October 18, 2017 – Immigration now accounts for a record 75 per cent of Canada’s population growth in 2017, meaning the country is more dependent than ever on newcomers for economic prosperity.
Figures from the National Bank of Canada show three quarters of population growth came from Canada immigration in the last year, up from less than half in the early 1990s.
The Canadian population rose by 1.2 per cent in the last 12 months, a significant increase when compared to the 0.7 per cent rise in the U.S. population.
The increase comes following the federal government move to increase immigration levels, starting in 2016 with an influx of Syrian refugees and continuing in 2017.
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Previously, immigration levels hovered between 250,000 and 280,000, but Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have now established 300,000 as the base level of immigration.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is preparing to announce levels for 2018 and possibly beyond. He has already indicated the numbers are set to increase beyond the 300,000 mark.
A recent federal-provincial-territorial meeting established support for a multi-year levels plan, although it is unclear whether the government will act on this support or for how far into the future a plan will go.
Canada’s population is aging, its birth rate is falling and its labour market contracting. Increased immigration levels are an important tool to help offset this growing demographic challenge.
450,000 Immigrants A Year Irresponsible
Annual immigration levels announcements are politically sensitive in Canada. There is little doubt that the current federal government supports increased levels, after establishing 300,000 as the base figure since coming to power in 2015. However, policy advocates know that increases must come in measured incremental tones that are backed by empirical evidence and that Canadians can accept.
A recent report by the pro-immigration Conference Board of Canada argued levels should be increased to 450,000. To throw out a headline-grabbing figure like 450,000 new immigrants per year is irresponsible, and unhelpful to those in government who are pushing for incremental, managed increases.
An important concern is that Canada does yet not have the infrastructure capacity to integrate what would represent a 50 per cent increase in the number of immigrants. No-one wants to see thousands more immigrants admitted to Canada if many will draw on unemployment benefits. Perhaps 450,000 is a target that can be reached over several years, but it cannot be an accurate level anytime soon.
Canada is reliant on immigration as it tries to reverse an aging population trend. The four provinces of Atlantic Canada are at the sharp end of the issue.
In 2016, 19.5 per cent of the Atlantic Canada population was aged 65 or over, compare to a national average of 16.5 per cent, according to another Conference Board report. At the same time, deaths exceed births in all four Atlantic provinces.
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The immigrant population in the region is significantly lower than the rest of Canada. The 2011 census revealed Nova Scotia had the largest immigrant population in the region at 5.3 per cent. The Canada-wide immigrant population is 20.6 per cent.
The challenge is not just to attract new immigrants, but also to retain them. The region is also subject to a high out-migration rate to other Canadian provinces. It is also struggling with a low birth rate.
Immigrants are needed to spur economic growth, as healthcare costs begin to rise.
There are positives the region needs to highlight in order to attract and retain immigrants.
Immigrant unemployment and wage gaps are low, while those who stay in the region can expect to earn more than those who choose to leave.
The four provinces are starting to attract more immigrants, but rates remain far short of the level required to compensate for those exiting the workforce.
Key areas the provinces need to work on include helping skilled immigrants and their spouses find jobs in their fields, removing barriers to international student employment, and developing welcoming communities.
A key immigration tool developed by the federal government in partnership with the four provinces is the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
The AIP aims to attract 2,000 extra immigrants per year to the region above existing quotas, a number that could rise if the demand exists.
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