Canada’s COVID-19 Immigration Slowdown Sees Population Growth Drop to Lowest Rate Since 1916

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A Statistics Canada report has revealed how tough travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 caused Canada’s population growth rate to slow to a trickle last year, highlighting the importance of immigration. 

In ‘Canada’s Population Estimates, Fourth Quarter 2020’, the Canadian statistical services agency notes the importance of immigration to Canadian population growth.

“International migration has accounted for more than three-quarters of the total population growth since 2016, reaching 85.7 per cent in 2019,” the report released today states. 

“Following border and travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, this percentage fell to 58 per cent. Population increase through international migration in 2020 was over 80 per cent lower than it was in 2019.”

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Canada welcomed 184,624 immigrants in 2020, down by almost half from 2019 and the lowest of any year since 1998. The pre-pandemic target for immigration set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was 341,000.

The ripple effect of that downturn in immigration was felt throughout the country which recorded a much slower growth rate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Jan. 1 this year, Canada’s population stood at 38,048,738, an increase of only 0.4 per cent, or 149,461 people, compared to the previous year. By comparison, the Canadian population growth rate was almost four times higher in 2019, with the population rising by 575,038 people that year.

Dismal Population Growth The Worst Seen Since First and Second World Wars

Statistics Canada describes the dismal rate of population growth for Canada in 2020 as “the lowest annual growth since 1945 in number and 1916 in per cent”. 

Both of those were wartime periods for Canada, the first and second world wars.

Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories saw no population growth at all last year. Things were even worse in Newfoundland and Labrador. That Atlantic Canadian province saw a drop of 0.6 per cent in its population.

Ontario, often described as Canada’s economic engine, saw its slowest rate of population growth. 0.4 per cent, since 1917. British Columbia, a province with a young population that has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few decades, saw its slowest population growth, 0.4 per cent, since 1874.

Further putting the brakes on population growth was the death rate in Canada last year.

“In 2020, deaths in Canada surpassed 300,000 (at 309,893) for the first time in Canadian history,” reports Statistics Canada. “The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 15,651 or 5.1 per cent of deaths in 2020 were caused by COVID-19, meaning that the pandemic is estimated to have been the cause of about 1 in 20 deaths in Canada. 

“This proportion was lower than what was estimated in the United Kingdom (12.3 per cent), the United States (11.2 per cent) and France (9.7 per cent) but higher than in Australia (0.7 per cent) and New Zealand (0.1 per cent).

Births Still Outnumbered Deaths

Despite the record-high number of deaths, these were still lower than the number of births at 372,727. Still, natural population increase fell to its lowest annual level since at least 1922.

“The most significant demographic impact of the pandemic came from changes to international migration,” states Statistics Canada.

During the global pandemic, Canada was certainly not alone to feel the pinch of lower immigration rates. Although it was less hard hit by COVID-19, New Zealand’s level of immigration, for example,  fell by 39.6 per cent in 2020.

During the COVID-19 crisis last year, Canada also saw a net drop of 86,535 in the number of non-permanent residents in the country.  

That number is made all the more striking when compared to the Canada’s net increase of 190,952 non-permanent residents the previous year. Every province and territory except Prince Edward Island had a net loss of non-permanent residents in 2020, almost entirely because there were fewer work and study permit holders.

Ottawa has responded to the drop in immigration last year by raising its targets for immigration for this year through to 2022 and by slashing the immigration scores needed to allow more people to become permanent residents.

The country is still bullish on immigration.

“As we confront the pandemic’s second wave and chart a course for our recovery, attracting skilled immigrants who bring the talents and skills our economy needs to thrive is a central part of our plan,” notes the IRCC on its website.

IRCC Eyeing New Ways To Boost Immigration

“With travel restrictions limiting who can come to Canada, IRCC is pioneering new ways to engage those who are already here and hard at work. Their status may be temporary, but their contributions are lasting – and we’re hoping to help more of them stay permanently.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced late last year Canada was going to greatly increase immigration levels to make up for the shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new plan, Canada is planning to welcome more than 1.2 million newcomers between 2021 and 2023 with 401,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the previous plan set targets of 351,000 in 2021 and 361,000 in 2022.

“Immigration is essential to getting us through the pandemic, but also to our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic growth,” said Mendicino. “Canadians have seen how newcomers are playing an outsized role in our hospitals and care homes, and helping us to keep food on the table.

“As we look to recovery, newcomers create jobs not just by giving our businesses the skills they need to thrive, but also by starting businesses themselves,” he said. “Our plan will help to address some of our most acute labour shortages and to grow our population to keep Canada competitive on the world stage.”

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