Migration: International, 2009

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by Anne Milan

This section on international migration will provide an overview of the current demographic situation regarding immigration to Canada analysed within a historical and international context, where possible. In addition, the category of admission of immigrants to Canada, primarily during the 2008 and 2009 period, with reference to preliminary 2010 data, as well as place of birth, provincial or territorial destination within Canada of immigrants, and international adoption will be discussed. Source data for this section on international migration flows to Canada come from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) unless otherwise noted and refer only to permanent immigrants.1 

CIC produces an annual immigration plan with a targeted range of immigrants to be admitted into Canada on a permanent basis. For the years 2008 to 2010 the planned range was between 240,000 and 265,000 immigrants (Table 1), the same as in 2007. The number of immigrants actually admitted to Canada in 2008 and 2009 fell between these ranges, 247,200 and 252,200, respectively. Preliminary data for 2010 indicate the arrival of 280,600 immigrants, slightly exceeding the targeted range.2 The overall target range for the number of immigrants planned to be permanently admitted to Canada in 2011 remains the same as the 2007 to 2010 period.

Table 1 Immigrants admitted and number planned by category according to the immigration plan, Canada, 2008 to 2011

The number of immigrants admitted to Canada has fluctuated annually over the past century but certain patterns can be associated with particular historical events. The highest recorded number of immigrants was in 1913, when more than 400,000 immigrants entered the country, a time when settlement of the western provinces was encouraged (Figure 1). Low numbers of immigrants were admitted to Canada between 1915 and 1918, coinciding with World War I, and this is especially evident during the 1930s and 1940s, a period of the Great Depression followed by World War II. Immigration was again high in 1957 as 282,200 immigrants arrived in Canada that year, many of whom were Hungarian refugees, as well as an influx of British immigrants, who were seeking more political stability.3

Figure 1 Immigrants and immigration rate, Canada, 1900 to 2009

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 national population, expressed per 1,000 population. This indicator can be used to compare the level of immigration over time as well as for international comparisons across countries. The immigration rate in Canada was 7.5 immigrants per 1,000 population in 2009 relatively unchanged from 7.4 immigrants per 1,000 population in 2008. It has been fairly stable for the past decade, ranging from 7.0 immigrants per 1,000 population in 2003 to 8.1 immigrants per 1,000 population in both 2001 and 2005. In contrast, the history of immigration to Canada showed substantial fluctuations such as the record high in 1913, when the immigration rate was 52.5 immigrants per 1,000 population and the record lows of the early 1940s when it was less than one immigrant per 1,000 population. The immigration rate in the past forty years has not exceeded that of 1967, when it was 10.9 immigrants per 1,000 population. This was the year the "points" system was introduced, which placed greater emphasis on economic criteria such as education, knowledge of an official language, and ability to integrate into the labour market in order to be admitted to Canada. Prior to the 1960s, admission had been largely restricted to immigrants from Europe and the United States.

Internationally, the net migration rate,4 comprised primarily of the difference between immigrants who entered Canada and emigrants who left the country expressed per 1,000 population, is fairly high in Canada compared with other countries. For example, at 7.2 per 1,000 population, the net migration rate in Canada in 2010 was higher than recent data for some industrialized countries such as Italy (6.4), the United States (2.9), the Russian Federation (1.8) and France (1.2). Only a few countries, such as Australia (10.3), had a recent net migration rate higher than Canada. Some countries, such as Japan (-0.4), had a negative net migration rate, meaning that more people left than arrived.5

Overall, the number of immigrants admitted annually is a small percentage of the total population in Canada. The number of immigrants admitted to Canada in 2009 accounted for 0.7% of the population and has been at or less than 1.1% for more than fifty years. The effect on the total population, however, is cumulative and while some immigrants will leave the population, through death or emigration, many will remain in Canada. According to the 2006 Census, one Canadian out of five (19.8%) was born outside of the country. Recent research on international comparisons of the number and share of the foreign-born population based on data projected to 2010 showed that among all countries examined, the United States had, by far, the highest foreign-born population in absolute numbers (42.8 million). In comparison, Canada was projected to have a foreign-born population of 7.2 million. However, the share was higher for Canada and Australia (21.3% for each country) than the United States (13.5%).6 By 2031, it is projected that at least one-quarter (between 25% and 28%) of the Canadian population could be foreign-born.7 

Category of admission for immigrants to Canada

Not only is CIC responsible for overall target levels of immigration to Canada each year, but they have also produced ranges for specific categories of immigrants (Table 1). The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which came into effect in June 2002, identifies the four major categories under which permanent immigrants are admitted into the country:8 

  1. Economic: includes skilled workers, business immigrants, live-in caregivers, provincial/territorial nominees and their dependents;
  2. Family class: comprised of spouses, partners, children and other relatives of Canadian residents, e.g., parents or grandparents;
  3. Refugees: includes government assisted or privately sponsored refugees as well as refugees landed in Canada and dependents abroad; and
  4. Other immigrants: includes immigrants admitted for humanitarian and compassionate or public policy reasons, temporary resident permit holders, immigrants facing deferred removal orders and post-refugee claimants.

