immigration programs to the Canadian economy, as well as their social implications, and how these programs can be improved.
In May 2017, we are hosting our third annual Canadian Immigration Summit in Ottawa, a major two-day event that attracts participants from across the country.
Kareem El-Assal is a research associate for Education & Immigration at the Conference Board of Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org