The provinces where immigrants are going — and staying

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Some Canadian provinces have done a better job of retaining their immigrant populations than others, a new Statistics Canada report revealed on Wednesday.

The report, titled ‘Provincial variation in the retention rates of immigrants, 2022’, looked at the percentage of immigrants who filed taxes in the province or territory where they intended to live, as indicated in their permanent residence application, one and five years after admission to Canada.

Among immigrants admitted between 2012 and 2016, those who intended to reside in Ontario, British Columbia or Alberta were the most likely to stay in those provinces five years after their admission.


Ontario had the highest retention rate (93.1 per cent) among immigrants who arrived in 2016, with B.C. (87.3 per cent) and Alberta (84.5 per cent) coming in second and third. Quebec had a five-year retention rate of 81 per cent among immigrants who came to Canada in 2016.

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Alberta was among the provinces that had a drop in its five-year retention rate from 2012. For that cohort, Alberta had a retention rate of 91.5 per cent.

The other Prairie provinces had even bigger drops in their retention rates. Saskatchewan dropped from 72 per cent for the 2012 cohort to 57.9 per cent for 2016. In Manitoba, this figure fell from 75.1 per cent to 64.1 per cent.

Canada’s territories also had a drop in retention, from 73 per cent for the 2012 cohort to 64.3 per cent of immigrants admitted in 2016.

While the overall retention rate in the Atlantic provinces was lower than some of the bigger provinces, the trends have been largely positive for Canada’s East Coast, with both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island seeing an uptick.

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The trends also differed based on immigration categories. The report said 91.7 per cent of immigrants sponsored by family and 84.4 per cent of refugees admitted in 2016 filed taxes in the same province five years later.

The retention rate was lower (77.9 per cent) for economic migrants in the 2016 cohort, which was down (82.1 per cent) from the 2012 cohort.

Manan Gupta, an immigration consultant based in Brampton, Ont., said why a newcomer chooses a particular province can depend on many factors.

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“If someone is moving to Canada to be with their children, grandchildren or spouse, they are more likely to stay in that same province. But economic migrants look for job opportunities, cultural communities and good education opportunities for their children,” he said.

“Despite the high cost of living and high property prices, provinces like Ontario and B.C. have been able to provide good jobs and settlement services to newcomers.”

The trends were also pointing downward for the economic migrants who came under the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which is a stream of entry designed to meet the specific labour needs of provinces. This number was down for the 2016 cohort (77.7 per cent) from the 2012 cohort (83.5 per cent).

Gupta said this is not surprising.

“Many newcomers often use the PNP program to bolster their chances to get permanent resident status. But if the particular province they moved to does not provide them with enough opportunities, they will end up moving to some of the bigger provinces.”

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Some provinces have been doing better at retaining newcomers in more recent years — at least in the short-term.

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While Alberta and Manitoba had bigger drops over five years, their one-year retention rates were more stable.

Atlantic Canada has seen more retention of newcomers since the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP) was launched in 2017. The jump in retention rates is exponential. Nova Scotia saw the highest increase from a one-year retention rate of 21.5 percent for the 2016 cohort to 63.9 percent in 2020 – a jump of over 42 percentage points.

New Brunswick saw its retention rate jump from 50 per cent for immigrants admitted in 2016 to 65.8 per cent in 2020.

The increase in Newfoundland and Labrador’s one-year retention rate was even higher, from 31.3 per cent for skilled immigrants admitted in 2016 to 50 per cent for those admitted in 2020.

Gupta said there are many factors behind the rising popularity of Atlantic provinces among newcomers.

“Some newcomers with families don’t want the hustle that comes with life in the Greater Toronto Area or B.C.’s Lower Mainland. For such people, the Atlantic provinces offer good quality of life. Besides, the Atlantic Immigration Program has helped the Maritimes increase immigration.”

He added, “Some people may find that the bigger provinces are beginning to feel a little saturated. They shouldn’t lose heart as opportunities can be found outside the bigger provinces too.”


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