Amendments to this Act in 2008 introduced the Canadian Experience Class, a subset of the economic category. Immigrants who apply under the Canadian Experience Class must have knowledge of English or French and have skilled work experience obtained in Canada, which may be augmented by graduation from a Canadian post-secondary institution.

Although the overall ranges for the total number of immigrants remained unchanged during the 2007 to 2010 period, there was variation in the ranges of particular categories of immigrants. In 2009, the observed number of economic immigrants (153,500) fell within the targeted range of 140,300 to 156,600 (Table 1). The preceding year, in 2008, there were 149,100 immigrants also falling within the range of 139,000 to 154,000 for that year. For 2010, there was an upward shift in the planned range of economic immigrants (156,300 to 166,800) and preliminary data show the arrival of 186,900 immigrants in this category or about two-thirds (66.6%) of all immigrants admitted that year. For 2011 the planned range for economic immigrants is between 150,600 and 161,300. Every year since 1995, more than one-half of all immigrants to Canada were admitted under the economic category (Table 2). As a share of all the immigrants, in both 2008 (60.3%) and 2009 (60.9%), about six in ten immigrants belonged to the economic category. This was the first time the 60% level was surpassed since 2002, and the proportion admitted to Canada under this category has been increasing since 2007. This is in contrast to the period of economic recession during the early to mid 1980s when admission under the economic category was only possible for immigrants with prearranged employment. During that time there were several years when the share of immigrants entering in the family class was higher than in the economic category.

Table 2 Immigrants to Canada by category, 1981 to 2010

The family class is currently the second largest category of immigrants and the objective of entry to Canada is family reunification. The range of immigrants targeted for the family class was 68,000 to 71,000 in both 2008 and 2009. The actual number of permanent residents admitted to Canada under the family class in these years was 65,600 and 65,200, respectively. These represented more than one in four immigrants admitted during these years (26.5% and 25.9%), and is a slight decrease from 28.0% in each of 2006 and 2007. These percentages are lower than throughout the 1980s and 1990s. For 2010 the targeted range of immigrants who can enter the country under the family class was reduced to between 57,000 and 63,000 and preliminary data show the arrival of 60,200 immigrants in this class or 21.5% of all immigrants admitted that year. For 2011 the planned range for the family class is between 58,500 to 65,500 immigrants.

The third category for which CIC provides target ranges is refugees although the number of refugees accepted to Canada may increase during times of international crises such as war or political conflict, natural disasters or other humanitarian circumstances. In 2008 and 2009, Canada accepted 21,900 and 22,800 refugees, respectively, representing 8.8% and 9.1% of all immigrants in each year. The shares of refugees from 2008 and 2009 were lower than those from throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and were less than one-third of the level from 1980 (28.2%). In 2008 and 2009 the actual number of refugees was lower than the targeted ranges (26,000 to 31,800 for 2008 and 23,600 to 27,200 for 2009). For 2010, the range was lowered for the fourth consecutive year to between 19,600 and 26,000 refugees and preliminary data show the arrival of 24,700 immigrants in this category or 8.8% of all immigrants in that year. For 2011, the targeted range of refugees is between 23,200 and 29,000.

IRPA gives CIC the authority to accept foreign nationals who would not otherwise meet the requirements of the Act.9 In 2009, 10,600 immigrants not accounted for as refugees, family class or economic immigrants entered Canada representing 4.2% of all immigrants admitted that year, and slightly above the targeted range of 8,100 to 10,200. Most of them obtained permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. In 2008, roughly the same number of immigrants (10,700) was admitted under similar circumstances, representing a comparable share of all immigrants (4.3%) and also surpassing the targeted range of 7,000 to 8,200 immigrants for that year. In 2010, 7,100 to 9,200 immigrants were planned to be admitted as other immigrants, and 8,800 were actually admitted according to preliminary data or 3.2% of immigrants admitted that year. The targeted range of other immigrants for 2011 is between 7,700 and 9,200 for 2011.

