Immigration fuels record-high population growth in Canada

Canada’s population surged by more than 1 million in the past year, the largest spike since the post-World War II baby boom.

A demonstrator calls for greater support for migrants and asylum seekers in Ontario, Canada, on January 23, 2023 [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Canada has seen a record boom in its population, with Ottawa citing higher immigration targets and a “record-breaking year for the processing of immigration applications” as being responsible for the increase.

The North American country documented an increase of more than 1 million citizens in 2022, bringing its population to more than 39.5 million, Statistics Canada, the government census agency, said on Wednesday.

The increase “marks the first 12-month period in Canada’s history where population grew by over one million people”, the agency said in a statement.

The 2.7-percent increase was the highest since 1957, when the country saw a 3.3 percent spike in its population, fuelled by the post-World War II baby boom and a jump in refugees emigrating from Europe following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

The most recent bump has also been fuelled by new citizens from abroad, with international migration accounting for nearly 96 percent of the growth.

The data is likely to loom large as United States President Joe Biden arrives in Canada on Thursday for talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The two leaders are expected to discuss an uptick in asylum seekers crossing at unofficial points along their countries’ shared border.

Under a 2004 Safe Third Country agreement between the US and Canada, asylum seekers are required to make their claims in the first country they arrive in. The deal has led to a plummet in the number of asylum seekers arriving at official Canadian crossings but an increase in arrivals at unofficial crossings, which are not subject to the agreement.

In 2022, more than 39,000 asylum seekers crossed into Canada through unofficial means, with the vast majority using Roxham Road, a rural path that links the province of Quebec and the state of New York.

The number of crossings was more than double that in 2017, when another uptick accompanied former US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on migrants and asylum seekers.

Undocumented immigration has become a political flashpoint for Trudeau’s liberal government. The prime minister has said a renegotiated Safe Third Country deal is the only way to stop the unofficial crossings.

Still, Trudeau’s government has doubled the pre-existing target for welcoming newcomers since coming to power in 2015. A record 437,180 immigrants landed in Canada in 2022. That number is scheduled to rise to 500,000 per year by 2025.

The population of non-permanent residents granted work or study permits in Canada also spiked last year to 607,782, partly due to the thousands of people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Statistics Canada said.

The government has also made it easier for Afghans facing instability to come to Canada, as well as for Turks and Syrians following the recent earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in those two countries.

Statistics Canada said that “high job vacancies and labour shortages” have fuelled the high rate of immigration. It also noted Canada’s ageing population, with one in seven residents between the ages of 55 and 64, providing opportunity to welcome more people.

It added, however, that “a rise in the number of permanent and temporary immigrants could also represent additional challenges for some regions of the country related to housing, infrastructure and transportation, and service delivery to the population”.

Canada regularly has the highest annual population growth of any of the Group of Seven (G7) countries, a forum that includes some of the world’s wealthiest democracies. Statistics Canada explained that, if the growth rate stayed constant for years to come, Canada would double its population in 26 years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies