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The majority of data in this chapter on international immigration flows to Canada have been provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), unless otherwise indicated. Only data on the arrival of permanent immigrants to Canada are presented in the following analysis, therefore, annual flows of non-permanent residents are excluded.

Each year Citizenship and Immigration Canada produces an immigration plan with a targeted range of immigrants to admit into Canada on a permanent basis. Over the 2005 to 2007 period, the target ranges increased but the actual number of accepted immigrants decreased each year (table 4.1). The targeted range in 2007 of the immigration plan was between 240,000 and 265,000; the total number of admitted immigrants (236,800) was slightly lower than this level. The preceding year, in 2006, there were 251,600 immigrants admitted to Canada, which fell within the targeted range for that period (225,000 to 255,000). The observed number of immigrants for 2005 (262,200) surpassed the target level (220,000 to 245,000). The number of immigrants planned to be permanently admitted into the country in 2008 is in the same range as 2007.

Table 4.1
Immigrants admitted and number planned by class according to the immigration plan, Canada, 2005 to 2008

The number of immigrants and immigration rate in Canada has fluctuated not only in recent history but especially over the course of the past century. Dating back to 1900, the historic peaks and valleys are clearly evident. In the early 1900s, immigration was high primarily due to settlement in the Western provinces. During the year 1913, over 400,000 immigrants came to Canada, a level that has not been reached again (figure 4.1). Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, the years of the Great Depression and World War II, immigration was very low.

Figure 4.1
Immigrants and immigration rate, Canada, 1900 to 2007

The immigration rate is a ratio of the number of immigrants admitted into a host country in a given year to the size of the population of this country, expressed per 1,000 population. This provides a measure that can be used to compare the level of immigration in a consistent manner between countries and between periods. The immigration rate in Canada in 2007 was 7.2 per 1,000, down somewhat from 2006 (7.7 per 1,000) and 2005 (8.1 per 1,000). However, this rate was relatively stable over the past 20 years. In comparison, the immigration rate in 1913—the year of the historic high—was 52.5 per 1,000. In 1967, the rate was 10.9 per 1,000, the last time that the immigration rate exceeded 10.0 per 1,000 during the past 40 years. This was also the same year the “points system” was introduced for admission to Canada which placed a greater emphasis on economic criteria such as the ability to integrate quickly into the labour force.

From an international perspective, immigration in Canada is relatively high. In other G8 countries, the net migration rate (which is the balance between immigrants and emigrants expressed per 1,000 population) was nearly twice as high in Canada as in the United States, and also higher than the other G8 countries.1

Class of admission for immigrants to Canada

Not only is there a targeted overall range for the number of immigrants to be admitted into Canada, but ranges are also provided for the various classes of immigrants (table 4.1). The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which came into effect in June 2002, identifies the four major classes under which permanent immigrants are admitted into the country. First, the economic class includes skilled workers, business immigrants, live-in caregivers, provincial/territorial nominees and their dependents. Second, the family class is comprised of spouses, partners, children and other relatives of Canadian residents such as parents or grandparents. Third, the refugee class includes government assisted or privately sponsored refugees as well as refugees landed in Canada and dependents abroad. Finally, the “other immigrants” class is comprised of immigrants admitted for humanitarian and compassionate or public policy reasons, temporary resident permit holders, immigrants facing deferred removal orders and post refugee claimants.

The share of immigrants in each class fluctuates from year to year, but since 1995, at least half of all immigrants admitted into Canada have been in the economic class. In 2007, 55.4% of arrivals, accounting for about 131,300 immigrants, were admitted as part of this class (table 4.2). Although this was the largest group of planned immigrants with a targeted range of 141,000 to 158,000 in 2007, the observed number remains slightly lower than this level. Similar to the overall number of admitted immigrants during the 2005 to 2007 period, the number of economic immigrants admitted in 2005 (156,300) and 2006 (138,300) was higher than 2007. The peak share of economic immigrants was in 2001 when this class represented 62.1% of all immigrants admitted that year. The lowest shares were in the early 1980s, a period of economic recession in Canada, in which admission of economic immigrants was restricted to applicants with prearranged employment. The years between 1983 and 1986 were characterized by low immigration rates (ranging between 3.3 per 1,000 to 3.8 per 1,000) and numbers of immigrants that did not exceed 100,000. For the year 2008, the number of planned economic immigrants has shifted downward to between 139,000 and 154,000.