Place of birth of immigrants to Canada

Asia, including the Middle East, was the major source of immigrants to Canada in 2008 and 2009 as it was in many previous years. In 2008 and 2009, seven of the top ten source countries of immigrants were Asian: China,10 India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Iran, South Korea as well as Sri Lanka in 2008 and Iraq in 2009 (Table 3). Overall, Asian countries accounted for 57.1% of all immigrants to Canada in 2008 and 56.4% in 2009.

Table 3 Immigrants by category according to the 10 main countries of birth, Canada, 1981 to 2009

As has been the case since 1983, China was the most common place of birth for immigrants who arrived in Canada in 2008 (31,500 persons) and 2009 (30,800 persons) representing 12.8% and 12.2% of all immigrants. However, this 2009 share of immigrants from China was the lowest since 1986 when it was 8.7% and was less than half the 1994 figure when one in four (25.9%) immigrants was born in China. In both 2008 (68.7%) and 2009 (66.9%), two-thirds of Chinese immigrants entered Canada using the economic category while more than one-quarter entered under the family class (25.8% in 2008 and 27.7% in 2009).

India was the second most common country of birth in 2008 and 2009 for immigrants to Canada and has been since 1995. It has also been in the top five countries since at least 1980. More than one in ten immigrants was from India in 2008 (11.3%) and 2009 (11.6%) accounting for 28,000 and 29,200 persons, respectively. Although down from 2007 (12.0%), the percentage of immigrants from India has not been below 10% since 1999. More than half of Indian immigrants entered under the economic category (54.2% in 2008 and 55.4% in 2009) and more than four in ten immigrants in 2008 (42.8%) and 2009 (41.7%) entered under the family class.

In third place were the Philippines, with 24,700 immigrants in 2008 and 28,400 in 2009, representing 10.0% and 11.3% of all immigrants to Canada in each year, respectively. The majority entered as economic immigrants (82.0% in 2008 and 84.2% in 2009) while 16.1% and 14.4% entered under the family class in each respective year.

The countries of China, India and the Philippines, which have been consistently in the top three positions since 2004, together accounted for more than one-third of immigrants admitted to Canada in each of 2008 (34.1%) and 2009 (35.0%).

Several other Asian and Middle Eastern countries in the top ten sources of immigrants have shifted their positions in recent years. Pakistan, which fluctuated between third and fifth position from 1997 to 2008, fell to sixth position in 2009 (accounting for 3.4% of all immigrants in 2008 and 2.7% in 2009). Iran shifted upward from eighth position in 2008 to seventh position in 2009 with under 3% of all immigrants to Canada in each year. South Korea dropped from seventh position in 2008 (2.9% of all immigrants) to eighth position in 2009 (2.3%). Iraq was a top ten source country in 2009, with 5,400 immigrants accepted into Canada (2.1%). More than three-quarters (76.0%) of immigrants from Iraq were refugees. Sri Lanka was in the tenth position in 2008 but was not a top ten source country in 2009. Of the 4,700 Sri Lankan immigrants admitted in 2008, nearly three in ten (28.4%) were refugees.

In 2009, 5.2% of immigrants were from North and Central American countries, slightly down from 5.8% in 2008. The United States was in the fourth position of the top source countries in both 2008 and 2009. About 8,200 Americans were admitted to Canada in 2009 (3.2% of all immigrants), as were 9,400 in 2008 (3.8%). Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s the share of immigrants from the United States remained below 3% and for several years during this period was not among the top ten source countries. There was a fairly equitable balance in 2009 between the share of American immigrants who entered under the economic category (43.7%) and the family class (43.2%) although in 2008, the share of economic immigrants (47.3%) was higher than the family class (40.5%). About 2,800 immigrants entered Canada from Mexico in 2008, increasing to 3,100 in 2009, and represented just over 1% of all immigrants admitted to Canada in each year (Table A1).

In 2009, 15.4% of all immigrants to Canada came from Europe, similar to 2008 (15.5%). The United Kingdom, the only European country among the top ten source countries in 2008 and 2009, was ranked in sixth place in 2008 and fifth place in 2009, although the shares and overall counts were similar (3.3% or 8,200 immigrants in 2008 and 3.2% or 8,100 immigrants in 2009). More than three-quarters of immigrants from the United Kingdom were admitted to Canada under the economic category in each year (77.0% in 2008 and 76.1% in 2009).

