Background informationCapital: Ottawa
Official languages: English and French
Area: 9,984,670 km2
(for comparison, Germany: 357,027 km2)
Population (2006): 31,612,897 (census)
Population density: 3.2 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2001-2005): +5.4%
Labour force participation rate (2005): 77.8%
Foreign-born population as a percentage of total (2004): 18%
Percentage of foreign-born employees amongst gainfully employed (2001): 20%
Unemployment rate: 6.8% (2005), 7.2% (2004), 7.6% (2003)
Religions (2001): Catholics (44%), Protestants (29%), Christian Orthodox (1.6%), Other Christians (2.6%), Muslims (2%), Jews (1%), Buddhists (1%), Hindus (1%), Sikhs (0.9%), Other (0.3%), no religioius affiliation (16.5%) 




Development of Immigration Policy since the 19th Century

23 Germans, Italians and Russians.4568 Once a person has been accepted as a permanent resident, s/he enjoys rights similar to those of citizens, including unlimited access to the labour market and social services.


Immigration Flows

Since becoming a country in 1867, Canada has welcomed over 16 million immigrants for permanent settlement. The highest number received in a given decade was reached in the 1990s, when 2.2 million immigrants were admitted. Historically, inflows have rarely accounted for more than 1% of the total population per year, with the exception of the years 1911-1913, when they amounted to 5%. The government has been setting annual targets for immigration since the 1976 Immigration Act went into effect. Yearly inflows have been consistently above 200,000 since 1990,11

It is important to note that even though approximately 60% of immigrants in 2005 were admitted in the economic class, only 39% of these (or 61,614 persons in total) were the principal applicants and, as such, subject to selection under the points system. The remaining economic class immigrants were the spouses or dependants of the principal applicants and not assessed according to the points system. This means that only 23% of all permanent immigrants arriving in 2005 were selected according to their language skills, level of formal education, age, experience, adaptability and whether or not they had arranged employment. In addition to the abovementioned inflow of permanent residents, Canada welcomes an almost equally high number of temporary residents each year (see Figure 4). Since 1990, approximately 150,000 to 250,000 temporary residents have been admitted per year, primarily as workers, students or refugee claimants/humanitarian cases. In 2005, 247,143 temporary residents were admitted.



Of more recent concern to researchers has been the question of whether immigration to Canada is indeed as permanent as Canadian immigration policy tends to assume. One report by Statistics Canada13

The Immigrant Population


Ethnic Origins


Visible Minority Population



Integration Policy

20 It also publishes booklets explaining aspects of everyday life, such as public transportation, banking, housing and health services. In the period from April 2005 to March 2006 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) spent C$445 million on its integration programme. In May 2006, CIC announced that it would raise immigration settlement funding by a further C$307 million over two years.21

CIC administers three core settlement programmes. Under the Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP), immigrant-serving organisations receive funding to deliver a range of services, including general information on life in Canada, translation and interpretation, referral to community resources, counselling and basic employment-related guidance. The ISAP programme also encompasses the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Initiative, which provides an orientation for newcomers in their countries of origin. In 2005-2006, 13,116 people received COA training in 35 countries.

The Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program provides basic language training in English or French on a full- or part-time basis, free of charge, to adult newcomers. In 2005-2006, more than 20,000 people completed such courses.

Finally, the Host Program matches immigrants with Canadian volunteers, who help the newcomers learn about community services, practise their English or French, participate in community activities and find job contacts in their fields. In addition to assisting newcomers, the Host Program is designed to improve cross-cultural understanding and promote inclusion and diversity.222324


252627 are certainly more subtle and difficult to measure in real terms. Indeed, the very broad objectives of the multiculturalism policy in general have made it difficult to evaluate in terms of explicit policy outcomes.28

It is often argued that the value of multiculturalism policy lies mainly in its symbolic recognition of cultural diversity, and not necessarily in the individual programmes resulting from the policy. Through the promotion of multiculturalism in schools, public broadcasting, social services, museums, etc., a generation of Canadians has grown up with the message that diversity is a part of Canadian identity.29 This, so the argument goes, has fostered active citizenship on the part of immigrants as well as a discourse on immigration and integration issues that tends to be more constructive and less populist than in many other countries of immigration.30

Irregular Migration

It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 people are living in Canada without authorisation to do so, although 200,000 is the number most often cited in the media. Based on information on deportees, the majority of undocumented residents seem to enter the country as visitors, students or temporary workers and then remain in the country after their visas expire. Others tend to be refugee claimants whose applications have been rejected.

The issue of undocumented residents and workers was quite prominent in the Canadian media in 2006, following a number of high-profile deportations. Much attention was given to the removal of approximately two dozen Portuguese citizens, many of whom had been working illegally for years in the construction industry in Toronto. According to some reports, many other undocumented construction workers in Ontario come from Latin America, especially from Costa Rica, Argentina and El Salvador. They tend to be trained and experienced stonemasons, bricklayers, house framers, etc., all of which are in short supply in the Canadian construction industry.

In the ensuing debates, politicians, trade unions and ethnic community leaders argued that the immigration system was to blame for this situation, for two reasons. First, it favours white-collar professionals and makes entry difficult for qualified tradespeople. This means that booming industries such as construction have few legal means of addressing their labour needs. Second, people applying for permanent immigration often face long waiting periods of several years before gaining the right to residence, a situation that may lead individuals to live and work in the country without authorisation. More often than not, reactions in the media to the Portuguese construction workers were sympathetic. The deportation of people seen as hard-working, generally law-abiding individuals whose skills are needed by the Canadian economy was perceived as both unfair to the individuals affected and disadvantageous for the country as a whole.

In October 2006, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration ruled out an amnesty31 for undocumented workers, stating that the better approach was to correct faults in the immigration system and force people to enter through the legal channels provided in that system. The decision was taken despite lobbying efforts by Portuguese and Hispanic groups, home-builder associations and unions in Ontario to get the government to award undocumented workers in the  construction industry legal residency status.

Refuge and Asylum

Although Canada signed the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 1969, the Immigration Act of 1976 was the first law to regulate refugee determination procedure in the country. Prior to that, refugee policy functioned on an ad-hoc basis in direct response to particular events around the world. For example, special programs with relaxed immigrant selection criteria were set up to admit people from Hong Kong in 1962 (the first time that Canada opened its doors to non-European refugees), from Czechoslovakia in 1968 and from Uganda in 1972.

Refuge and asylum are now regulated under the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Under the IRPA, there are two main components to the refugee system: the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program and Asylum in Canada.

Under the resettlement program, refugees abroad (e.g. in a refugee camp) are sponsored to settle in Canada, either by the government or by private groups, organizations or individuals. The Canadian government relies on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), referral organisations and private sponsoring groups to identify refugees to be sponsored. Persons thus identified are then evaluated by a Canadian visa office32 to determine whether they are eligible for refugee status and whether they pass certain medical, security and criminal checks.

In addition to the resettlement program, it is possible to apply for asylum, as a Convention refugee or other person in need of protection, from within Canada. In his case, asylum can be claimed at a port of entry or at a CIC office in Canada. If a CIC officer decides that a claimant is eligible, the case is sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) for a decision. In 2005, 44% of the claims brought before the IRB were accepted.

An evaluation by CIC33 of refugees who made a claim from within Canada between 1995 and 2004 showed that the top ten countries of alleged persecution, accounting for 46% of applications during that time period, were China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hungary, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Between 2002 and 2004, Mexico and Colombia became the most important source countries of claimants. In terms of gender, male principal applicants outnumbered female principal applicants by a ratio of approximately 2:1. The main destinations for refugee claimants in Canada were the same ones chosen by immigrants: Ontario (55%), Quebec (32%) and British Columbia (9%).

As Figure 7 shows, refugees who apply for protection from within Canada have constituted the largest category of refugees awarded permanent residence in recent years. As Canada is relatively difficult and often expensive to reach from most of the refugee-producing regions of the world, some critics say that those who manage to reach the country are unlikely to be those most in need of assistance. A 1997 immigration legislative review34 commissioned by the government went so far as to imply that the system does little to discourage the lucrative people-smuggling business and provides a loophole for immigrants wishing to circumvent the (often long) immigration process.

35 Second, since 2002, cases brought before the IRB are decided by a single board member, without any possibility of an appeal based on the merits of the case.363738 Despite these backlogs, Canada failed to meet the quota it set for privately-sponsored refugees in 2004 and 2005.

Current Issues

Failure to meet labour market needs
The immigration system in general and the points system in particular place the skilled tradespeople and unskilled workers who are needed in the construction and other industries at a significant disadvantage, while favouring highly-skilled, white-collar professionals. One indicator that the system is out of tune with changing labour market needs is the characteristics of people entering the country through complementary programmes such as the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. For example, the majority of temporary workers admitted in 2005 were classified in the following skill levels: intermediate or clerical (34.6%), elemental and labourers (23.6%) or skilled and technical (15.2%); in contrast, the majority of permanent immigrants admitted in the same year were classified as professionals (64.6%). A look at the occupations taken up by PNP immigrants in 2005 shows that welders and truck drivers were among the most common occupations.

