A "We're Hiring!" sign advertises job openings at a bakery in Old Chelsea village, Quebec, Canada/Photo: Reuters
TORONTO: Canada is touting the arrival of a record number of new permanent residents in 2022, consolidating its status as one of the most welcoming countries for families and individuals seeking to make a new life in a foreign land.
That image is reinforced by polling showing that, not only do Canadians strongly support high levels of immigration, but despite its relatively harsh climate, the country ranks second only to the United States as a desirable destination for would-be emigrants.
Canada admitted more than 437,000 new permanent residents in 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the responsible federal agency. That figure represents more than 1.1% of the country’s total population.
“This represents the largest number of people ever welcomed in a year, in Canadian history,” the agency said in an emailed statement to VOA. “Prior to setting a new record for admissions in 2021, the last time Canada welcomed such a large numbers of newcomers was in 1913 with 400,870 permanent resident admissions.”
The U.S., by comparison, is estimated to have admitted around 1 million new permanent residents last year despite having a population almost nine times larger than Canada’s.
The need for new workers
Canada’s eagerness for new immigrants is partly driven by an acute labor shortage attributed in part to a rapidly aging population. The state-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently described labor shortages as “the new normal.”
That has colored the thinking of business owners and entrepreneurs like Mylene Despres, the founder of La Station Workspace, a hub for creatives and entrepreneurs in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“I’m very happy that Canada is welcoming so many people,” Despres told VOA. “It’s what makes the country vibrant and interesting.”
That view is widely shared, according to Julie Ray, a senior consultant and managing editor for world news at the Gallup polling organization.
“Our studies just a few years ago found that Canada led the rest of the world on our Migrant Acceptance Index,” she said, noting that 95% of respondents told the organization they saw migrants living in their neighborhoods as a good thing.
What opposition to immigration exists is largely focused on frustration over rapidly rising real estate prices, which saw the cost of an average home rise more than five times between 1996 and 2021 — from $148,613 (US $198,150) to $821,564 (US $1,095,419).
Few politicians are willingly to publicly speak out against immigration, but one former politician told VOA on the condition of anonymity that they hear concern from their old constituents that increased immigration has driven real estate prices too high.
Amid the strongest backers of increased immigration is a nonprofit called the Century Initiative, which is led by senior staffers in the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but also supported by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a stalwart of the opposition Conservative Party.
Among its policy recommendations, the Century Initiative has argued that the country should aim to boost its population through immigration from the current 38.25 million to 100 million by 2100.
“Our population is aging, we’re having fewer children, and our workforce is shrinking. If we stay the course, Canada’s annual GDP growth will decline, along with our influence on the world stage,” the organization says on its website. “Growing our population to 100 million by 2100 would … mean more skilled workers, innovation, and dynamism in the Canadian economy.”
That target is not as far-fetched as it might seem, according to polling shared with VOA by Gallup. Ray cited a global survey showing that 8% of individuals who are interested in moving to another country would make Canada their first choice.
“While the 8% might not sound like much, that translates into about 74 million people who would consider Canada as their next home,” Ray said. “Canada’s still the No. 2 most desired destination in the world, after the United States.”