Immigrants from the continent of Africa accounted for 11.7% of all immigrants to Canada in 2008, increasing to 13.2% in 2009. This represented 29,000 and 33,400 immigrants entering the country during these respective years. Morocco reached the top ten for the first time in 2009. About 5,500 immigrants from Morocco accounted for 2.2% of all immigrants admitted to Canada in 2009, more than three-quarters of whom were admitted as economic immigrants (78.4%). Although their numbers are relatively low, African countries such as Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroon and the Demographic Republic of the Congo have been the source of increasing numbers of immigrants to Canada in recent years.

The share of immigrants from South America and the Caribbean and Bermuda remained steady at 8.9% in 2008 and 2009, representing 22,100 immigrants in 2008 and 22,400 immigrants in 2009. The largest share of immigrants to Canada from South America was from Colombia (2.2% in 2008 and 1.9% in 2009). Colombia was in the ninth position among source countries in 2008 but was not in the top ten in 2009. More than half (53.5%) of the Colombian immigrants admitted to Canada in 2008 were refugees. For the Caribbean countries, most immigrants arrived in 2008 and 2009 from Jamaica and Haiti (1.0% or less for each country over the past two years). The number of immigrants from Cuba, while low, has been on an overall upward trend during the past decade, and represented 0.5% of immigrants in 2008 and 0.6% in 2009.

Destination of immigrants

Most immigrants admitted into Canada go to the three largest provinces: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Of the 252,200 immigrants who entered Canada in 2009, 78.4% of them (or 197,800 immigrants) went to these three provinces (Table 4). Recent trends, however, indicate a less concentrated distribution of immigrants across Canadian provinces and territories.

Table 4 Percentage distribution of landed immigrants by province of destination, Canada, 1981 to 2009

The percentage of all immigrants who went to Ontario in 2008 and 2009 remained the largest of all the provinces and territories (44.8% and 42.4%, respectively) although lower than the percentage recorded in 2001 (59.3%). The reduced share for Ontario in recent years might be the result of initiatives such as the Provincial Nominee Program which encourages immigrants to settle in other provinces. This program grants provinces and territories the authority to recruit immigrants in order to meet the economic needs of each particular jurisdiction.11 In Ontario, over half of immigrants (51.3%) were admitted under the economic immigrant category in 2009, the lowest among the provinces. More than three in ten (31.0%) immigrants to Ontario in 2009 were admitted in the family class and more than one in ten (11.8%) were admitted in the refugee category, shares higher than the national average.

Nearly one in five (19.6%) immigrants to Canada in 2009 went to Quebec, up from 18.3% in 2008. This was the highest share of immigrants to this province since 1991 (22.3%) and well above the share from 1994 (12.5%), which was the lowest among the data recorded since 1956. In Quebec about seven in ten immigrants (69.7%) in 2009 were admitted under the economic category, higher than the national average, whereas 17.9% were admitted under the family class, lower than that of Canada as a whole.

In 2009, 16.4% of all immigrants to Canada went to British Columbia, down from 17.8% in 2008. These shares are also lower than in the mid to late 1990s when more than one in five of all immigrants went to this province. More than three-fifths of immigrants (62.5%) admitted to British Columbia in 2009 entered as economic immigrants while 30.4% entered using the family class. The percentage of refugees (3.9%) was less than half that of Canada overall.

The share of all immigrants to Canada who went to Manitoba was 5.4% in 2009, up from 4.5% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of immigrants going to Saskatchewan in 2009 was 2.7%, up from 2.0% in 2008, continuing an upward pattern since the mid 2000s. Manitoba and Saskatchewan also had shares of immigrants admitted under the economic category (80.7% and 80.4%, respectively) that were much higher than the national average (60.9%) indicating that these provinces could be benefiting from the Provincial Nominee Program. Immigration to the province of Alberta has also been increasing over much of the past decade. In 2009, 10.7% of all immigrants to Canada went to this province, up from 9.8% in 2008, and the continuation of an upward trend begun in 2005. The percentages of immigrants by category of IRPA to Alberta in 2009 were relatively close to the nation overall.