Table 4.2
Immigrants to Canada by class, 1981 to 2007

The second largest group was comprised of immigrants admitted under the family class where the objective is “family reunification”. In 2007, Citizenship and Immigration Canada planned 67,000 to 69,000 immigrants to be accepted under the family class and 66,200 immigrants were actually admitted, representing 28.0% of immigrants. This proportion was the same in 2006, and up from 2005 (24.2%). In some years during the early 1980s, the proportion of immigrants admitted under the family class was larger than that in the economic class. In fact, in 1983, the share of immigrants admitted into the family class was 54.9% of all immigrants admitted that year, and more than double the share of economic immigrants (27.1%). For 2008, the planned level of family-class immigrants has been revised upward slightly to between 68,000 and 71,000.

In 2007, Canada accepted nearly 28,000 refugees, representing 11.8% of all immigrant arrivals that year. Refugees were the only class of immigrants to fall within the targeted range (25,900 to 30,800) in 2007. Between 1982 and 1992, refugees as a proportion of all immigrants ranged from 14.0% to 23.2%, but not as high as the share from 1980 (28.2%). In 2008, it is expected that between 26,000 and 31,800 immigrants will be admitted into Canada in the refugee class.

Finally, 11,300 immigrants admitted into Canada in 2007, or 4.8% of all immigrants, belonged to the class of “other” immigrants. This class of immigrants was the only one to surpass the planned levels for 2007 (6,100 to 7,200). The number and share of immigrants in this class was the highest of the data collected since 1980. Some of the increase in recent years could be due to the introduction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in 2002 which gave Citizenship and Immigration Canada the authority to accept foreign nationals who would not otherwise meet the requirements of the Act.2 For 2008, between 7,000 and 8,200 immigrants in the “other” class are planned.

Place of birth of immigrants to Canada

As in past years, a small number of countries provided a large number of immigrants to Canada in 2007. In fact, the order of the top five countries of birth for immigrants remained unchanged over the 2005 to 2007 period. About 133,900 of the 236,800 immigrants entering the country in 2007 came from the continent of Asia, representing more than half (56.5%) of all immigrants. Since the late 1980s the proportion of immigrants from Asia has fluctuated between one-half and nearly two-thirds, but the proportion in 2007 is the lowest since 1991.

In 2005 and 2007, eight of the top ten source countries for immigrants to Canada were from Asia: China, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Iran, South Korea and Sri Lanka (table 4.3). In 2006, Sri Lanka was replaced by Algeria as the tenth most common country of birth. As for many previous years, the top birth place for immigrants arriving in Canada in 2007 was China (28,900 persons), representing 12.2% of all immigrants. This share dropped from 17.1% in 2005, and was less than half of the 1994 proportion (25.4%) when one in four immigrants were born in China. The majority of immigrants from China belong to the economic class although this decreased over the 2005 to 2007 period from 72.2% to 56.5%. This decrease corresponded to an increase in the proportion of newcomers from China entering Canada as part of the family class (from 21.7% to 35.9%). Perhaps with the economic development of China in recent years, this has reduced the attraction of Canada as a destination for Chinese immigrants.

Table 4.3
Immigrants by class according to the 10 main countries of birth, Canada, 2005 to 2007

As a place of birth, China was followed closely by India, accounting for 12.0% of all immigrants, or 28,500 persons, who came to Canada in 2007. Since 2000, this share has fluctuated between 11.9% and 13.8%. Most immigrants from India were admitted in 2007 under the economic class (53.8%), and an additional 42.0% entered under the family class.

The third most common country of birth for newcomers to Canada during the 2005 to 2007 period was the Philippines, from where 19,700 individuals or 8.3% of all immigrants were born in 2007. This proportion has been increasing since 2002. The majority of immigrants from the Philippines in 2007 were admitted under the economic class (77.0%), followed by the family class (21.0%). Together, these three countries—China, India and the Philippines—accounted for 77,100 or approximately one-third of all immigrants admitted into Canada in 2007. Among countries from where more than 2,000 immigrants came to Canada, the Philippines was one of only two countries in Asia, along with Iraq, which increased as a place of birth between 2006 and 2007 (table A-4.3).

