Immigration in Canada

Canada was built on immigration. With 6.8 million foreign-born, about one in five residents are immigrants. That’s the highest share of all G8 (The Group of Eight Industrialized Nations—France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, United States, Canada, and Russia) countries. Over two million have arrived since 2000, making immigration the key driver of Canada’s population growth.

Regions of origin

Between 2006 and 2011, about 57 percent of foreign born residents came from Asia, 14 percent from Europe, 12 percent from Africa, and 12 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean. By country, the Philippines generated the most newcomers, followed by China, India, the U.S., Pakistan, the U.K, Iran, South Korea, Colombia and Mexico.

According to Canada’s most recent census, the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), almost 95 percent of immigrants settle in four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. Over 60 percent reside in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Toronto: truly international

With a regional population of 5.5 million, Toronto is home to more than 2.5 million immigrants. It attracts more immigrants than any other Canadian city, with more than double Vancouver’s numbers. Immigrants are almost half its population, giving it the highest share of foreign born in Canada, as well as one of the highest of major world cities.

India, China and the Philippines contribute the most newcomers, about a quarter of the immigrant population. Over 230 ethnic groups are represented. Cantonese, other Chinese dialects and Punjabi are the nonofficial languages spoken most frequently in immigrant homes.

Vancouver: magnet of the west

Vancouver is also one of the top cities in the world for share of immigrants. Over 913,000 residents are foreign born, roughly 42 percent of the population. Less diverse than Toronto, about 40 percent of Vancouver’s immigrants come from China, India and the Philippines. Over half of all immigrants speak a language other than English or French at home, most frequently Cantonese, Punjabi or Mandarin.

Montreal: a different flavor

The Montreal region has more than 850,000 foreign born residents. Though similar in number to Vancouver, immigrants represent a smaller but growing share of the region’s population (roughly 23 percent).

Montreal’s immigrant population differs from Toronto and Vancouver in two ways: a larger portion of the region’s newcomers arrived since 2006 and its top sources of immigrants—Haiti, Italy and France—reflect the city’s strong European linguistic and cultural influences. The top three non-official languages spoken at home by immigrants are Arabic, Spanish and Italian.

Other Canadian magnet cities

As of the 2011 NHS, the next three highest immigrant cities are Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Calgary has the highest number and share of foreign born, at about 314,000 and 26 percent. Even though Edmonton and Winnipeg have substantial immigrant populations of about 232,000 and 147,000, respectively, these figures are more in line with the national average of foreign born.

To learn more about immigration in Canada, visit the 2011 NHS site at and select the NHS Focus on Geography Series.

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