While still low, the percentage of immigrants going to the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick has increased. Immigration to Prince Edward Island was minimal throughout much of the 1980s through to the mid 2000s (ranging from 0.0% to 0.3%), but has risen over the past four years. In 2008, 0.6% of all immigrants to Canada went to this province in 2008, increasing to 0.7% in 2009. Prince Edward Island also had the highest share across Canada of immigrants admitted under the economic category (91.0%), which may indicate that the province is using the Provincial Nominee Program to target immigrants in the economic category. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia both attracted higher shares of immigrants in the past several years compared with earlier in the 2000s. Shares for New Brunswick increased slightly from 0.7% in both 2006 and 2007 to 0.8% in 2008 and 2009 while the share for Nova Scotia fell from 1.1% in 2007 and 2008 to 0.9% in 2009. Both New Brunswick (78.3%) and Nova Scotia (69.3%) accepted a higher share of economic immigrants compared with the national average. Among the data recorded since 1981, the share of all immigrants to Canada who have settled in Newfoundland and Labrador has remained fairly stable at around 0.2% to 0.4%. Newfoundland and Labrador had a higher share of immigrants admitted as refugees (23.9%) in 2009, more than double the national percentage (9.1%), possibly due to its coastal geographic location.

International adoption 12  

Between 1999 and 2009, there were between 1,500 and 2,200 international adoptions per year in Canada. In 2009, there were 2,100 international adoptions which continued an upward trend for the third consecutive year. International adoption often involves lengthy wait times between completion of paperwork and availability of a child for adoption, however, it still provides individuals or couples with the opportunity to establish or add to their existing families. Regulations can vary according to particular provinces or territories, and can change over time not only within Canada but also for any given source country. Overall, international adoptions are a low percentage of the number of immigrants coming to Canada each year. In addition, beginning in 2008, a new process was introduced that allows internationally adopted children to enter Canada through either the traditional immigration process or a new citizenship process where the children already have Canadian citizenship at the time of entry into the country.

Over the course of the past decade, between 1999 and 2009, close to 21,000 children were adopted internationally in Canada. About 8,000 of these children were adopted from China, and between 1,200 and 1,400 children were adopted from each of the countries of Haiti, Russia and the United States.

China remains the primary source country for adoptions although numbers have recently fallen from the peak of 1,100 adoptions in 2003. There were close to 700 adoptions from China in 2007, and between 400 and 500 in each of 2008 and 2009. In addition, as a percentage of all international adoptions, those from China have decreased from more than half in the mid 2000s (52.5% in 2005) to 21.8% in 2009 (Figure 2). Consequently, more prospective adoptive parents may choose countries other than China, such as Ethiopia. In fact more than four-fifths (80.5%) of all adoptions from Ethiopia recorded from 1999 occurred during the 2006 to 2009 period. After China, other important source countries for international adoption in 2009 were the United States (11.9%), Ethiopia (8.1%), Vietnam (7.7%) and Haiti (6.6%). This compares to a decade ago when the top source countries for international adoptions in 1999 were China (accounting for 34.5% of all international adoptions), Russia (10.4%), Haiti (6.8%) and India (6.7%).

Figure 2 Number of international adoptions to Canada and percentage from China, 1999 to 2009


Table A1 Landed immigrants in Canada by country of birth, 1981 to 2009

Table A2 Percentage distribution of landed immigrants in Canada by country of birth, 1981 to 2009

Table A3 Immigrants and percentage distribution by province of destination and class, Canada, 2008 and 2009


  1. Although the source data are from CIC, there could be differences in how data are aggregated in this section compared with CIC.
  2. Data for 2010 are preliminary estimates and are subject to change.
  3. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Forging our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977. Accessed February 22, 2011.
  4. See Glossary for more information.
  5. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2010. Net migration rate in OECD Factbook, 2010. Data from 2006 to 2008.
  6. Pison, G. 2010. "Le nombre et la part des immigrés dans la population : comparaisons internationales", Population & Sociétés,no. 472.
  7. Caron-Malenfant, E. A. Lebel, and L. Martel. 2010. Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006-2031. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 91-551-XPE.
  8. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 2010. Facts and Figures 2009: Immigrant Overview - Permanent and Temporary Residents.
  9. 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.
  10. Throughout this section, China includes People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, Macao, Macao SAR and Tibet. Adjustments have been made to allow for historical comparability.
  11. As of 2011, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and all provinces had signed agreements with the federal government. All agreements are indefinite, with the exception of British Columbia, which expires in April, 2015 and Ontario, which expired in March, 2011. Quebec is granted the authority to establish annual immigration targets and to select immigrants admitted to this province under the Canada-Quebec Accord. Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, 2010.
  12. Adoptions include those completed via Permanent Residency (FC6: Child to be adopted in Canada and FC9: Child adopted abroad) as well as approved adoptions via citizenship stream.
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