The first year and a half or so of Donald Trump‘s presidency has seen a modest uptick in Americans moving to Canada, federal immigration statistics show.
Over 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, 1,055 more Americans were granted permanent residency than the average number during the Obama administration. Student visas granted to U.S. citizens increased by 1.012 in 2017, compared to the average number over the eight years before that.
There could be factors other than politics at work: English fluency is worth more points than it used to be, says Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, which tends to favour Americans.
“The way we’re doing business now is skewing in favour of English-speaking countries, because language is of greater importance than it has been in the past, so countries like the United States should expect to see some uptick in their numbers, at the expense of countries that don’t have native English speakers.”
The change took effect around the time Trump was elected.
“It’s more of the same that we usually see,” he says. “People didn’t like Bush, people didn’t like Obama, people didn’t like Clinton, people didn’t like this and didn’t like that. But it’s never been as vocal as with Trump, no question about it.”
Among American clients, some were more determined than others.
“There were definitely a few who said ‘Look, I’ve had it – I want to come to Canada.’ Those are very rare. We get a lot of people who are upset, who are thinking about it and want to know their options. Then they go away, and we may never hear from them again.”
However, some American immigrants are clearly serious about it: 2,615 U.S. citizens were granted permanent residency in the first quarter of 2018. That’s the highest number since Q2 of 2008, and the third-highest monthly total in this century.
In the five quarters we have data for since January 2017, an average of 2,342 Americans were granted permanent residency, compared to an average of 2,131 per quarter between 2007 and 2016.
Between 2007 and 2016, an average of 6,033 Americans were granted student visas; that rose to 7.045 in 2017.
NAFTA work visas granted to Americans stayed at the same level before and after Trump’s election.
A previous spike in U.S. immigration to Canada started after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and rose until Barack Obama’s first election to the presidency in 2008.
(Both the current spike and the Bush-era one were dwarfed by the rush to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War; by the early 1970s, Canada was accepting over 25,000 American immigrants a year. That number plummeted after the U.S. withdrawal.)
Numbers for the second quarter of this year are not complete.
U.S. Google searches for “college in Canada” spiked the week that Trump was elected. The search term was concentrated in traditionally Democratic states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Minnesota and Michigan.
Some Americans find that immigrating to Canada is harder than they expected, Mamann says.
One major obstacle: our immigration system is set up to favour applicants in early adulthood. Once an applicant turns 36, they start losing points granted for age, and get zero points for age after 47.
“I think we’re taken for granted a little bit,” Mamann says.
“People think that if they want to just downgrade a bit, they could come to Canada. After all, they’re American citizens. Then they take a look at the criteria and realize that it’s anything but a slam dunk.”
We also asked Citizenship and Immigration for data on British immigration to Canada. Debate in that country, as Brexit approaches, has led to wrenching debates about its economic future.
However, there has been no noticeable uptick in U.K. citizens immigrating to Canada.
Mamann sees the moving-to-Canada meme as mostly an exercise in blowing off steam:
“We had a huge spike in interest, but execution is where it tapers off. If you look at all the celebrities that basically swore on the holy book that they were going to come to Canada, none of them did. Not one.”