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The rural need for immigrants

Over the 2001 to 2006 period, Canada accepted, on average, about 211,000 immigrants a year.1 Immigration is an increasingly important component of Canada's population growth.  Over the 1971/19722 to 1975/1976 period, immigration accounted for 37% of total population growth.  Between 2000/2001 and 2004/2005, immigration accounted for about 60% of Canada's population growth (Statistics Canada, 2006).

In many rural areas of Canada, the natural decline in the population (i.e., where deaths exceed births) and out-migration have reduced their population.  Those that are left face problems of an eroding infrastructure, a decreasing economic base and a loss of long-held social capital.  Many rural communities are looking to immigration as a means to stimulate social institutions and economic development and curb population loss.  Some rural communities are actively recruiting immigrants, for example, by using the Internet to promote themselves as an immigrant destination. Others are searching in other countries for immigrants to provide the needed labour in their communities (Senate of Canada, 2008). However, both Broadway (2007) and Fairy and Hanson et al. (2008) note that the working conditions may be less favourable and/or it is work for which it is difficult to recruit local workers.

Both Kandel and Parrado (2005) and Broadway (2007) have noted that food processing plants in Brooks, Alberta and Brandon, Manitoba have had difficulties maintaining a work force from local areas to fill lower paying, labour intensive and physically demanding positions.  As a result, the companies are extensively hiring immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia, and Central America to fulfill the labour requirements.  In Brooks, Alberta, Broadway (2007) observes that this has resulted in a housing shortage, a rising demand for social services, increases in various social disorders, the creation of relatively low-paying or part-time jobs, and a relative fall in income levels.  However more positively, he notes that there has been immigrant integration into the community's economy as they have established local services (from groceries to music) for an increasing immigrant and refugee population, which he noted, has enriched the community in general.

Donato et al. (2007) have noted more general potential negative implications associated with the arrival of new immigrants – frustration due to a lack of community experience or community infrastructure to assist immigrants and suspicion and resistance from both the host community and the immigrants arising from racial/ethnic tensions.  While these potential problems are not unique to rural communities, they may be more overwhelming due to a smaller community tax base to provide resources, a smaller population to provide assistance and perhaps a population that has less experience with cross-cultural community development.

Many rural communities are "witnessing the reality of diversity and demographic transformation" (Radford, 2007).  Radford calls for more research on rural immigrants that monitors the experiences, the quality of life and the challenges faced by these new Canadians.  Such research can help to improve initiatives to ameliorate the difficulties that may arise.  Ram and Shin (1999) suggest the more mobile an immigrant group is, the greater its degree of integration into the mainstream of society.  As a result, spatial dispersal of the population is indicative of socio-economic integration.  Mobility of immigrants into a rural community, where a relatively stronger sense of community belonging exists (Mitura and Bollman, 2004), may enhance the integration of immigrants into Canada society, compared to the experience in urban areas.

Using 2006 Census of Population data, this bulletin profiles rural immigrants by five themes: immigrants as a percent of the total population, immigrant period of arrival, immigrant region of birth, migration of recent immigrants and finally a ranking of rural regions in terms of the number of immigrants as a percent of the total population in each rural region.3


  1. "The census estimated that 1,110,000 immigrants came to Canada between January 1, 2001 and May 15, 2006." (Statistics Canada, 2007c) Thus, in the 5¼ years from January 1, 2001 to May 16, 2006, the number of new immigrants was about 211,000 per year.
  2. A double-year reference, such as 1971/1972, refers to the period of July 1, 1971 to June 30, 1972.
  3. Earlier bulletins by Beshiri and Alfred (2002) and Beshiri (2004) provided overviews of the number of immigrants in rural Canada in 1996 and 2001, respectively.