For more than a decade, Ontario had seen a continuous decline in immigration, but now the province’s strong economy and federal changes to immigrant selection criteria have helped boost its appeal to newcomers again.
Ontario is seeing a resurgence as the destination for immigrants after a more than decade-long slump in its share of newcomers to Canada.
The number of permanent residents settling in the province has rebounded to 111,925, or 39 per cent of the 286,480 new arrivals to Canada last year, from a low of 95,828, or 36.8 per cent of the 260,411 in 2014. In the past, more than half of newcomers settled in Ontario.
The vast majority of Ontario’s newcomers — 85,500 in 2017 — settled in the Greater Toronto Area, which saw an increase of 5.4 per cent from two years earlier.
This past January alone, Ontario received 10,870 new permanent residents, up 48.6 per cent from 7,315 in the same period last year. Greater Toronto’s share was 8,600, 57.2 per cent higher than January 2017.
Experts said the immigration bump in the GTA and Ontario appears to be due to the economic downturn in Alberta, which saw immigrant arrivals drop to 42,100 last year from 49,200 in 2016, with its national share declining to 14.7 per cent from 16.3 per cent. The recent slump for Alberta comes after a decade in which its share of immigrants shot up dramatically, from less than 10 per cent in the past.
B.C.’s immigration share has stabilized at around 13.5 per cent in the past three years after a steady decline from its peak of 17.8 per cent a decade ago. Quebec, which selects its own immigrants, had exactly the same share of the pie, at 18.3 per cent, last year as it did in 2008. Immigration to the rest of the country adds up to just under 15 per cent of the total.
“Ontario, especially Greater Toronto, is again the place to go to for new immigrants. Both Alberta and British Columbia are not doing so well,” said Jack Jedwab of the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration.
“In Alberta, the economy is bad. In B.C., it is hard to find an affordable place to live. In Greater Toronto, it is still the historical magnet for immigrant settlement.”
Ontario’s dominance as Canada’s immigration hub had been under threat under the former federal Conservative government, as the province saw its share of immigration falling significantly from its peak of 53.6 per cent in 2005, when 140,528 of the 262,243 new arrivals settled in the province.
In the years after that, the Stephen Harper government pushed for the regionalization of immigration in an attempt to encourage newcomers to settle outside of the big three immigration gateway cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
The goal was to spread the economic benefits and population diversity evenly across Canada, and alleviate the pressure of immigrant settlement on big cities’ infrastructure.
Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, said the Tory government introduced new criteria to limit skilled immigration to applicants in specific occupations only.
While Ontario’s broad economic base can use any type of skilled immigrants, the occupational limitation favoured immigrants with sought-after skills in the oilpatch in Alberta, she said.
Then in the Harper government’s final year, in 2015, Ottawa introduced the Express Entry system that shifted away from specific occupation criteria to a model that now focuses on attracting immigrants with Canadian education credentials and job experience.
“Ontario was disadvantaged under the old system and the surge of immigration we are seeing now is partially the unexpected result of Express Entry,” said Douglas.
When Ontario saw the first signs of an immigration surge in 2016 — to 110,025 newcomers, from 103,610 the year before — Douglas said most observers believed it could be a one-time spike due to Canada’s massive resettlement of Syrian refugees, the bulk of whom were sponsored to come to the province. “Now, we are anticipating this trend to continue,” she noted.
Sara Amash, a spokesperson for Ontario Immigration Minister Laura Albanese, said the government is not surprised immigrants choose the province because it remains the engine of economic growth in Canada.
“Since 2014, Ontario’s economy has grown more than Canada’s and all of the other G7 countries. Our economy is getting stronger, businesses are creating record numbers of jobs and unemployment is at the lowest rate in almost two decades,” Amash said in an email.
She, too, believes that the shift to the Express Entry selection system has had a positive impact on Ontario.
“Given the federal government’s commitment to increasing overall levels of immigrant landings, it is expected that Ontario will continue to receive higher levels of immigration over the next three years if its share of total Canada landings remains consistent with the recent past,” Amash said.
Source: The Star