The Future of Canadian Immigration Policy and Europe

Canada has long had an open and welcoming immigration policy, accepting hundreds of thousands of new permanent residents each year. A large percentage of these immigrants have traditionally come from European countries. However, in recent years there has been a shift away from European immigration toward more immigrants from Asian and African countries. This raises questions about what Canada’s immigration policy toward Europe will look like in the future.

Europe has been the dominant source region for immigrants to Canada for most of the country’s history. European immigration peaked in the 1950s-1960s, when hundreds of thousands of Europeans came to Canada looking for economic opportunities and a better life. The U.K. and Italy were the top source countries during this period. Immigration from Europe remained strong through the 1970s-1990s as well.

However, around the turn of the millennium, the pattern began to change. Immigration from Asia, particularly China and India, increased substantially. By 2010, Asia replaced Europe as the number one source region for new immigrants to Canada. In 2021, only 11.6% of new Canadian permanent residents came from Europe, compared to over 60% from Asia.

There are several reasons for the decline in European immigration to Canada. First, economic and political conditions in Europe have stabilized over the past few decades. When Europe was ravaged by war or economic instability in the 20th century, many Europeans looked to start over in Canada. As living standards in Europe improved, fewer people wanted to leave.

Secondly, demographics within Europe have shifted. Declining birth rates mean there are fewer young workers looking to emigrate. And Canada scrapped its retiree visa program in 2014, eliminating one of the main avenues for older Europeans to move to Canada.

Finally, Canada has prioritized attracting immigrants who meet current labor market needs and contribute economically. With aging populations and lower growth, European countries now produce fewer highly skilled immigrants in the most in-demand fields like technology, engineering and healthcare.

So what does this all mean for the future of Canadian immigration policy toward Europe? Here are some possible scenarios:

  1. Focus shifts away from Europe entirely. Canada continues to concentrate its immigration efforts on Asia, Africa and the Americas. The percentage of immigrants from Europe keeps declining.
  2. Targeted recruitment of specialized workers. Canada seeks to attract specific European professionals in areas of labor market demand through programs like Express Entry. Overall numbers still remain low.
  3. Renewed mobility agreements with Europe. Freedom of movement between Canada and Europe could be enhanced through new trade or immigration agreements, facilitating temporary worker flows in both directions.
  4. Outreach to prospective refugee/humanitarian applicants. Canada works with European partners to identify asylum seekers and displaced people from refugee hotspots like Ukraine who could resettle in Canada.
  5. Comprehensive EU trade and mobility pact. An ambitious free trade and labor mobility agreement between Canada and the EU leads to increased migration in both directions for work and study.

While Europe’s dominance as a source region has waned, it will likely continue to play at least some role in Canadian immigration and mobility policies going forward. But greater priority will probably be given to forging partnerships with emerging economies where young, skilled labor is plentiful. The future points to a more globally diverse mix of immigrants to Canada.

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