Pakistan maintained its fourth position as a source country for immigrants but the number decreased below 10,000 for the first time since 1999. In 2007, 9,800 immigrants were admitted to Canada from Pakistan, accounting for 4.1% of all immigrants, a share which has been dropping since 2002. More than half of the immigrants from Pakistan were admitted as part of the economic class in 2007 (54.5%) and 28.2% belonged to the family class.

Two other Asian countries, South Korea and Sri Lanka, were also among the top countries of births for immigrants admitted to Canada between 2005 and 2007. Between 5,800 and 6,200 immigrants admitted to Canada each year during this period were from South Korea, representing 2.2% to 2.5% of all immigrants. However, the composition of immigrants from these two countries was very different as the majority of persons from South Korea were admitted under the economic class (82% to 83%). Between 2005 and 2007, Sri Lanka accounted for less than 2% of immigrants to Canada. In 2007, the family class was the most common category of entrance for these immigrants (36.8% of the 4,100 immigrants) followed by refugees (26.7%). Roughly equal proportions of Sri Lankan immigrants entered Canada in 2007 in the economic class (18.4%) and other class (18.0%). Two years earlier, in 2005, the most common class for immigrants from Sri Lanka was refugees (46.2%) and only 12.8% were economic immigrants.

In 2007, 16.0% of all immigrants to Canada were from Europe, less than half of the 1981 share (34.8%). In 2007, the predominant place of birth for Europeans who came to Canada, was Great Britain (3.1% of immigrants to Canada), three-quarters of whom were admitted under the economic class. More than 25 years earlier, in 1981, the share of newcomers born in Great Britain was over three times higher (14.7%).

In 2007, 5.1% of all immigrants to Canada were from the North American neighbours to the south: the United States and Mexico. The number of immigrants from the United States, which accounted for 3.7% of all immigrants to Canada in 2007 has been on the rise since 2002, but still below the shares of the early 1980s (6.5% to 6.9%). During the 2005 to 2007 period, about half (47.0% to 50.0%) of the immigrants from the United States came to Canada through the economic class and an additional 37.0% to 42.8% entered via the family reunification category. About 3,200 immigrants or 1.4% of the total came from Mexico in 2007.

The share of immigrants from Central and South America, and the Caribbean and Bermuda increased slightly from 8.5% in 2005 to 9.8% in 2007 . Since 2003, the share of immigrants from Colombia has equaled or surpassed 2.0% of all immigrants admitted to Canada. Over the 2005 to 2007 period, two-thirds to three-quarters of Colombian immigrants were admitted in the refugee class.

Approximately 10% to 12% of immigrants who arrived in Canada during the 2005 to 2007 period were from African countries, up from 4% to 5% in the early 1980s. In the past few years, the two main countries of birth of African immigrants admitted to Canada were Morocco and Algeria, each of which accounted for less than 2% of all immigrants.

Destination of immigrants

The data recorded since 1956 reveals that the majority of immigrants admitted into Canada go to the three largest provinces: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Of the 236,800 immigrants admitted in 2007, 82.6% settled in one of these three provinces. Ontario received 111,300 immigrants in 2007, representing 47.0% of all immigrants admitted to Canada that year (table 4.4). This was the first time since 1984 that this proportion was lower than 50%. In fact, Ontario and British Columbia are the only provinces whose share of immigrants declined over the past few years while the proportions in almost all other provinces increased or remained stable. In Ontario, less than half (48.2%) of all immigrants were admitted under the economic class while close to one-third (31.9%) were accepted in the family class (table A-4.2).

Table 4.4
Percentage distribution of landed immigrants by province of destination, Canada, 1981 to 2007

At 19.1%, representing 45,200 newcomers, the percentage of immigrants admitted by Quebec in 2007 was the highest it has been since 1992. In recent decades, there has been some alternation between Quebec and British Columbia for the second place rank behind Ontario. Throughout most of the 1980s and early 1990s, Quebec attracted a higher proportion of immigrants compared to British Columbia. From 1993 to 2001, British Columbia had a larger share of immigrants than did Quebec, but since 2002 Quebec has resumed the second place position. About 39,000 immigrants (16.5%) went to British Columbia in 2007. Similar to Quebec, about three-fifths of immigrants admitted by this province in 2007 were in the economic class (60.1%). On the other hand, a larger share of immigrants to British Columbia belonged to the family class (32.3%) than in Quebec (18.9%). In contrast, British Columbia had a lower proportion of refugees (4.9%) than did Quebec (13.1%).

The provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan experienced gains in the share of immigrants to Canada settling in their province. In the period between 2002 and 2007, the proportion of all immigrants in Canada that settled in Manitoba more than doubled, from 2.0% to 4.6%. The situation was similar for Saskatchewan (0.7% to 1.5%). Manitoba has benefited from the Provincial Nominee Program as evident by the proportionally larger share of immigrants accepted under the economic class by this province (76.0%). The Provincial Nominee Program grants provinces and territories the authority to recruit immigrants in order to meet the economic needs of each particular jurisdiction.3 In Saskatchewan, two-thirds (66.7%) of immigrants were accepted in the economic class in 2007 and a high proportion entered as refugees (17.5%). Alberta admitted 8.8% of immigrants to Canada in 2007, or 20,800 persons, a proportion not matched since 1990. More than half of newcomers to Alberta in 2007 were admitted as economic immigrants (54.0%), and similar to Ontario and British Columbia, about one-third of immigrants entered under the family class (32.6%).

A small share of immigrants to Canada settle in the Atlantic provinces each year, although the proportion increased slightly from 1.5% in 2005 to 2.4% in 2007. The proportion of all immigrants arriving in Canada that established in Newfoundland and Labrador has remained stable for the past decade at 0.2%. In the three remaining Atlantic provinces, the proportion of immigrants that settled in those regions edged up in 2007 compared to two years earlier.

Age structure of recent immigrants and of the foreign-born population

The age structure of immigrants admitted into Canada has a distinctive shape with many persons aged 25 to 44 years (figure 4.2). Indeed, the median age for the immigrants who entered Canada in 2007 was 29.7 years, only slightly higher than in 1991 (29.0 years). The predominance of individuals in their prime working ages suggests the importance of the economic class, and in fact, just over three-fifths of immigrants admitted in 2007 were part of this class. In 1991, slightly more than two-fifths of immigrants in this age range were admitted under the economic class.  The difference is that a much higher share (more than one-quarter) of all immigrants aged 25 to 44 years admitted in 1991 belonged to the refugee class whereas this was true for only about one-tenth of immigrants in 2007. 

Figure 4.2
Age pyramid of immigrants to Canada, 1991 and 2007

In general, the majority of individuals aged 55 or older entered Canada as part of the family reunification class in both 1991 and 2007. In 2007, there was an important number of immigrants between 0 and 2 years, which could be the result of international adoption.

While the data provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada allows for an analysis of the immigrant population admitted into Canada each year, census data can be used to examine the entire composition of the foreign-born individuals who live in Canada. It is important to distinguish between immigrants arriving to Canada in a particular year and those who have been in the country for longer periods of time. Some individuals who were born outside of Canada have lived in this country for many years.

In comparison with the Canadian-born population, foreign-born persons are underrepresented at younger ages and overrepresented at older ages (figure 4.3). In other words, the Canadian-born population includes far more children and fewer elderly than the foreign-born population. Young adults who came recently to Canada will age as the duration of their residence increases, and any children they might subsequently have, would be Canadian-born. This phenomenon contributes to a Canadian-born population with a younger median age (36.5 years) relative to the foreign-born population (46.9 years).

Figure 4.3
Age pyramid of the Canadian-born and foreign-born population, Canada, 2006

Table A-4.1
Landed immigrants in Canada by country of birth, 1981 to 2007

Table A-4.2
Immigrants and percentage distribution by province of destination and class, Canada, 2007

Table A-4.3
Countries of birth from which more than 2,000 immigrants came to Canada in 2005, 2006 or 2007


  1. Population Reference Bureau. 2007. 2007 World Population Data Sheet. Washington, DC.; and United States Census Bureau. 2008. International Database. Table 008: Vital Rates and Events.

  2. People who want to live in Canada as permanent residents must normally apply for and obtain a permanent resident visa before they come here. However, if a foreign national is already in Canada and faces exceptional circumstances, this person may qualify for an exemption, based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, from the requirement to obtain a permanent resident visa from a visa office abroad.

  3. As of 2007, the Yukon and all provinces except Quebec had signed an agreement with the federal government. However, Quebec is granted the authority to establish annual immigration targets and to select immigrants admitted to this province under the Canada-Quebec Accord. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 2007. Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, 2007.