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Census 2016: More than one fifth of Canadians are foreign-born, proportion from Asia growing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, MP Emanuel Dubourg, left, and Ahmed Hussen, right, Federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, meet with Haitian community leaders, Wednesday, August 23, 2017 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

More than one fifth of Canadians were born in another country, according to the 2016 census released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

It’s the second census in a row to show that more than 20 per cent of Canadians were foreign-born – a proportion not seen since the first three decades of the 1900s.

“It’s not new,” said René Houle, senior analyst at Statistics Canada. “Between 1911 and 1931, there were also more than 20 per cent of immigrants in Canada. It’s not a new situation, it’s just that at that time the immigration was very different from what we have now.”

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The proportion of Canadians who are foreign born has been rising since 1991, driven by immigration and Canadians’ low fertility rates. Statistics Canada believes the trend will continue, projecting that by 2036, 28.2 per cent of Canadians will have been born somewhere else.

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“If you look at children for example, 37 per cent of all children aged 0-14 in Canada, they have at least one parent born abroad,” said Houle. “This is the diversity. This is the base of the diversity.”

As those children grow up and are joined by immigrants, the ethnic makeup of Canada will change, he said.

Asian heritage

Asian countries accounted for seven out of the top 10 source countries for immigrants in the last five years, according to census data. The top source country was the Philippines, followed by India and China.

There were also significant numbers from Iran, Pakistan, the United States and due to the recent push for refugees, Syria. In total, 61.8 per cent of recent immigrants were from an Asian country.

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This represents a big change from Canada’s previous immigration patterns. Unsurprisingly, in 1871, the vast majority of the foreign-born population was from the British Isles. That was still the case one hundred years later, though their share had decreased from over 80 per cent to close to 30 per cent.

In the early 1900s, immigration from European countries other than those in the British Isles began to increase, said Houle. Eventually, Asia became the biggest source, starting roughly in the 1990s. The Philippines started to become a major source country for immigration in the early 2000s, said Houle.

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Statistics Canada projects that by 2036, at least 56 per cent of all immigrants will be from Asia.

It’s not just the source countries that have changed, said Houle, it’s also the general pattern of immigration. For much of the 20th century, immigrants arrived in waves. “There were the post-war waves. There were the post-Soviet waves,” he said. Now it’s a steadily rising curve. “We’re in a new situation where we receive a lot of immigrants from other countries, other continents, and this population is increasing constantly over time.”

Economic migrants, not refugees

Despite the recent well-publicized Syrian refugee program, which had the goal of admitting 25,000 refugees, and lots of public discussion about refugees, a clear majority of immigrants actually come through the economic category.

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Six in 10 recent immigrants came through the economic category, three in 10 came through the family class and only one in 10 came as a refugee. The proportion of refugees has trended slightly downward since 1980, except for a jump in late 2015 and 2016, something Houle attributes to the Syrian refugee crisis.

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“With the Syrian refugees, we observed a really large increase, but it will drop in the next years, because it was exceptional,” he said. “It’s like the Vietnam refugees in the seventies.”

The proportion of economic immigrants has grown over the last few decades, said Houle, because Canada is encouraging them to come and is competing for international talent. “This is the official policy. We see from the beginning of the nineties the proportion of economic immigrants has increased to be 50-60 per cent of all immigrants. It’s significant.”

Prairies more popular

Traditionally, immigrants have settled in Ontario, Quebec and the Vancouver region, said Houle. “But now the most recent trend is that new immigrants tend to establish in the Prairie provinces, especially Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

Watch below: New Census data shows there are now 7.5 million immigrants living in Canada and more of those immigrants are starting to choose Alberta as a place to call home. Kendra Slugoski reports.

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Ontario is still where most of Canada’s immigrants choose to settle, but it’s receiving a much smaller share of newcomers than it used to. In 2001, 56 per cent of new immigrants moved to Ontario. Now, it’s 39 per cent.

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Alberta’s share of new immigrants grew over the same period from 6.9 per cent to 17.1 per cent. Saskatchewan’s share grew from one per cent to four.

Statistics Canada attributes this to the Provincial and Territorial Nominee Program, which allows provinces to select economic immigrants. Economic conditions are also a factor – Alberta has had the highest economic growth between 2011 and 2016, so it would attract more people, according to Statistics Canada.

Immigrants represented 46.1 per cent of Toronto’s population and 40.8 per cent of Vancouver’s in 2016, according to the census.