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It is well known that the vast majority of immigrants in North America choose to live in major metropolitan centres. Understanding the relative importance of economic and non-economic factors in the immigrants' residential choices is crucial in understanding the role that immigrants play in the labour market adjustment mechanism. The literature on internal migration recognizes that mobility choices depend on both economic and non-economic factors, although some evidence suggests that the effect of economic factors may be stronger. Recent Canadian immigration policies aim at encouraging a more diverse geographical distribution of immigrants, and at helping cities and regions other than Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver to attract and retain immigrants. The success of such policies depends on a better understanding of similarities and differences in the mobility choices of immigrants and non-immigrants. Yet many questions about the differences in the role that economic considerations might play in immigrants' and non-immigrants' mobility decisions still remain.
The recent economic boom in Alberta, which led to a rising labour demand in the first years of this century, has created unique economic circumstances in which some hypotheses about immigrants' responses to a strong labour demand outside major metropolitan areas can be tested. Using a unique dataset that combines administrative and immigrant records, we first compare the response to the strong labour demand in Alberta of relatively recent immigrants with that of the comparison group, which consists largely of the Canadian-born population. Second, we examine the impact of different factors on the immigrants' decision to move to Alberta. Although the prospect of acquiring a good, high-paying job might be expected to carry considerable weight in immigrants' mobility choices, it is only one of the many factors affecting such choices. Personal and demographic characteristics, the presence of social networks, as well as the economic situation in the region where they lived before we observed their mobility outcomes may also be expected to play roles in immigrants' decisions to move (or not to move) to Alberta.
The study sample comes from Statistics Canada's Longitudinal Administrative Database (LAD), which contains demographic, income and taxation data. Each year of LAD is a representative 20% random sample of all Canadians who have a Social Insurance Number in that year. The LAD records are linked to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada records, which contain information on, among other things, foreign schooling, birthplace and ability to speak one of the official languages, for all immigrants who arrived to Canada since 1980.
The key finding of the study is that immigrants generally have responded strongly to the rising labour demand in Alberta, although the magnitude of the response varies from region to region. Our estimated probabilities of moving to Alberta among immigrants were about 30% higher for the 2001-to-2005 period than for the 1996-to-2000 period, controlling for differences in immigrant characteristics between the two periods, and 20% based on the raw data without controls. This result contrasts sharply with the results for the comparison group—which includes non-immigrants and immigrants living in Canada for 15 years or more, whose migration rates to Alberta did not change significantly from the 1996-to-2000 period to the 2001-to-2005 period. 1
But in terms of levels rather than change, only immigrants in Canada for 5 years or less have migration rates noticeably higher than those of the comparison group. Generally speaking, immigrants in Canada for 10 to 15 years were less likely to move to Alberta than their comparison group counterparts. In particular, immigrants in Canada for more than 5 years and living in major metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Vancouver remain less likely to move than the comparison group. Given the tendency among immigrants to concentrate in these cities, they are under-represented in the overall mobility adjustment triggered by the rising labour demand in Alberta. The proportion of immigrants in Canada (no matter where) who moved to Alberta was 0.27%, compared with 0.35% for the comparison group. Immigrants in Canada for less than 5 years were, however, overrepresented in the migration response, as their overall internal migration rate was 0.45%.
Much of the difference in internal migration rates to Alberta between immigrants and the comparison group can be attributed to the differences in the characteristics of these two groups. Based on our findings, we argue that if immigrants had the characteristics of the comparison group, their internal migration rates would be considerably higher than those of the comparison group.
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