Immigrants made up nearly a quarter of all people in Canada in 2021 and are projected to represent a third of people in the country by 2041, the latest release of census data shows.
The proportion of immigrants is the largest it’s been since Confederation with 23 per cent of the country — or more than 8.3 million people — who were, or had ever been, a landed immigrant or permanent resident.
That’s also the highest proportion among G7 countries.
Statistics Canada says immigration is the main driver of population growth, in part because of the aging population and low fertility rates in the country.
The federal government has committed to bringing in record numbers of people to fill labour shortages, with plans to welcome 431,645 newcomers to Canada this year.
Immigrants accounted for four out of five new workers in the labour force between 2016 and 2021.
Previously, the majority of immigrants to Canada came from Europe, but now most immigrants come from Asia, including the Middle East.
One in five people coming to Canada were born in India, the data shows, making it the top country of birth for recent arrivals.
The last time such a huge proportion of people came from the same place was in the 1971 census, when more than 20 per cent of immigrants came from the United Kingdom.
The overall share of immigrants from Europe has dwindled since then, down to just 10.1 per cent in 2021 from 61.6 per cent in 1971.
The census didn’t ask questions about why people from certain regions have chosen to come to Canada, said Tina Chui, director of diversity and socio-cultural statics for Statistics Canada, but other studies do give some clues.
“Joining family, economic opportunities, all those are kind of the reasons why people chose to come to Canada,” she said at a press conference Wednesday. The large number of international students from India could also be a factor, she said.
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Peter Rekai said well-educated Indian applicants typically do very well in the express entry system, Canada’s main economic immigration program.
The system favours people with a good education, excellent official language proficiency, and work experience in Canada.
“Put it all together and they get enough points to be eligible for this program and also to be competitive,” Rekai said in an interview Wednesday.
Many Indian applicants come to Canada under a work or study visa, which gives them a leg up when it comes to their permanent residence application, he said.
The census shows that two-step immigration process is becoming far more common in Canada. More than one-third of immigrants who arrived in the last five years have gone through the two-step process, compared with just 18 per cent of those who were admitted between 2001 and 2005.
Canada offers a level of stability and a relatively short path to permanent residency and citizenship compared to many other countries, making it an attractive destination for newcomers, Rekai said.
“Canada offers a better path and a quicker path … than just about any other country,” he said.
All that immigration over recent years means almost one-third of children in Canada have at least one parents who was born abroad, which is up from 26.7 per cent in 2011 and 29.2 per cent in 2016.