More immigrants chose Red Deer as their new home in 2022 than in the previous 20 years, according to Statistics Canada.
From July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, Red Deer welcomed 1,075 international immigrants and 73 per cent of the city’s population increase of 1,469 over the same period. International immigrants includes those returning to Red Deer from abroad and non-permanent residents.
That is in keeping with the nation’s population growth, 75 per cent of which comes from immigration, which accounts for almost all labour force growth.
That growth represented a 1.4 per cent population increase, bringing the total number of residents in the Red Deer census metropolitan area to 107,073. It was the highest population spike since 2013-14 when 2,170 people were added to Red Deer.
Red Deer also attracted 441 people from other provinces, while 215 people moved out of the city to live elsewhere in the province. Natural population growth (the number of births subtracted from the number of deaths) accounted for 168 new residents, according to the StatsCan demographic data for the last 20 years released earlier this week.
The immigration numbers do not surprise Frank Bauer, executive director of Red Deer’s Care for Newcomers, which is dedicated to helping newcomers settle in the area by offering resources, education and other support.
Bauer said last year’s increase in numbers partly reflects a backlog in immigration caused by the pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions.
“The process was slower, so there will be some pick-up from that,” he said.
There has also been a concerted effort by the federal government to encourage immigration to Canada, where the population is aging and there have not been enough young Canadians available to fill out the workforce.
“We need more immigrants because we haven’t been producing enough workers,” he said. “So, the federal government has started speeding up the process and making the entry processes easier.”
As an example, for economic immigrants, who represent the biggest portion of international newcomers, an express entry system was created a few years ago to streamline the immigration process.
More provincial and federal nominee programs have also been rolled out to link workforce needs with immigration application approvals. Both individual businesses and groups of firms in similar sectors are using nominee programs to fill their workforce gaps.
There has also been an increase in refugees accepted by the federal government who have spread out across to communities across the country.
Bauer said he is finding it encouraging from a Red Deer perspective that a larger share of refugees are choosing to stay here. Previously, often two-thirds of refugees would move on to larger Canadian centres, where they are more likely to find relatives, friends or established communities from their home countries.
“I see that as a positive sign that Red Deer has more to offer and people feel more at home.”
Local groups dedicated to helping immigrants deserve some credit for that, he said.
Care for Newcomers, Catholic Social Services, Ubuntu Mobilizing Central Alberta and Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association and other groups have played an important local role in helping immigrants settle into central Alberta.
Earlier this month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser announced Canada had welcomed the most new permanent residents — 431,645 — since 1913 and eclipsing the previous post-1913 record of 401,000 set in 2021.
Last year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada processed 5.2 million permanent residence applications, double the number from 2021.
“Newcomers play an essential role in filling labour shortages, bringing new perspectives and talents to our communities, and enriching our society as a whole,” said Fraser in a statement.
Population data also shows that Red Deer continues to be a relatively young city with just under 85 per cent of residents under the age of 65. Nearly 17 per cent of Red Deerians are 14 years old or younger.
In other central Alberta communities, Lacombe’s population is listed at 12,956. Population growth is almost flat at 0.1 per cent. Sylvan Lake’s population increased 2.8 per cent to 16,477 people.