39 According to an analysis of the 2001 census, one in four recent immigrants with university degrees who were employed between 1991 and 2001 were in jobs that required no more than a high school education.4041

In the case of professions regulated by government bodies, such as medicine, pharmacy and education, the process of assessing and supplementing foreign training can take years and lead to immigrants having to redo parts of their education in Canada. Faced with such large hurdles and a need for income, highly qualified immigrants in these and other fields often end up taking on jobs that are outside their fields and/or below their level of qualification.

The consequences of this situation are grave for immigrants and the rest of the population alike. On the one hand, highly skilled immigrants, who often leave well-paying and prestigious careers to come to Canada, suffer a loss of income and status. On the other hand, Canada is left with the labour shortages in many skilled professions, from medicine to engineering, which these immigrants were supposed to fill. In the worst-case scenario, Canada not only has to cover the costs of integrating a high number of immigrants each year, it also loses the economic potential these immigrants bring to the country. Economists have estimated the monetary value of that lost economic potential to be approximately C$2 billion annually.42

Processing times
43 The decline in the number of applications from these countries in recent years has been attributed to these waiting times, as frustrated applicants head for the United States or Europe instead.

Future Challenges


  1. See Li (2003).
  2. The Russians arriving during this time were primarily Doukhobors, members of a peasant sect marked by pacifism and a communal lifestyle which had been persecuted under the czarist regime in Russia.
  3. Quoted in Kelley and Trebilcock (1998).
  4. See Kelley and Trebilcock (1998).
  5. Immigrants from Europe and the Americas were still permitted to sponsor a wider range of relatives. This, too, was abandoned in 1967. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000).
  6. It is possible to assess oneself prior to application, using the selfassessment tool provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (
  7. Canada is a federation in which governmental powers are divided between the federal government and the 10 provincial governments. In addition to the 10 provinces, there are three territories. The territories are not sovereign units but get their powers from the federal parliament.
  8. This is with the exception of the years 1997 and 1998, when the total was slightly below that mark.
  9. See Statistics Canada (2000).
  10. See Aydemir and Robinson (2006).

  11. See Thomas (2005).
  13. See Statistics Canada (2001).
  14. Quoted in Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006a).
  15. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006b).
  16. For details on these programmes, see Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006a) or the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website (
  17. See Triadafilopolous (2006).
  18. See Reitz and Banerjee (2007).
  19. See the Canadian Heritage website:
  20. See Canadian Heritage (2006).
  21. See Reitz and Banerjee (2007).
  22. See Triadafilopoulos (2006).
  23. See Triadafilopoulos (2006).
  24. Partial or de facto amnesties have been offered before (for example in 1973 and 1986), usually as a response to large backlogs in applications, especially for refugee status.
  25. See Citizenship and Immigration (2006d).
  26. See Government of Canada (1997).
  28. There are some avenues an applicant can take if his/her claim is refused. However, none of these involves a review of the initial decision. A person whose claim is refused by the IRB can apply for a judicial review by the Federal Court. However, the Court refuses to hear nine out of ten applications. A rejected refugee claimant can also apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA); however, applicants can only offer new evidence, not have the initial determination reviewed. Finally, an application can be submitted for leave to remain in the country on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds. This measure is at the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and an applicant can be deported before a decision has been made. See Canadian Council for Refugees
  30. See Canadian Council for Refugees
  31. See Reitz (2005).
  32. See Reitz and Banerjee (2007).
  33. See Reitz (2005).
  34. See Jimenez (2006).

About the author:
Jennifer Elrick


References and Further Reading

    • Canadian Heritage (2006): Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act 2004-2005. Ottawa.
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006a): Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration. Ottawa.
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006b): Departmental Performance Report for the Period Ending March 31, 2006. Ottawa.
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006d): The Monitor. Issue 1/2006. Ottawa.
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000): Forging our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977.Ottawa.
    • Government of Canada (1997): Not Just Numbers: A Canadian Framework for Future Immigration. Immigration Legislative Review. Ottawa.
    • Kelley, N. and Trebilcock, M. (1998): The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy. Toronto.
    • Li, P. (2003): Destination Canada: Immigration, Debates and Issues. Toronto.
    • Statistics Canada (2001): 2001 Census Dictionary. Ottawa

Internet Sources

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.